Child Sexual Abuse on Trial. Part 1: The Cases

Child Sexual Abuse on Trial. Part 1: The Cases

In her report ‘Child sexual abuse on trial’, the National Rapporteur on Trafficking in Human Beings and Sexual Violence against Children presents a detailed impression of cases of child sexual abuse that are heard by Dutch courts. Sexual abuse of children is present in multiple differing forms, so it is impossible to sketch a profile of the typical child molester. Clearly, however, the popular image of a child molester is not supported by the facts. Contrary to the stereotype of the offender as a stranger, the perpetrators of hands-on sexual abuse of children are usually known to the victim: a family member, friend or acquaintance. Furthermore, it is not only adults that commit the abuse: one in six offenders is a minor. The assumption impression that perpetrators often abuse many victims also needs to be rectified: most offenders are convicted of abusing a single child.

Sexual abuse of children is present in multiple differing forms, so it is impossible to sketch a profile of the typical child molester. Clearly, however, the popular image of a child molester is not supported by the facts. Contrary to the stereotype of the offender as a stranger, the perpetrators of hands-on sexual abuse of children are usually known to the victim: a family member, friend or acquaintance. Furthermore, it is not only adults that commit the abuse: one in six offenders is a minor. The assumption impression that perpetrators often abuse many victims also needs to be rectified: most offenders are convicted of abusing a single child.

National Rapporteur Corinne Dettmeijer: ‘It is one of the greatest fears of parents that their child will one day be the victim of sexual abuse. Many parents warn their children about child molesters and are on their guard with respect to contact between their child and the man at the day-care centre or the swimming pool, for example. To focus so much on strangers and men who work with children is to overlook a great many victims and offenders.’ The study shows that only a small proportion of victims (7%) are abused by a total stranger. In the vast majority of cases, the perpetrator is a member of the victim’s own family or circle of friends and acquaintances. Abuse by a person who works with children, such as a teacher, a sports coach or a babysitter certainly occurs, but only in a minority of cases (10%). The abuse is most often committed by a person who is very close to the victim. In no fewer than 36% of cases, for example, the perpetrator is a member of the child’s family.

The nature of the abuse

This first part of the study focuses on the nature of the abuse and the characteristics of the perpetrators and victims in the cases that were analysed. Almost nine out of ten of the convictions involved serious sexual abuse, including touching of the genitals and penetration. In most cases, the abuse did not occur just once: in more than three-quarters of the cases the abuse had continued for more than one day, over periods ranging from a few days to twelve years. More than one in ten victims suffered the abuse for a period of four years or longer.

Most perpetrators abuse a single victim

The National Rapporteur refutes the stereotypical impression that perpetrators have more than one victim: 78% of the perpetrators were convicted of sexual abuse of a single victim. The offenders varied greatly in age, from minors to the very elderly. One in six offenders was a minor at the time he or she committed the offence. There were practically no female perpetrators in the study. In 97% of the cases studied, the convicted offenders were men.

Victims are usually girls

The study also provides insight into the victims of child sexual abuse. In most cases (85%), the victim was a girl. The average age of the victims when the abuse began was 10.4 years. Scarcely any of the victims in the judgments that were studied were below the age of four.

Research and follow-up

The study was based on a sample taken from almost 600 judgments in 2012 and 2013 in which an offender was convicted of hands-on abuse of a child. The sample comprised 182 perpetrators. The charges in the cases were brought under the following articles of the Dutch Criminal Code:

  • Article 244 DCC (sexual penetration of a child under the age of twelve);
  • Article 245 DCC (sexual penetration of a child between the ages of twelve and sixteen);
  • Article 247 (indecent acts with a child under the age of 16)
  • Article 249(1) (indecent acts with a minor entrusted to the offender's care).

Part 2 of the study, in which the National Rapporteur will analyse the sentences imposed by the courts and the reasons they gave for those sentences, is scheduled for publication in the second half of 2016.