Child Sexual Abuse More Likely in Single-Parent Homes

Parent's absence leaves more opportunity for predators, researchers say

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THURSDAY, March 15, 2007 (HealthDay News) -- Adult men who grew up in single-parent households are twice as likely as other men to have been sexually abused during childhood, a U.S. study found.

That's because parental absences in single-parent homes provide more opportunities for sexual predators to abuse children, the researchers said.

"Children being raised by one parent are at a greater risk for many things as they grow up, including health risks such as poorly controlled diabetes and asthma. We now must add childhood sexual abuse to part of this risk picture," study author Dr. William C. Holmes, an assistant professor of medicine and epidemiology at the University of Pennsylvania School of Medicine, said in a prepared statement.

His team published the findings in the March 13 issue of the Journal of Epidemiology and Community Health.

Even after adjusting for socioeconomic factors, the study found that children in single-parent families had a higher overall risk of being sexually abused than children with two parents. The risk was higher in one-parent homes with lower incomes than in one-parent homes with higher incomes.

Holmes noted that parental absence is common in single-parent homes because the single mother or father has to work to provide for the family. As a result, children may seek an adult with whom to share experiences and bond.

"Predators are pretty good at finding and grooming these sorts of kids. They set children up over time, earn their trust, act as parent-substitutes by giving them attention and sometimes gifts," Holmes said.

The findings from this and other studies show that single parents need more support, such as improving their access to quality child care.

More information

The American Psychological Association offers advice on how to protect children from sexual abuse.

SOURCE: University of Pennsylvania School of Medicine, news release, March 13, 2007

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