Myths of Sexual Abuse

Myths of Sexual Abuse
by Ron Huxley
The subject of sexual abuse is steeped in misconceptions. Its publicity and media attention may have produced stereotypical myths about what constitutes sexual abuse. Six myths have been identified here:

Sexual Abuse Myth #1 - The total stranger represents the greatest potential danger to the child. In reality, these offenders account for less than 25% of the cases. Children are sexually abused or assaulted four out of five times by a person known to them. This person might be their parent, stepparent, parent's boyfriend, sibling, other relative, neighbor, friend of the family, classmate, babysitter, landlord, doctor, teacher or preacher.

Sexual Abuse Myth #2 - Physical trauma is the main concern because children are usually severely hurt. Actually, violent attacks and forced penetration occur in only 5% of the cases. Force is rarely used to sexually maltreat a young child or adolescent. Unfortunately, the psychological damage may have much worse trauma on the child.

Sexual Abuse Myth #3 - It's more difficult for the child to get over a sexual assault than for an adult. If the abuse does not occur more than once and if it is handled appropriately by adults, chances are that the child victim will adjust to the trauma at a faster rate than the adult will. It is true that children tend to become more withdrawn than older victims do.

Sexual Abuse Myth #4 - Child victims come from lower socio-economic families. Levels of family income and education are not indicators of sexual abuse. Middle and upper-class families are more capable of concealing the effects of their neglect and abuse. Sexual abuse happens with any child regardless of age, race, or neighborhood. Offenders are usually of the same race and economic level. The offense occurs in the vicinity of the child's home or the home of the offender. And lastly, boys are subjected to abuse almost as frequently as girls are.

Sexual Abuse Myth #5 - Most cases of child sexual abuse are reported. In reality, very few cases are reported. You only hear about the most violent or sensational cases. When the abuse involves a relative, you are less likely to have that case reported. Reasons for not reporting will be discussed more in the section under-reporting responsibilities.

Sexual Abuse Myth #6 - The child victim is somehow the cause - directly or indirectly - of the sexual abuse by seducing the offender, fantasizing the molestation or exaggerating the injury when the genitals were merely touched. While a child may seek attention or love through contact, or just plain curiosity, or perhaps excitement over sharing forbidden sexual feelings, the responsibility for the molestation rests with the offender. While it may appear that the child is a willing participant, he or she may be submitting because it seems the only way to cope. If the child is emotionally, physically and financially dependent on the offender, the abuse may be tolerated out of fear, guilt or love.

The definition of abuse is confused with myths, stereotypes and misconceptions. It is also more complex and varied than being merely a case of physical abuse or neglect. It also refers to emotional deprivation and sexual molestation by members close to the child. Maltreatment is not a respecter of persons. It happens to any child regardless of age, race or income level.

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