Categories: Education, Other

There are many opinions and myths about child sexual abuse. The truth may surprise you! Check out these seven common misconceptions and learn the facts.

child sexual abuse myths and facts

Sexual abuse is probably not something you think about regularly when it comes to kids – and it’s definitely not something you ever want to imagine could happen! But the truth is, 1 in 10 children in America will be sexually abused before the age of 18. Children (which we define as anyone under the age of 18) are sexually victimized at a much higher rate than adults. There are approximately 42 million adult survivors of child sexual abuse living in the U.S. alone. This means that you know, and might even love, a survivor.

Part of the reason child sexual abuse, sometimes called child molestation or sexual assault, is so common is because people generally don’t want to talk about it. However, the more we talk about it, the safer kids actually become!

What is child sexual abuse?

Any sexual act between an adult and a minor, or between two minors, when one exerts power over the other. It may include forcing, coercing, or persuading a minor to engage in any type of sexual act. It also includes non-contact acts such as exhibitionism, exposure to pornography, voyeurism, communicating in a sexual manner, and commercial sexual exploitation (sex trafficking).

Learn more about why we call it “child sexual abuse,” and not “rape” or “molestation” here.

Take a look at these common beliefs and myths about sexual abuse and the facts behind them:

 

Fact: It doesn’t matter what kind of neighborhood, town, or community you’re a part of–children everywhere are at risk of abuse. This is not because of their location, but because there exist adults who look for that opportunity. Abusers come from any variety of different socio-economic backgrounds, races, religious affiliations, and educational statuses. While children in rural or lower income communities report a higher rate of abuse, children from every demographic can be affected. Perpetrators are often loved and respected community members; there’s no single “profile” for an abuser, which means we must be equally protective of all children.

Fact: Perpetrators are not waiting on the street to snatch kids; only 10% of sexually abused children are abused by a stranger. The other 90% of survivors are abused by someone they (or their family) know and trust. Perpetrators integrate themselves into everyone’s life, not just the child’s. They build relationships with the caregivers, family and friends so that they are trusted to be alone with the child. Gaining access this way gives them many more opportunities to perpetrate. This is a process called grooming.

Fact: Not everyone who sexually abuses children is a pedophile, or a man. Women and peer youth can also offend.  Pedophilic offenders often start offending at an early age and often have many victims (frequently non-family members). However, child sexual abuse is perpetrated by a wide range of individuals with diverse motivations.

Sexual abuse is often a crime of opportunity. It is possible for someone to be a “situational offender,” someone who offends once or twice at times of stress and begin offending later than pedophilic offenders. They also have fewer victims (often family) and have a general preference for adult partners.

As many as 40% of children who are sexually abused are abused by older, or more powerful children. Most adolescent sex offenders are not sexual predators and will not go on to become adult offenders.

Fact: While it’s true that females are up to five times more likely to be abused than males, boys are still at risk. Boys are much less likely to come forward with allegations of abuse due to stigma and shame, so reporting rates are much lower for this demographic. This artificially adjusts the numbers to seem like boys are abused less than girls.

Fact: A child’s sexual orientation and/or gender identity are neither the cause or result of abuse. Sexual abuse has many long-term effects on a child’s life and health, but there is no evidence that suggests it plays a role in their sexual orientation or gender identity. It is proven, however, that children who experience abuse have a greater risk of mental illness (anxiety, depression, post-traumatic stress, disordered eating), behavioral problems, lower performance in school, delinquency and substance abuse in later life, and re-victimization. It should be noted that children who identify as LGBTQ+  are at greater risk to be targeted for abuse.

Fact: Members of the LGBTQ+ community, regardless of sexual orientation or gender identity, are no more likely to sexually abuse children than heterosexual individuals.  Gregory Herek, a professor emeritus at the University of California, Davis, reviewed a series of studies and found no evidence that gay men molest children at higher rates than heterosexual men. As opposed to an expression of sexual preference for a certain gender, sexual abuse is about exerting power over the vulnerable and accessible. It is totally possible for a heterosexual adult to abuse a child of the same sex due to the opportunistic nature of offenders (see Fact #3).

Fact: Statistics show that only 4-8% of reports of abuse made by children are false or fabricated. Or, in other words, between 92 and 96% of reports are true. That’s a lot! If a child is willing to come forward, it’s rare that they’re lying. “Disclosure,” the term for telling someone about your experience of abuse, is never easy for survivors. Kids rarely disclose abuse for attention or to get someone in trouble; if a child discloses to you, it means they trust you to help and protect them. How you handle this situation can change that child’s life.

Fact: TV shows and social media often sexualize teenagers and romanticize situations that in the “real world” would be considered sexual abuse and assault. Abuse always involves a power dynamic, in which one more powerful person (often an older person) exerts themselves over the less powerful (or younger).  This is why teenagers under the age of 18, as minors, cannot consent to sex with adults. Make it a point to  have conversations with the teenagers in your life about consent, body boundaries, and safety.

Child sexual abuse can be a tough subject to face, but there is good news: now that you know the truth what your kids or friends could be facing, you have the chance to be a changemaker. Your response could make all the difference for someone going through a tough time!

There are five important steps you can take to protect kids from sexual abuse. Check out our award-winning training, Stewards of Children®, and learn how to keep the kids in your life safe today!

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