Disclosure of a sexual abuse is a process. Sexually abused children rarely tell the whole story at once. They tell parts of the story because they are not sure if it is safe to tell more. They need to feel that they are trusted before they disclose more details. Children are pretty good at recognising if it is safe to talk to adults. However, sometimes children will talk even when they do not feel safe and when adults are trying to convince them of the opposite.
In order to provide the best possible child protection, it is necessary to distinguish between myths and facts about sexual abuse and sexual perpetrators. The most common myth is that parents and adults should be able to recognise a sexually abused child. The fact is, however, that children show various signs and that the majority of parents and adults are not familiar with them and with their meaning.
This one, and many other myths, counteract facts, limit knowledge and disable early detection of abuse.
MYTH: Sexual abuse of children is not frequent
FACT: Sexual abuse of children has been happening for ages, but nowadays the number of identified and reported cases is on the increase. Considering the fact that some children never disclose that they have been abused or the abuse is not reported to relevant institutions, it is doubtless that sexual abuse is more frequent than we know.
MYTH: Only certain children experience sexual abuse
FACT: Sexual abuse does not correlate with socio-economic status, education and general characteristics of the child.
MYTH: Sexual perpetrators are strangers
FACT: In most cases, the child, and very often child’s family, know the perpetrator.
MYTH: Sexual perpetrators of children are not difficult to recognise
FACT: It is just the opposite. Sexual perpetrators are often kind and caring people. In order to attain their goal and to easily approach the child, they often deceive parents, too.
MYTH: Children are sexually abused by persons who themselves have been sexually abused
FACT: Many sexual perpetrators have never been sexually abused.
MYTH: Boys are sexually abused only by homosexual males
FACT: In most cases there is no correlation between an adult’s sexual orientation and the abused child’s gender.
MYTH: Sexual perpetrators are only males
FACT: Some research show that 20 to 25 percent of sexual abuse is committed by females.
MYTH: Pre-school children are not at risk for sexual abuse
FACT: It is estimated that roughly one third of the victims are younger than six, and children below five are exposed to greater risk of being sexually abused by a female.
MYTH: Sexual abuse of the child is always violent
FACT: Sexual abuse of the child can be violent, but very often it is not. During the abuse, children can experience sexual arousal and pleasure, which is natural in the context of physiological arousal, but it certainly does not mean that the child wanted or enjoyed being abused.
MYTH: If the child agrees to sexual intercourse with an older person, then it is not a sexual abuse
FACT: The child can not maturely agree to sexual activity.
MYTH: Children are sexual beings and they attract sexual attention
FACT: The responsibility for sexual abuse is always on the adult, the perpetrator regardless of child’s behaviour.
MYTH: Children lie about the sexual abuse
FACT: Most often, children do not dispose with sufficient knowledge about sexuality, they do not have the vocabulary nor the experience to lie about the sexual abuse.
MYTH: Growing up, the child recovers from sexual abuse
FACT: Recovery does not happen by itself, by growing up. Consequences can be short and long term. This is why it is necessary to seek professional help.
MYTH: Sexually abused child will confide in an adult
FACT: The child does not necessarily understand that something ‘wrong’ that has to be told to an adult is under way. Besides, sexual perpetrators often threaten children, so the children ‘keep secrets’ about the abuse.
MYTH: Children should not be scared by being talked to about sexual abuse
FACT: It is important to teach children about sexuality appropriate to their age, in order that they can protect themselves. By not doing so, we allow someone else to teach them, which may be against their interests and protection.