Myths about Child Sexual Abuse
- Social acceptance of myths silences victims and encourages public denial about the true na- ture of this silent epidemic. Accurate information is key when confronting and preventing child abuse.
- A common and dangerous public assumption is that a person who looks normal and acts normal simply could never abuse a child. Offenders are knowledgeable about the importance of their public image, and can hide their private behaviors from their friends, neighbors, colleagues, and even their own family members. Offenders use a number of strategies which allow them to gain access to children while hiding their true actions. Many perpetrators seek out volunteer or em- ployment positions that place adults in close proximity to children. Some offenders appear to be charming, socially responsible, caring, compassionate, morally sound, and sincere. Parents and other responsible adults trust these individuals. This leads to continued access to child victims.
- While male perpetrators tend to be the majority of reported cases of abuse, women are also ca- pable of child abuse. Reports of female perpetrators are on the rise, and female offenders have been reported in cases of abuse involving both male and female children.
Just because a child is in the proximity of an offender, this does not mean that the child will automatically become a target or a victim. This may seem obvious, but some people believe that if a perpetrator didn't abuse a certain child to whom he had nearby access, then the children who do make an outcry of abuse must be lying. Offenders carefully select and groom their tar- geted victims, employing an outline or plan to get a particular child alone. Not every child fits the mold of what an offender is looking for. There is a process of obtaining a child's friendship or trust, and in some cases, the parent's friendship or trust, as well. Once trust has been ob- tained, the child is more vulnerable, both emotionally and physically.
Children often fail to disclose the abuse. This is frequently used as purported evidence that a victim's account of abuse isn't plausible. Children who have been victims of sexual assault of- ten have extreme difficulty in disclosing their victimization. One in four girls and one in six boys will be a victim of sexual abuse before his or her 18th birthday, but it is estimated that only one in ten will make an outcry of abuse. It is very common that if a child does make a dis- closure, it will not be immediate. Children take time to process, understand what has occurred and realize that they should tell.
A number of factors affect a child's ability to tell. The age of the child can be a factor, along with a family relationship to the perpetrator, or continuous abuse over a long period of time. Of- fenders will emotionally victimize a child to prevent the truth from being uncovered. A perpetra- tor can convince a child that the child is to blame for the bad act. A perpetrator may threaten physical harm to a family member, friend, parent, household pet, or the victim directly. A perpe- trator can make a child feel that a disclosure would 'ruin' the family. Boys may be reluctant to make an outcry because of the social stigma attached to abuse by another male. Children experi- ence fear, embarrassment, guilt, and shame. These feelings are enough to prevent a child from making a disclosure of abuse.
- Just as women can be offenders, boys may be victims of abuse. Unfortunately, child abuse with male victims is underreported due to social and cultural attitudes: boys are taught to fight back and not let others see vulnerability. Boys are aware at an early age of the social stigma attached to sexual assault by another male, and fear appearing weak to others. All of these attitudes make male child victims less likely to tell about the abuse.
Frequently, an absence of physical evidence is often used as support that abuse did not occur. The truth is that abnormal genital findings are rare, even in cases where abuse has been factually proven by other forms of evidence. Many acts leave no physical trace. Injuries resulting from sex- ual abuse tend to heal very quickly, and many times, exams of child victims do not take place on the same day as the act of abuse.
Eighty-five percent of all reported cases of child molestation involve a child and a known perpe- trator. It is not the stranger in the park carrying out most cases of abuse - it is someone you know in most cases. The people most likely to abuse a child are the ones with the most opportunity, most access, and most trust. Abusers can be parents, step-parents, uncles, aunts, siblings, step- siblings, babysitters, tutors, and family friends.
Early childhood sexual victimization does not automatically lead to sexually aggressive behav- iors. This is a particularly important fact to understand because a misunderstanding can create a terrible stigma for a child who has been sexually abused. While past sexual victimization can in- crease the likelihood of sexually aggressive behavior, most children who were sexually victim- ized never perpetrate against others. Multiple factors contribute to the development of sexually offensive behaviors. These include not only a history of sexual victimization, but also exposure to domestic violence or other violent behaviors. Research by Jane Gilgun, Judith Becker and John Hunter has indicated that if a child discloses an incident of abuse early and is believed and sup- ported by other close people in their lives, they have a much greater likelihood of not becoming perpetrators as adults. Positive support systems and effective therapy are two very important ac- tions adults can provide to children who have experienced abuse.
It is frequently believed that abuse is a problem plaguing only certain families or people with a certain level of family income and education. Sometimes people believe that abuse only happens in lower class and/or rural families. Child abuse crosses all socio-economic, neighborhood, race, and class barriers. It happens in large and small families; in cities and in rural areas; in wealthy and lower income neighborhoods; and in homes, schools, churches, and businesses.