A perpetrator of child abuse must be a person responsible for the care of a child, a person 14 years or older who resides in a home with the child, if the allegation is sexual abuse, or a person who engages in or allows child sex trafficking.

A person responsible for the care of a child is defined in Iowa Code 232.68 as:

a. Parent, guardian, or foster parent.

b. A relative or any other person with whom the child resides and who assumes care or supervision of the child, without reference to the length of time or continuity of such residence.

c. An employee or agent of any public or private facility providing care for a child, including an institution, hospital, health care facility, group home, mental health center, residential treatment center, shelter care facility, detention center, or child care facility.

d. Any person providing care for a child, but with whom the child does not reside, without reference to the duration of the care."

A person who assumes responsibility for the care or supervision of the child may assume such responsibility through verbal or written agreement, or implicitly through the willing assumption of the care-taking role.

Perpetrators of child abuse come from all walks of life, races, religions, and nationalities. They come from all professions and represent all levels of intelligence and standards of living. There is no single social strata free from incidents of child abuse.

Abusive parents may show disregard for the child's own needs, limited abilities, and feelings. Many abusive parents believe that children exist to satisfy parental needs and that the child's needs are unimportant. Children who don't satisfy the parent's needs may become victims of child abuse.

Sexual abusers may have deviant personality traits and behaviors that can result in sexual contact with a child. Sexual abuse perpetrators sometimes use threats, bribery, coercion or force to engage a child in sexual activity. They violate the trust that a child inherently places in them for care and protection, and exploit the power and authority of their position as a trusted caretaker in order to sexually misuse a child. Often the child is threatened or warned "not to tell," creating a conspiracy of silence about the abuse.