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This article in the Catholic Education Resource Center claims

In the United States, the media and opinion makers have finally come to recognize that unwed pregnancy is a major source of social chaos in our culture. Every few weeks, some columnist in the newspaper or news journal writes an editorial bemoaning the problem of unwed parenthood. The evidence is overwhelming that children raised in households headed by a single parent are much more prone to sexual abuse, drug abuse, crime, and divorce, for instance. Their health is poorer; their academic achievement is poorer; their economic well-being is less than that of children who are raised in two-parent households. In every way, children raised in single parent households seem to have a few strikes against them as they forge their way through life.

Are children who grow up in single parent households more likely to be sexually abused than children who grew up in two-parent households?

  • A corrolary to ths would also be to see how children in a two gay parent household fare. I've seen a lot of people use this claim as an argument against gay marriage, where I would think it ends up being a better argument against heterosexual marriage if they really look at how the numbers stack up... – JasonR Mar 8 '12 at 15:19
  • See Are married parents really better for children? which says yes on all counts, but I'd really like to see an alternate report which corrects for SES. For sure it's plausible that single-parent households cause poverty, but it's just as likely poverty causes single-parent households. – Chel Mar 8 '12 at 15:58
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    Ok, @Chad, I've narrowed the scope to just sexual abuse for this question. – Sam I Am Mar 9 '12 at 22:20
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    Is it wrong to think that maybe Christian officialdom should probably leave this dicsussion alone to avoid too much irony? – Marc Gravell Mar 10 '12 at 16:52
  • @MarcGravell - It is not all christian religions that have been shown to knowingly harbor and protect pedophiles. Though I agree any numbers coming from the Vatican would leave a bad taste in my mouth as well. – Chad Mar 12 '12 at 13:32
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After looking at a number of statistics that don't tackle your question directly, my impression is that being in a single-parent household might be correlated with an important factor of childhood sexual abuse, but that it is not a contributor on its own. Namely, a strong correlate of childhood sexual abuse is involvement of the biological father in raising the child. In families where the parents have a bad relationship (whether they are divorced or not), the most common perpetrators of sexual abuse - male relatives and and acquaintances - have a greater chance of committing sexual abuse. Very often the perpetrator is the mother's partner (whether he is living with them or not), who is not the biological father of the child.

(A few sources on the most common perpetrators: first bullet on the page, bottom of page 8, Finkelhor study mentioned in last bullet.)

Some relevant stastics:

A pediatrics source on general abuse and neglect, that shows that a child living with either a single mother or a mother and her live-in partner, is at greater risk of abuse and neglect:

living with their married biological parents places kids at the lowest risk for child abuse and neglect, while living with a single parent and a live-in partner increased the risk of abuse and neglect to more than eight times that of other children

A source on fatherless kids (which summarizes information from another source which I haven't read myself), that again shows that many victims of childhood sexual abuse are living with the mother's boyfriend or a stepfather:

Sexual abuse. A study of 156 victims of child sexual abuse found that the majority of the children came from disrupted or single-parent homes; only 31 percent of the children lived with both biological parents. Although stepfamilies make up only about 10 percent of all families, 27 percent of the abused children lived with either a stepfather or the mother's boyfriend. Source: Beverly Gomes-Schwartz, Jonathan Horowitz, and Albert P. Cardarelli, "Child Sexual Abuse Victims and Their Treatment," U.S. Department of Justice, Office of Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention.

A source that describes how pedophiles work, showing that they need to have ample time alone with the child:

Many times pedophiles will develop a close relationship with a single parent in order to get close to their children. Once inside the home, they have many opportunities to manipulate the children -- using guilt, fear, and love to confuse the child. If the child's parent works, it offers the pedophile the private time needed to abuse the child.

So this source does mention single-parent families as likely targets, but if the pedophile becomes the live-in boyfriend in order to be closer to the child, I'm guessing it wouldn't count as a single-parent household anymore?

To answer whether children from single-parent households are more likely victims than children living with both parents, the numbers would need to be broken down differently from what they are in the sources I've found. It seems to me that this information isn't widely available because single-parenting on its own is not an important factor. But obviously, more data is needed to answer that question.

  • Thanks, good answer. What about people who were sexually abused as adults, are they more likely to have grown up in a single parent house too? – Sam I Am Mar 11 '12 at 2:30
  • @SamIAm - Adult sexual abuse is completely different than child sex abuse and not really part of this question. Though if you can find a notable claim about adult sexual abuse it may make a good question. – Chad Mar 12 '12 at 13:39
  • @Chad, that is how I interpreted the original claim I gave, I guess I just interpreted it wrong. – Sam I Am Mar 12 '12 at 14:32
  • @SamIAm - I think there is a claim that they become less productive adults but that is a different scope than what you defined. Though it would make a good question as well. – Chad Mar 12 '12 at 16:50

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