Batterers and Child Sexual Abuse

Similarities Between Battering and Incest

There are many public misconceptions about batterers, child molesters, and the nature of abuse. Abusers and perpetrators of child sexual abuse are often presented as mentally ill individuals who suffered disturbing childhoods. The public is always shocked when a man with a positive public image is exposed as a batterer or child molester. Many studies have established the overlap between battering and incest. A batterer is about four to six times more likely than a non-batterer to sexually abuse his children, and seven times more likely to physically abuse his children. About half of incest perpetrators also batter the children's mother. Physical and/or sexual violence is just one aspect of their abusive behavior. They also use psychological abuse and manipulation. The American Psychological Association recommends that any history of sexual assaults against the mother is a warning sign of possible sexual or physical abuse of the children.


Both batterers and incest perpetrators exercise a high degree of control over their victims and other family members through verbal abuse and other strategies. They use increasingly coercive tactics if they are not getting the obedience that they demand. They engage in a cycle of violence — alternating from loving kindness to tension building to explosions of harsh emotional abusiveness towards their victims. Incest perpetrators are often harsh and rigid disciplinarians.


Batterers and child molesters tend to be self-centered and expect family members to make sure that their needs are met at all times. They expect deference to their desires and their opinions and become irate when others resist or resent being the ones to make the sacrifices.

Denial and minimization

They easily lie to cover any actions and if caught, appear remorseful but justify their actions that they have the right to do what they did. Just as batterers may be angry at an arrest saying, "What right do they have to tell me what I can do with my own wife?", the incest perpetrator says, "My relationship with my own child is no one else's business." When they do admit their actions, they minimize and play down any negative consequences, insisting that no damage has actually been done.

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Denial of responsibility

Both types of abusers claim that they simply lose control when they act abusively. The batterer may claim to have a bad temper, just as the child abuser claims that he lost control of his sex drive, perhaps blaming it on his wife by saying that she has not been giving him sex. Both claim that the victim provoked their actions, and therefore they themselves are not responsible. The sexual abuser will say that a young child "seduced him" and "really wanted it," just as the batterer says that his partner "set him off" and "knew that she was going to make me violent."

Grooming or seasoning

Batterers and incest perpetrators work to build trust and closeness during the early part of a relationship. Batterers are often charming, kind, and attentive during the first months or even years of a relationship. Incest perpetrators may lay the groundwork for years, working to build a special relationship with the intended victim, gradually breaking down her or his boundaries. The victim is often favored with special kindness and attention, but also particular harshness and control. Batterers often appear unusually appealing, and sexual abusers similarly are appear to be especially good with children. In both cases, the victim is often quite attached to the abuser, because of the manipulation and the many positive-seeming periods in the abuser's behavior.

Positive public image

Both types of abusers are typically well thought of in their communities. They may be professionally successful or socially popular, and may be involved in charitable or civic activities that make them appear outstandingly kind and responsible. Both batterers and child molesters manipulate individuals and systems with whom they come in contact to create negative impressions of their victims. Victims of both kinds of abuse face disbelief because "he's just not the type."

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Batterers and incest perpetrators are skilled at manipulation and easily keep their victims frightened, confused, and self-blaming. Victims are manipulated into feeling responsible for the abuser's feelings. Both abusers require their victims not to tell other people about what has occurred, and threaten dire consequences should the secret be exposed. They sow distrust and division among family members, frequently misdirecting blame on the victim or another family member.

Discrediting of disclosures

Abusers portray their victims as dishonest, hysterical, and vindictive when the abuse is disclosed. The incest perpetrator says, "She was angry at me because I wouldn't by her a Nintendo, and she told me she'd get me back for it." The batterer says, "She's getting me back because I won't always give her every dime of my money." Both make the victim sound like a troubled, unstable individual.

Lack of mental health diagnosis

Most batterers and child sexual offenders show normal results on psychological testing, without psychological or sexual illness. Mental health evaluations provide very little information about likelihood to reoffend. Their behaviors are grounded by attitudes and belief systems, reinforced by peers and by cultural messages.

High recidivism and resistance to change

Both batterers and incest perpetrators are resistant to change and difficult clients in counseling programs that demand change. They may receive glowing reports about their progress however in supportive therapeutic settings that do not require change.

Source: "The Connection Between Batterers and Child Sexual Abuse Perpetrators" by Lundy Bancroft Back to top


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