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Risk and Protective Factors from the CDC

Updated: May 13, 2019

from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Risk factors are linked to a greater likelihood of sexual violence (SV) perpetration. They are contributing factors and might not be direct causes. Not everyone who is identified as at risk becomes a perpetrator of violence. A combination of individual, relational, community, and societal factors contribute to the risk of becoming a perpetrator of SV. Understanding these factors can help identify various opportunities for prevention.

CDC focuses on preventing the first-time perpetration of SV.

Risk Factors for Perpetration

Individual Risk Factors

  • Alcohol and drug use

  • Delinquency

  • Lack of empathy

  • General aggressiveness and acceptance of violence

  • Early sexual initiation

  • Coercive sexual fantasies

  • Preference for impersonal sex and sexual-risk taking

  • Exposure to sexually explicit media

  • Hostility towards women

  • Adherence to traditional gender role norms

  • Hyper-masculinity

  • Suicidal behavior

  • Prior sexual victimization or perpetration

Relationship Factors

  • Family environment characterized by physical violence and conflict

  • Childhood history of physical, sexual, or emotional abuse

  • Emotionally unsupportive family environment

  • Poor parent-child relationships, particularly with fathers

  • Association with sexually aggressive, hypermasculine, and delinquent peers

  • Involvement in a violent or abusive intimate relationship

Community Factors

  • Poverty

  • Lack of employment opportunities

  • Lack of institutional support from police and judicial system

  • General tolerance of sexual violence within the community

  • Weak community sanctions against sexual violence perpetrators

Societal Factors

  • Societal norms that support sexual violence

  • Societal norms that support male superiority and sexual entitlement

  • Societal norms that maintain women’s inferiority and sexual submissiveness

  • Weak laws and policies related to sexual violence and gender equity

  • High levels of crime and other forms of violence

Protective Factors for Perpetration

Protective factors may lessen the likelihood of sexual violence victimization or perpetration. These factors can exist at individual, relational, community, and societal levels.

  • Parental use of reasoning to resolve family conflict

  • Emotional health and connectedness

  • Academic achievement

  • Empathy and concern for how one’s actions affect others

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