Up front, we need to acknowledge a couple things:
- Cultures across the globe generally don’t respond this question in truly healthy ways. Historically, people have ignored the issue and/or demonized men at risk of acting on such impulses—rarely helping men struggling with this issue.
- Given the mission of 1in6, this is not a main focus of the support we offer.
That said, there’s still hope…
There Is Hope
If you have already abused (or sexually used) a child and/or assaulted an adult, the sad truth is that your situation is much worse. You have harmed one or more other people (who usually have little or no help dealing with the consequences). You have deeply harmed yourself.
Things can get better.
If you have acted on such impulses, the fear, shame, guilt and other disturbing thoughts and feelings you have – or struggle not to experience – are totally normal results of such behavior. Such thoughts and feelings (on top of the reality of what you’ve done) have, no doubt, dealt a body blow to whatever sense you had of being a good person.
This is a lot to deal with. It’s not fair. But we’re not telling you anything you don’t already know, even if you usually try not to think about it. Still, we can confidently say this:
There is hope. Things can get better.
Two Key Messages
Whatever brought you to this page, we have two very important messages for you:
- Most people who abuse others were abused as children, but the reverse is not true: Most people abused as children do not go on to abuse others.
- If you do have some strong fantasies and impulses – especially if you’ve already acted on them – then it’s much better to worry about being sexual with children or abusing others than not to worry about it.
The best available research suggests that 75% or more of those who commit acts of sexual or physical abuse against others were themselves abused as children. However, the research also indicates that:
The vast majority of children who are sexually abused do not go on to abuse others.
The ability to worry about abusing others is actually a good thing. By this we don’t mean believing that you can’t help but abuse others; as we’ve just pointed out, it’s definitely not inevitable. Nor do we mean it’s good to be obsessed with such worries, which will make you feel bad but won’t help you avoid doing just what you fear.
Having a healthy dose of worry means you can be honest with yourself about your potential to abuse others. Such honesty and, in many cases, quite realistic concern, are required to take healthy and effective steps to keep that potential from becoming a reality.
Again, worrying a lot is not healthy, nor is it effective to prevent what you are worrying about from happening. But mature awareness and responsible concern are healthy.
It’s about healthy awareness, and effective prevention.
Most importantly, if awareness is combined with doing what’s required (e.g., therapy) to decrease such fantasies and impulses, and to decrease your likelihood of acting on those you have, then you can be very effective at preventing yourself from abusing others (and harming yourself in that way).
In contrast, people who are unable or unwilling to admit, to themselves, that they have the potential to abuse others, are more likely to act on abusive thoughts and impulses when they arise, especially during times of major stress. They’re more likely to be “caught by surprise,” and less likely to have effective strategies for resisting such impulses.
In short, when it comes to becoming someone who abuses others – or not – it’s all about having a healthy and realistic awareness of one’s potential and, if your potential is high, making genuine and effective efforts to cultivate the understanding and skills that will enable you resist and overcome such impulses.
Worried About Potentially Abusing Others?
As you know so well, it’s quite a burden to have this worry. But it’s not something you must keep living with, and you deserve support and help overcoming it.
Because this worry is totally understandable and very common, any therapist who can address other consequences of unwanted or abusive childhood sexual experiences can help with this one too. And he or she can help without over-reacting or judging you.
For more information about therapy and finding a therapist in your area, please contact our 24/7 free and anonymous online helpline. You may also look at the pages Principles of Therapy or Counseling and Finding & Evaluating Therapists.
Already Acted on Fantasies or Impulses?
The truth is, it’s very unlikely that you can overcome this problem on your own.
And no matter what you’ve imagined doing, been tempted to do, or actually done, you absolutely deserve support and help.
But sadly, for many men in this situation, there are obstacles to getting what you need and deserve:
- In many places, it is difficult or impossible to find therapists qualified to help men like you.
- If such therapists exist where you live, it can be hard to find them.
- Even if you can find therapists to help, you may not be able to afford their services.
- By law, therapists are ‘mandated reporters.’ If you disclose to them that you are abusing a particular child, or at substantial risk of abusing a particular child, they must inform authorities. Obviously, this could lead to your arrest and imprisonment, which could involve serious risk to your safety (even to your life), and/or no access to meaningful or effective treatment.
Given these realities, we’re not going to pretend that getting the help you need will be easy, or even possible for you. But still, there is hope – even if you have already acted on your fantasies or impulses. It is possible to learn to stop.
In the United States, there are two organizations for people in your situation:
- Safer Society Foundation can direct you to organizations and resources that can help, including clinicians who work with sexual abusers, children with sexual behavior problems, and survivors of abuse.
- Stop It Now! is dedicated to preventing sexual abuse by (1) addressing the issue as a public health problem and (2) helping adults reach out to adults they know who are sexually inappropriate or abusive with children. They have an excellent Helpline that you can call (anonymously and confidentially). It’s available several hours per week, and you can call 888-PREVENT (888-773-8368) for the current schedule.
No matter what, don’t give up. Keep looking for help until you find it, no matter how long it takes.