The typical victim is a girl age 15 or younger who has been abused by a relative or acquaintance. Researchers at Sahlgrenska Academy reviewed the records of 196 people who had been convicted of child sexual abuse in Västra Götaland County.

Anita Carlstedt and her team studied the relationship between the perpetrator and victim in each case. In order to generate sociodemographic, offender characteristic and mental disease data, the researchers also reviewed the records of 185 people who had been examined by a forensic psychiatrist after being convicted of child sexual abuse during the same period.

The studies found that the perpetrator in 27 percent of the cases was a stranger to the child.

“The majority of these cases did not involve physical contact,” Ms. Carlstedt says. “Among the most common offenses were indecent exposure, masturbation and sexual harassment.”

Other results:

• Eighty-five percent of the victims were girls, 12 percent boys and 3 percent girls and boys at the same time

• Most of the offenses were violent, penetration being the most frequent act

• Only 8 percent of the perpetrators were examined by a forensic psychiatrist before or during the trial

• The sentences were generally mild

• Perpetrators born abroad received stiffer sentences for the same offenses

• Between 10 and 14 percent of perpetrators went on to become recidivists

“One key conclusion is that the risk of recidivism is generally low,” Ms. Carlstedt says. “But the risk was somewhat higher when the perpetrator was not a relative or acquaintance of the child.”

The reason for the study is that previous research on child sexual abuse has suffered from major defects, primarily because so many cases go unreported and it is often difficult to prove that the defendant is guilty beyond a reasonable doubt.

The purpose of Ms. Carlstedt’s thesis was to contribute to our knowledge about sex offenders, the nature of the offenses they commit and the types of sentences they receive.

“Learning more about sex offenders is vitally important,” Ms. Carlstedt says, “if we are to treat them in a constructive manner and improve the results of forensic psychiatrists.”

Ms. Carlstedt defended her doctoral thesis, entitled “Child Sexual Abuse: Crimes, Victims, Offender Characteristics, and Recidivism,” on October 5, 2012.

Anita Carlstedt, Centre for Ethics, Law and Mental Health at the Institute of Neuroscience and Physiology, Sahlgrenska Academy, University of Gothenburg
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