Child Sexual Assault: Myths and Facts
1. Most children who experience sexual assault are female.
TRUE. Research indicates that on average 30% of all women and 16% of all men have experienced some form of sexual abuse as a child.
2. The majority of adults who assault children were themselves sexually assaulted as children.
FALSE: Evidence does not support the view that offenders have also been a victim of sexual abuse, with between 20-30% of offenders disclosing their own sexual abuse during childhood.
3. Homosexuals are more likely than heterosexuals to assault children.
FALSE. Offenders are most commonly heterosexual men, even if the victim is a boy. Many offenders are married men who live with a partner and children.
4. Most children don’t know the people who assault them.
FALSE. Approximately 85% of offenders are known to the child. Most offenders are relatives or close friends of the child whom the child trusts.
5. Untrue allegations of child sexual assault are frequent, children often making up stories about adults to get them in trouble.
FALSE. Children rarely lie about sexual assault. Statistics show that in 98% of cases children’s statements are found to be true. Children who report sexual abuse often describe sexual behaviour in detail, information they are unlikely to have unless their stories are true.
6. People who molest their own children are not a danger to other people’s children.
FALSE. Sexual abuse is seldom a single offence. If a man abuses his own children he is capable of abusing their friends and others.
7. Children often misinterpret what an adult is doing and wrongly accuse the adult of sexual assault.
FALSE. Studies show that children tell often long after the abuse has started and the sexual touching has increased. What started as seemingly innocent “accidental touching” or “just tickling” is later used by an offender, when the sexual touching increases, to defend his behaviour and blame the child.
8. The child may be at fault for encouraging the sexual activity.
FALSE. A child cannot be held responsible for the abusive behaviour of an adult. The child is in a vulnerable position compared to the adult, who often has authority over the child. The child is likely to trust the person and believe they are safe.
9. If a child doesn’t tell about being sexually assaulted it is because they have a bad relationship with their parents or carers.
FALSE. Sexual abuse has often been called the “silent problem” because the hardest thing for a child who is being abused is to tell.
10. A child says that they have been sexually assaulted and then later says that it didn’t really happen. This clearly means that they are lying.
FALSE. Children may retract an allegation because of enormous pressure placed on them to make it go away. The family may be at risk of breaking up, parents distressed and the child has no support. Disbelieving adults give the child the idea that if they say it was a lie things will return to normal. However an offender will not stop abusing and often becomes more aggressive knowing that if the child says something again people will not believe them.
11. Females do not commit sexual offences against children.
FALSE. Women commit less frequently than men but can also abuse.
12. All professional persons who work with children must, by law, report any suspicion of child sexual assault or other forms of abuse.
TRUE. Most people who work with children (teachers, doctors, counsellors) are mandatory notifiers to the Department of Community Services.
13. Offenders are sick with a mental illness.
FALSE. There is no psychological profile of an offender.
14. You can’t do anything to protect children when they are out of your sight.
FALSE. Although it is never a child’s responsibility to protect themselves, teaching personal safety skills can make a difference to a child’s safety.
15. Sexual offenders have a sleazy or frightening appearance.
FALSE. Sexual offenders do not look any different from anyone else. They are usually “average” people in our community. In fact they usually try hard to impress adults they come in contact with to earn their respect and trust. Offenders usually relate well to children to increase their access to that child and build that child’s trust of them.
16. If the child does not complain or show distress during the sexual activity then it is not really abuse.
FALSE. This is a particularly harmful myth as it may cause people to minimize what has happened. Just because a child does not react during or after the abuse occurred does not means there is no impact. Even if a child does not have the knowledge or emotional tools to really understand what the person has done to her abuse is still abuse.
17. Children who are sexually abused are scarred forever.
FALSE. While being sexually abused can be traumatic it need not damage a child for the rest of their life.
18. People close to a child should know that sexual abuse is happening.
FALSE. Sexual assault occurs because the offender works hard to keep it a secret. His grooming of the child extends to others in the child’s network to ensure that people don’t suspect the abuse.