The Myths of Child Abuse

There are many myths about child sexual abuse. These myths hurt children by silencing victims and encouraging public denial about the truth of how children are abused and by whom. By learning the myths and facts, you can help prevent children from being hurt. The following are some of the most common myths about child abuse.

MYTH: He looks normal and acts normal, so he can’t be a child molester. I can tell, just by looking at someone, if he is a child molester.

A common assumption is that a person who looks “normal” and acts “normal” simply cannot sexually abuse children. Individuals who sexually offend against children are aware of the importance of their public image. They have learned to hide certain behaviors from their friends, neighbors, colleagues, and even their own family members. For example, some individuals who hurt children appear to be charming, socially responsible, caring, compassionate, moral and sincere. Many parents and other responsible adults trust these individuals, and as a result trust them with their children.

MYTH: Only men sexually abuse children.

While men represent the majority of suspects in reported cases of abuse, women also sexually offend against children. Reports of female perpetrators are on the rise, and female offenders have been reported in cases of abuse involving both male and female victims.

MYTH: The victim is always a girl.

An estimated 16% of boys will be sexually abused before they reach 18 years of age. Yet official statistics do not reflect the full scope of the problem. Boys are less likely than girls to report their abuse due to social and cultural attitudes that do not support their disclosure. Young male victims may be concerned about appearing weak, particularly if they were assaulted by another male, and therefore less likely to report the abuse.

MYTH: Abused children always tell. My child knows s/he is supposed to tell, and s/he will.

In most cases, children do not disclose abuse, and they find it very difficult to talk about. When a child does disclose abuse, it is usually not immediately after it has happened. Many things affect a child’s ability to talk about what is happening, including the child’s age, his/her relationship to the offender, and the length of time the abuse has been occurring. Individuals who sexually offend against children may convince the child s/he is to blame; use threats of harm to the child, to someone the child loves or to a family pet; or instill fear in the child by saying it will ruin the family.

MYTH: Individuals who abuse children target any and all children nearby.

Just because a child is near an individual who sexually offends against children, it does not mean that the child will become a target or a victim. Offenders carefully select and groom their victims. Over time, they befriend the child and gain his or her trust, and in some cases, they do the same to the child’s parents. Once trust exists, the child becomes more vulnerable, both emotionally and physically.

MYTH: Child victims of sexual abuse will have physical signs of the abuse.

Most of the time, there are not obvious physical signs that a child is being sexually abused. Individuals who sexually offend against children try not to physically harm the child to decrease the chances of discovery or the child’s disclosure. Emotional or behavioral signs may exist, and it takes an alert adult to recognize them.

MYTH: I need to be most concerned with stranger danger.

In 95% of reported cases of child abuse, the perpetrator is known to the child and is often someone the child feels close to and trusts. Individuals who are most likely to abuse a child are the ones with opportunity, access, and trust, including parents, step-parents, other relatives, siblings, babysitters, neighbors, teachers, and family friends.

MYTH: Sexual victimization as a child will result in the child growing up to become a sex offender.

Being a victim of sexual abuse as a child does not automatically lead to sexually aggressive behaviors as an adult. Most children who were sexually victimized never perpetrate against others. Only about one-third of individuals who sexually offend against children were, in fact, abused as a child.

MYTH: Child sexual abuse is a cultural or socioeconomic problem.

Sexual abuse crosses all socio-economic, neighborhood, race and class boundaries. 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.

Adopted from One with Courage - Myths About Child Abuse

Want to know more facts about child abuse? Check out our September 2013 article on lessons from CALICO's child abuse prevention training here.

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