“Hurt People Hurt Other People”: The Link Between Past Trauma and Sexual Offending


  • Melissa D. Grady
  • Jill S. Levenson
  • Jessica Glover
  • Shelley Kavanagh
  • Katharine Carter


Background: A growing body of research documents the high rates of trauma among individuals who have sexually offended. Yet the relationship between prior victimization and subsequent sexual offending remained unclear. Objective: By including the voices and perspectives of individuals convicted of sexual offenses, we sought to strengthen professionals’ understanding of the connection between victimization and offending. Method: This qualitative study used an online survey to collect data from individuals convicted of sexual offenses (n = 195) with the aims of understanding their perceptions of the link between trauma and offending and what they would like sex-offense treatment providers to know about this connection. Results: Using grounded theory, five major themes emerged from the data analysis: Relationship between Trauma Offending (n = 91), Acknowledging the Connection (n = 57), Specific Effects of Trauma (n = 48), Individualized Treatment (n = 34), and Recognition of Humanity (n = 26). Conclusions: The participants perceived a strong connection between one’s own victimization and subsequent sexual offending. In addition, they offered specific recommendations for treatment providers, including individualizing treatment with an emphasis on humanity and compassion. Implications for trauma-informed practice and policy are discussed.