Risk and Protective Factors For Sexual Violence Perpetration

Risk Factors

Risk factors are factors associated with a greater likelihood of sexual violence perpetration. They should not be considered direct causes but instead as underlying or contributing factors. Research on known risk factors can be used in combination with community-specific guidance in order to create a tailored program that is also informed by best practice research. It should also be noted that some risk factors for perpetration are much more modifiable than others; this should help inform which risk factors are targeted for change in prevention programming.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) has outlined a list of common risk factors for sexual violence perpetration: Sexual Violence: Risk and Protective Factors. The below list should not be considered the only data about underlying causes of sexual violence perpetration but it is the best available evidence we have at this time. According to the CDC "A combination of individual, relational, community, and societal factors contribute to the risk of becoming a perpetrator of SV. Understanding these multilevel factors can help identify various opportunities for prevention.", therefore the table below is organized according to the levels of the Social Ecological Model.

A List of Common Risk Factors for Sexual Violence Perpetration
  • Alcohol and drug use
  • Delinquency
  • Empathic deficits
  • General aggressiveness and acceptance of violence
  • Early sexual initiation
  • Coercive sexual fantasies
  • Preference for impersonal sex and sexual-risk taking
  • Exposure to sexually explicit media
  • Hostility towards women
  • Adherence to traditional gender role norms
  • Hyper-masculinity
  • Suicidal behavior
  • Prior sexual victimization or perpetration
  • Family environment characterized by physical violence and conflict
  • Childhood history of physical, sexual, or emotional abuse
  • Emotionally unsupportive family environment
  • Poor parent-child relationships, particularly with fathers
  • Association with sexually aggressive, hypermasculine, and delinquent peers
  • Involvement in a violent or abusive intimate relationship
  • Poverty
  • Lack of employment opportunities
  • Lack of institutional support from police and judicial system
  • General tolerance of sexual violence within the community
  • Weak community sanctions against sexual violence perpetrators
  • Societal norms that support sexual violence
  • Societal norms that support male superiority and sexual entitlement
  • Societal norms that maintain women's inferiority and sexual submissiveness
  • Weak laws and policies related to sexual violence and gender equity
  • High levels of crime and other forms of violence

Protective Factors

Protective factors may lessen the likelihood of sexual violence victimization or perpetration by buffering against risk. Similar to research on risk factors, protective factors also can be mapped out across the levels of influence. While there is much less data available about known protective factors, the CDC has identified a few protective factors supported in the research.

Protective Factors for Sexual Violence Perpetration
  • Parental use of reasoning to resolve family conflict
  • Emotional health and connectedness
  • Academic achievement
  • Empathy and concern for how one's actions affect others

Resources on Other Websites

  • For more examples about applying risk and protective factors, see Appendix B (pages 37 - 60) of Virginia Sexual & Domestic Violence Action Alliance's Guidelines for the Primary Prevention of Sexual Violence & Intimate Partner Violence.
  • CDC conducted a systematic review of risk and protective factors for SV perpetration and identified a number of factors at the individual and relationship levels that have been consistently supported by research.