Child Sex Abusers — The Perpetrators

In most cases, the perpetrator of child sexual abuse is someone the child or family knows and trusts. Predators may connect with their victims through well-known institutions that lack sufficient oversight or have power structures designed to keep people from speaking up about abuse.

Perpetrators of Child Sex Abuse

About 90 percent of child sex abuse victims know their abuser, and about 60 percent of the time the victims are familiar with the perpetrators of sexual abuse but are not related to them.

Predators may establish contact with their victims through well-known institutions, such as the Catholic Church and the Boy Scouts of America. These institutions may lack sufficient oversight or have directives in place to conceal this especially heinous crime from law enforcement and the public — often to protect the institutions’ reputations.

Catholic Church Sex Abuse

From 2013 to 2015, more than 2,300 people came forward with nearly 2,500 child sex abuse allegations against spiritual leaders within the Catholic Church, according to the most recent data available. But there are likely many more cases that remain unreported.

The sexual abuse of children by some priests and other clergy members, and how the church has addressed these crimes, has caused victims and their families tremendous pain, anger and confusion. High-ranking church officials have aided perpetrators and have put children at risk by covering up the abuse; relocating offenders to different dioceses, parishes or schools; and denying the abuse altogether.

Catholic Church Sex Abuse by the Numbers:

16,787: The number of people in the U.S. who came forward between 1950 and 2012 to say priests abused them as children. The figure, reported by the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops (USCCB), only includes allegations that the conference deemed credible and, for unknown reasons, excludes people who spoke up in 2003.

838: The number of people in the U.S. who came forward between July 1, 2014, and June 30, 2015, to say clergy in 123 Catholic dioceses and eparchies abused them as children. USCCB reports 903 allegations against the Church in that one year alone. Not all dioceses and eparchies participated in the audit.

95: The percent of child sexual abuse situations that go unreported. On average, between 60,000 and 70,000 children are confirmed as victims of sexual abuse in the U.S. each year, according to recent annual reports made to the federal government through the National Child Abuse and Neglect Data System (NCANDS). Still, experts say, these crimes are highly underreported.

26: The number of sexual abuse claims made by minors against clergy between July 1, 2014, and June 30, 2015, according to the USCCB. One in 10 children will experience physical sexual abuse in the U.S. before they turn 18, and 60 percent of children who are sexually abused don’t speak up.

153,619,544: The dollar amount the Church spent on costs related to child sex abuse allegations for diocese, eparchies and religious institutions in 2015. The figure, which is up $34,539,897 from 2014, includes settlements, therapy for victims, support for offenders, attorneys’ fees and other costs.

3,420: The number of priests the Vatican punished between 2004 and 2014 for sexually abusing more than 3,400 children. The Vatican sentenced 2,572 sexually abusive priests to a lifetime of penance and prayers and defrocked — or dismissed — another 848 priests who had molested children.

Jehovah’s Witness Sex Abuse

Recent investigations have revealed what appears to be a decades-old cover up of sexual abuse within the Jehovah’s Witness community — a community of more than 1 million members in the U.S.

Throughout the past nearly 30 years, the Jehovah’s Witness’ Governing Body has allegedly sent letters to the elders — or spiritual leaders — of all 14,000 congregations, instructing them to keep instances of child sex abuse confidential, among other directives.

The religion’s parent organization, the Watchtower Bible and Tract Society of New York, has allegedly testified that it approved at least 10 anonymous memos dating back to 1989, according to The Center for Investigative Reporting.

The memos instructed elders and other leaders to:

  • handle allegations of sexual abuse internally by forming confidential judicial committees.
  • maintain strict confidentiality “to avoid unnecessary entanglement with secular authorities who may be conducting a criminal investigation of the matter.”
  • never divulge confidential information to anyone — including an investigator, a policeman, a detective, or other law enforcement or government officials — unless the church tells you to do so.

The Watchtower Bible and Tract Society of New York also allegedly told elders in a memo that it determines of who is considered a serial child abuser and that “not every individual who has sexually abused a child in the past is considered a ‘predator.’”

Investigators believe the Jehovah’s Witnesses’ leadership is withholding a database with information about thousands of alleged child abusers who could still be abusing kids. The files are believed to include the names of known and suspected abusers, where their congregations are located and details of their alleged crimes.

Child Sex Abuse in Ultra-Orthodox Jewish Communities

Allegations of child sex abuse in ultra-Orthodox Jewish communities have emerged in recent years. The alleged abusers include some schoolteachers and rabbis.

Like in the Catholic Church, leaders within the ultra-Orthodox Jewish communities have allegedly ignored the crimes or have tried to cover them up and protect the abusers. Some ultra-Orthodox leaders allegedly advise community members to turn to rabbinical authorities before reporting child abuse to authorities, and in certain communities, those who speak up about abuse are shunned and harassed.

Mormon Sex Abuse

Several Native Americans who were part of a Mormon program from 1947 to the mid-1990s have come forward with allegations of childhood sexual abuse. About 50,000 children participated in the Mormon Indian Student Program, which placed Native American children in Mormon homes while they attended the community public school.

Native Americans who have come forward with allegations of sexual abuse say insufficient oversight may have left some of the participants vulnerable to sexual abuse, and that the Mormon leaders should have done more to prevent the abuse.

Child Sex Abuse by Boy Scout Leaders

In 1919, the Boy Scouts of America began keeping an internal, confidential list of pedophiles who pervaded the organization. Known as the “perversion files,” the blacklist of hundreds of alleged molesters was kept secret from police, parents and the public for decades.

But brave abuse victims and their attorneys, including members of our team, forced the organization to release thousands of files that documented the nationwide abuse.

The files reveal how officials often encouraged admitted offenders to quietly resign and helped many hide their crimes. Under this broken system, alleged abusers who had been expelled rejoined the program, only to be accused of sexually abusing Scouts again.

Exposing the Boy Scout ‘Perversion Files’

  • From 1965 to 1985, Boy Scout officials recorded 1,247 cases of abuse.
  • From 1947 to 2004, the organization amassed roughly 3,200 confidential files regarding cases of sexual abuse.
  • From 1970 to 1991, Boy Scout officials documented more than 125 cases in which men allegedly continued to molest Scouts after the organization had been made aware of alleged abusive activities.
  • Over the years, there were at least 50 cases in which Boy Scout officials expelled suspected abusers who then slipped back into the program and were accused of molesting again.

Child Sex Abuse by Teachers & Coaches

Up to seven percent of all middle and high school students are sexually abused by teachers, coaches and other adult school-employees, according to recent data by the U.S. Department of Education. This means millions of students have been sexually abused by teachers and other adults in the school system.

Outside the school system, some coaches have committed acts of sexual abuse against children in their sports programs. Over a 20-year period, for example, at least 368 gymnasts alleged some form of sexual abuse by their coaches, gym owners and other adults working in gyms nationwide. A lax system of oversight allowed coaches who were accused of sexual abuse to move from gym to gym.

Similarly, teachers and other school officials who have been accused of sexual abuse often move on to work at other schools or jobs where children are present. Congress passed a law in December 2015 requiring states to ban school districts from secretly shuffling problem teachers from school to school. But a year later, 45 states still had not instituted a ban.

Holding Perpetrators Accountable

Perpetrators can be arrested or sued for child sexual abuse charges, and so can those who knowingly expose children to perpetrators, hide abuse or allow a perpetrator to continue abusing other children.

We have worked with hundreds of sex abuse survivors to hold perpetrators of child sex abuse — and those who protect them — accountable and to help abuse survivors heal.

Our team member Leander L. James IV helped secure one of the largest abuse settlements of any kind by the Catholic Church: a $166 million settlement on behalf of more than 500 victims of sexual abuse. At the time, the settlement with the Oregon Province of the Society of Jesus, known as the Northwest Jesuits, was by far the largest abuse settlement from a Catholic religious order.

Speaking Up About Abuse

If you are ready to speak out against your abuser, we are here to advise and counsel you on your options. Call or fill out a form to speak with one of our dedicated attorneys.

View Sources

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