When sexualised violence against children or adolescents occurs, it usually happens within the family or its social environment and it is inflicted by people who know the children or adolescents well. In the digital world it is mainly third-party perpetrators who seek sexual contact with minors through the internet.
Abuse mainly occurs within the close social environment
Sexual abuse mainly occurs within the children’s and adolescents’ close social environment. This includes relatives, friends and family acquaintances or even employees in educational, leisure and sport facilities. Children and adolescents suffer sexual violence within their nuclear family in most cases.
In all of these cases, it is especially difficult for children and adolescents to get help if the perpetrator is held in high esteem by the parents or is a person who is respected by the family. The children can hardly imagine that they will be believed and that they will receive support.
Male or female perpetrators are often people of trust
A relationship of trust usually exists between the perpetrator and the survivor in most abuse cases. This closeness and possible dependence is often exploited by the perpetrator.
Most girls and boys are unsuspecting towards caregivers as they do not feel any danger initially and this means that they can hardly protect themselves.
For example, if the parents themselves trust the caregivers involved with their child or adolescent, it can be difficult to recognise sexual abuse and take measures to protect them against it. Some people from the close environment also turn to digital media to prepare the abuse in order to avoid the monitoring and control by parents or other caregivers.
Abuse within the nuclear family is often difficult to imagine
It is often difficult for the non-abusing parent and other family members to notice these acts, especially in cases of abuse within the family: most people attribute sexual abuse to outsiders rather than relatives and they do not consider it possible within their nuclear family. Society's view of perpetrators is too damning and demonising to imagine that someone from their own private life would be capable of such an act.
The closer the perpetrator is to the child or adolescent, the more difficult it is for those suffering abuse to break free from the power and dependency structures and to get help.
Abuse in institutions
An essential part of the social environment that is needed by children and adolescents are their educational, leisure and sports facilities as well as other facilities of child, youth and disability welfare.
Perpetrators take advantage of the fact that relationships and sympathies exist or that power structures and dependencies also exist here. Potential perpetrators often choose educational or therapeutic professions or (voluntary) fields of activity that make it possible to approach children and adolescents easily and continuously. They benefit from the good reputation of the educational, religious or sporting institutions, which includes them through being employed there and the resulting trust that parents place in them.
Male and female perpetrators often have excellent pedagogical skills, are usually popular and are regarded as deeply committed by their colleagues. They gladly take on unpopular activities, cover up small weaknesses or professional mistakes made by colleagues and this creates an atmosphere of gratitude and loyalty. They systematically gain the trust of the children and adolescents, favour specific girls or boys, seemingly put themselves on the same level as a potential victim by establishing an exclusive relationship and portraying other adults as threatening or unsympathetic. This is how they succeed in isolating the child or adolescent from the environment, binding them more strongly to themselves and shielding them further away from other people who could help out.
It should also be noted that in educational and medical / therapeutic institutions, such as homes, institutions for the disabled, clinics or therapeutic practices, children and adolescents are overrepresented and they are already struggling with various forms of child welfare endangerment (sexual abuse, physical and mental abuse, neglect, domestic partner violence) or have disabilities. They are often in special need of closeness and recognition. This need is exploited by perpetrators working in these sectors.
Perpetrators who are strangers are an exception - but not on the internet
Only a few perpetrators are really strangers to the children or adolescents involved. From the perpetrators’ standpoint it is much easier to build on existing relationships of trust, power and dependence than to establish contact with children or adolescents who are complete strangers.
The situation is very different on the internet. Many perpetrators use the anonymity of the internet to approach children and adolescents with sexual intent (keyword: cybergrooming). Intensive and often very personal chats easily give children and adolescents the impression that they are not in contact with strangers. The supposed familiarity lulls them into security and weakens their caution.