The people over at Child Sexual Abuse Awareness Month have started a wonderful initiative by encouraging posts about the topic and thereby spreading awareness. My post here is part of that initiative. And I am choosing to bust some of those myths we commonly hear about child sexual abuse.
Myth No. 1: If I teach my child about stranger-danger, that is enough to prevent them from getting sexually abused. After all, strangers are most likely to abuse our kids.
Fact: About 85% of child sexual abuse occurs by someone known to the victim. So rather than merely teaching your child to be vigilant of strangers, it is more helpful to educate them about what sexual abuse involves whether it is by someone known or unknown. Contrary to other forms of abuse and what we have recently heard in the media, only 13.5% of victims under the age of 15 identified that the abuse came from their father/stepfather, 30.2% was perpetrated by other male relative, 16.9% by family friend, 15.6% by acquaintance/neighbour and 15.3% by other known person [Source 1, Source 2, Source 3]
Myth No. 2: All child sexual abusers were sexually abused themselves as kids.
Fact: The evidence for this is actually mixed. In a US study comparing the developmental experiences of child sexual abusers and adult sexual abusers, 73% of the child sexual abusers in the sample had experienced child sexual abuse themselves (Simons, Wurtele, & Durham, 2008). However, in a longitudinal study in the United Kingdom, only 11.6% of a sample of 224 former male victims of child sexual abuse had subsequently committed a sexual offence toward a child (Salter et al., 2003). [Source]
Myth No. 3: Boys don’t have to worry about being sexually abused.
Myth No. 4: It is better for the victim to not talk about child sexual abuse; it makes it easier for them to forget.
Fact: Research on post-traumatic stress disorder shows that avoidance of the traumatic incident is in fact detrimental and treatment for PTSD involves talking about the incident in detail. Exposure is the key to therapy. [Source] The same applies to a traumatic incident like sexual abuse. Keeping it hushed up makes it worse for the victim.
Myth No. 5: Because a child’s body reacts to the sexual abuse, it means they are enjoying it and it is therefore not abuse.
Fact: This is a common myth associated even with rape of adults (male or female) and victims feel a sense of shame thinking they enjoyed it as well. However, the truth is an erection or ejaculation for males and an orgasm for females are physiological responses by the body. One that a child doesn’t necessarily have control over. [Source 1, Source 2, Source 3]
Myth No. 6: My child and I have great communication; they will definitely tell me if they were abused.
Fact: The fact is that most children do not disclose being sexually abused. The reasons are plenty and include being threatened by the perpetrator, being bribed by the perpetrator, a fear that they will be taken away from the family, worrying about getting into trouble, blaming themselves and therefore thinking they are bad, or feeling ashamed. [Source]
Myth No. 7: All perpetrators of child sexual abuse are male.
Fact: While majority of child sexual abuse perpetrators are male, a review of evidence suggests that females do abuse in a small proportion of cases. Data from the US has shown that males were the perpetrators in 90% of reported cases while 3.9% were females and about 6% were an ‘unknown gender’. In a Canadian data on CSA incidents reported in the late nineties, 10.7% of perpetrators were females. New research in Australia has shown that 6% of perpetrators in child sexual assault cases that were reported were female. [Source 1, Source 2]
Myth No. 8: Only gay men abuse boys.
Fact: Homosexual men are no more likely than heterosexual men to be perpetrators of child sexual abuse. [Source] Research since the 70s with convicted offenders of child sexual abuse indicated that majority of the offenders identified themselves as heterosexual. [Source]
Myth No. 9: It is only child sexual abuse if it involves penetration.
Fact: Forms of child sexual abuse include forcing a child into engaging in sexual activity, indecent exposure of one’s genitals to the child, displaying child pornography to the child, using the child to make pornographic material, as well as sexual contact including penetration. [Source]
Myth No. 10: Children lie about child sexual abuse.
Fact: Young children do not have the cognitive capacity or sexual understanding to create explicit lies about being abused. If anything, they will lie to deny its occurrence. [Source] However, it is important that children are interviewed by people skilled at the job as it is possible to implant memories and fabricate memories through wrongful questioning [Source].
So before you jump to conclusions with the myths surrounding child sexual abuse, stop. Take a step back. And look at the facts. We need to stop blaming the victim and not believing them. Instead, take time. Listen. And report it to the relevant authorities.
Check out other stories and posts through the CSA Awareness blog.
Until next time,