MYTHS AND FACTS ABOUT SEXUAL VIOLENCE/ABUSE.
Here are some myths and facts about childhood sexual abuse. Further myths and facts about sexual violence/abuse against adults will be added later.
MYTH: There is a universal, cross-cultural taboo against sexual abuse which prevents its occurrence.
FACT: Sexual abuse can and does happen. The taboo is not against doing it – it is against talking about it. The taboo keeps sexual abuse in the dark thus encouraging the very behaviour it is supposed to prevent.
MYTH: Children are usually abused by strangers.
FACT: 75-80% of children are abused by someone they know, i.e. family members, relatives and/or close friends. Indeed, the people likely to abuse children are those who have the most opportunity and access to them.
MYTH: Sexual abuse is a rare occurrence.
FACT: Documented estimates of abuse vary from 1 in 23 to 1 in 4 children. In the UK, 1 in 4 is the figure most accepted by government.
MYTH: Sexual abuse only happens in working class and/or rural families.
FACT: Sexual abusers have no favourites. Their abuse crosses all socio-economic, race and class barriers. Anybody can be an abuser and anybody can be abused.
MYTH: Only young girls are the victims of sexual abuse.
FACT: Both young girls and boys are equally vulnerable to sexual exploitation. Currently reported cases indicate that a higher percentage of girls are victims. However, the UK’s Childline has reported a major increase in young boys reporting sexual abuse during the period 2008 to 2009.
MYTH: The offending male is either mentally ill or retarded.
FACT: Men and women who offend often have histories of being very respected figures in their professions and in their communities. There is no robust evidence which supports the belief that they are mentally ill.
MYTH: It is only homosexuals who abuse children of their own sex.
FACT: Abuse of children by adult males and females is mostly perpetrated by paedophiles or heterosexual men and women.
MYTH: Children make up sexual abuse incidents.
FACT: Children do not the have explicit sexual knowledge to enable them to talk about the phenomenon unless they have experienced it. Children do not have the capacities to make it up.
MYTH: Children are seductive. They fantasise about abuse, want it, may experience pleasure and get a pay-off from its occurrence.
FACT: Children are sensual. ‘Seductive’ is an adult’s interpretation of behaviour which is bestowed on a child. Those who are being abused sexually learn, usually at a very young age, that in order to get their needs met they must ‘put out’ sexually. They begin to equate love with sex. They begin behaving in ‘sexual’ ways to get affection. Their behaviour is often labelled as seductive. If children respond to abuse, this just means that their body is functioning normally.
MYTH: Sexual abuse is non-violent, therefore it is non-damaging.
FACT: /it is not only violence but also factors such as length of relationship, emotional distance from the offender and age of the child that influence the degree of traumatisation and disruption the child will experience. What might be considered by some as a minor incident can have a great impact on the child. Of course, many children also experience violence during abuse.
Children who are abused are:
-denied a childhood
-denied a loving and nurturing relationship of trust
-exploited and betrayed by a person in a position of authority and trust.
MYTH: Sexual abuse is a one- or two-time occurrence involving a single child.
FACT: Sexual abuse typically goes on for many years prior to discovery. It is not necessarily confined to one child but usually involves children sequentially by age.
MYTH: Sexual abuse is a problem of the family only.
FACT: 50% of runaway girls and boys, 70% of adolescent drug addicts and 60% of young prostitutes were the victims of sexual abuse. The latest research from the UK’s Barnardo’s charity underlines the dangers that vulnerable children face in relation to planned sexual exploitation.
MYTH: It is better not to talk about sexual abuse – the child/adult survivor will forget.
FACT: Adults do not talk about abuse because of their own discomfort with the topic. If you are not willing to talk about the situation, you risk giving the victim the impression that you think it is something to be ashamed of, that it is dirty and just too awful to talk about. This attitude will only serve to increase guilt, shame and feelings of abnormality for the victim.