It is impossible to accurately assess the extent of sexual offending and the characteristics of offenders. Most data on sex offenders relate to those who are either arrested or convicted, a group that represents a small portion of all sexual offenders. From 1992 to 2000, only 31 percent of rapes and sexual assaults were reported to the police ( Hart & Rennison, 2003 ). Of those that are reported, not all end in arrest, and not all of those go on to indictment or conviction. This “funnel” system means that the further researchers are from the point at which the crime was committed, the further they are from knowing the true nature and scope of the problem of sexual offending. Furthermore, nearly all data on sex offenders relate to the male population of offenders. As such, the female sex offender population constitutes an even higher rate of the underreported and underresearched proportion of the total sex offender population ( Righthand & Welch, 2001 ; Travin, Cullen, & Protter, 1990 ).
What is certain about sexual abuse, particularly child sexual victimization, is that it is widespread, and it remains so despite the precipitous decline in abuse cases in the 1990s (see Child Maltreatment Report, 2001 ; Hanson & Morton-Bourgon, 2004 ; Jones & Finkelhor, 2004 ). One meta-analysis summarizing prevalence studies found that overall rates of sexual victimization were approximately 30 percent for girls and 13 percent for boys in one’s lifetime ( Bolen & M. Scannapieco, 1999 ). According to Finkelhor ( 2008 ), children who experience sexual abuse often experience multiple types of abuse. Finkelhor, Ormrod, Turner, and Hamby ( 2005 ) found that in 2002–2003, nearly half (49 percent) of the youth sampled in their study had experienced more than one form of direct (assault, maltreatment, sexual victimization) or indirect (witnessed) victimization. The concept of “multiple victimization” is consistent with findings from longitudinal studies by Cathy Widom and her colleagues (see Horwitz, Widom, McLaughlin & White ( 2001 ); Widom, Czaja, & Dutton, 2008 ).
The high rate of sexual victimization is not simply a criminal justice problem, but is also a public health problem ( Abel et al., 1994 ). Those who are victimized as youths show higher levels of mental health problems as adults ( Horwitz et al., 2001 ). Confounding this issue is the low rate of reporting of victimization, or when it is reported, the delay in disclosure. The literature shows that several factors are commonly associated with the delay in disclosure (see Terry & Tallon, 2004 ), including the relationship between the victim and the perpetrator ( Arata, 1998 ; Hanson et al., 1999 ; Smith et al., 2000 ; Wyatt & Newcomb, 1990 ); the severity of abuse ( Gries et al., 1996 ; Kogan, 2005 ; DiPietro et al., 1997 ); the likely consequences of the disclosure ( Berliner & Conte, 1995 ; Hershkowitz et al., 2007 ; Lamb & Edgar-Smith, 1994 ; Roesler & Weisssmann-Wind, 1994 ; Sorenson & Snow, 1991 ); age, developmental, and cognitive variables ( Campis et al., 1993 ; Keary & Fitzpatrick, 1994 ; Lamb & Edgar-Smith, 1994 ); and “grooming” behavior that offenders use to entice children to participate in the sexually abusive behavior ( Pryor, 1996 ).
Most studies indicate that when compared with their male counterparts, females are more likely to have been sexually abused during childhood. Furthermore, females are more likely than males to disclose information regarding sexual abuse, and male victimization seems to be acutely underreported ( Brochman, 1991 ; Devoe & Coulborn-Faller, 1999 ; Finkelhor, 2008 ; Gries et al., 1996 ; Lamb & Edgar-Smith, 1994 ; McMullen, 1992 ; Tewksbury, 2007 ; Walrath, Ybarra, & Holden, 2003 ). That being said, reports are beginning to emerge about high rates of sexual abuse of boys in particular institutions and organizations. The lack of knowledge about male sexual victimization is striking; because so few males report, most information about their victimization is anecdotal or derived from studies with small sample sizes. As such, little statistical knowledge is available about males’ long-term physical, psychological, and emotional effects, or about abuse events themselves.
Knowledge of sex offenders and rates of victimization are based upon two primary sources: official data (including criminal justice reports, victimization surveys, and social service data) and empirical studies. Table 1.2 shows the strengths and weaknesses of the different data sources.