Does being the victim of abuse make someone more likely to commit abuse?

This is sometimes called the "Vampire theory", with the analogy that being bitten turns you into a vampire.

As an example, Ariel Castro blamed his abuse of women on being sexually abused himself:

He said he had himself been sexually abused as a child and had grown up obsessed with sex.

Although the abuse that Castro claimed he had was sexual, and some of the abuse he committed was sexual, I'm open to research talking about any kind of abuse.

Related questions: Does sexual abuse lead to homosexuality? and Did most sex workers experience abuse as a child?

1 Answer 1


I have never heard of "vampire theory" as a term, but I have heard a lot about victim-to-victimizer, and "identification with the aggressor". The later has psychoanalytic origin, and therefore I won't talk much about it because it is not empirically validated, although it can be observed in therapeutic settings with the patiens. About the question itself: An association between both certainly exists, as the prevalence of sexual abusers among those who have been abused has been reported by some longitudinal studies, like those: http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/12583946 http://bjp.rcpsych.org/content/190/49/s27.full.pdf. As you can see, the prevalence of severe antisocial behavior is way higher than would be expected. But the evidence is not enough to prove causality, as many confounding factors apply, like other social adversities, and even genetics (since many abusers are family members too). Also, only a minority of those abused turn into abusers, so that certainly is not a determinant factor. Therefore, someone can hardly “blame” being abused in childhood for abusing someone in adulthood.

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