Last week the Prevention Team here at RCASA gave you some helpful pointers on how to talk to your kids about sexual abuse early and often. This week we would like to take the opportunity to talk to you about some common misconceptions about child sexual abuse.
- Be on the lookout for stranger danger!: Often when parents and educators talk to kids about sexual abuse they warn them about strange men who have lost their dogs or who will offer them candy. From an early age children are repeatedly inundated with the message that they should never talk to strangers and that they should always use the buddy system. Popular television series, like “America’s Most Wanted”, and high profile media coverage of abduction cases (like Elizabeth Smart) reinforce the idea that children are at greatest risk of victimization by people that they do not know. However, the actual facts send a much different message. In actuality, only around 10% of perpetrators of sexual abuse against children are strangers. That means that the person most likely to abuse your child is someone that they (and probably you) know and trust. Perpetrators include relatives, family friends, teachers,community and religious leaders and other adults who are a regular part of your child’s life. So while it is certainly important to talk to your kids about taking certain safety precautions when it comes to strangers, it is even more important to talk to your kid about what to do when their abuser is some they care about and trust.
- Only easily identifiable, deranged “perverts” molest children.: Tying into the whole concept of stranger danger is the popular belief that people who appear “normal” could never sexually abuse a child. Unfortunately, child abusers are just as aware of society’s tendency to judge based on outward appearances as the rest of us. For this reason many child molesters become skilled at maintaining a double life that enables them to be labeled “good people” who are actively involved in their communities. Many of them are the first person you would trust your child with and the last person you would expect to harm them. The news coverage of the child abuse perpetrated by Penn State assistant coach, Jerry Sandusky was a chilling illustration of this exploitation of trust. The point of this advice is not to scare you or make you paranoid about your family and closest friends, but rather to reinforce that it is important to pay attention to the relationships that your child is cultivating (particularly with the adults in their lives). If you start to notice any suspicious activity or any changes in your child’s behavior you may want to talk ask them if someone is hurting them or making them feel uncomfortable.
- A child who is being abused will immediately tell their parents.: Many parents think that if a child has been abused they will be quick to tell them or another trusted adult, however, a national survey of female abuse survivors demonstrated that 47% did not disclose their abuse to anyone for over five years after the abuse had taken place and 28% of the victims had not disclosed until taking the survey. Young boys who are victims are of abuse are even less likely to disclose that they have been victimized. There are an abundance of reasons that a child might not feel comfortable telling their parents about an incident (or ongoing incidents of abuse). Often child abusers will find some way to make the victim feel ashamed or responsible for the abuse. Other times they will threaten the child’s or the family’s safety. Some perpetrators even tell their victims that they love them and the abuse is an expression of that loving relationship. No matter what the reasoning is behind a child’s silence it is exceptionally common for abuse victims to carry the burden of their experience by themselves. It is extremely important for parents and other loved one’s to be vigilant about any changes in a child’s demeanor or behavior.
- Children often embellish or “make-up” allegations of sexual abuse.: In fact, the opposite is true. As mentioned above, it is far more common for children to keep their abuse a secret than it is for them to make false allegations. Even in cases of confirmed child abuse, one study found that only 43% of the victims acknowledged that any kind of abuse occurred. I cannot stress enough how important it is for parents (or trusted allies) to believe their children if they disclose that they have been abused, especially if you are the first person that they have confided in. Your response to this disclosure can and will have a lasting impact on your child.
If you have any questions about the topics covered in this post or about child abuse and sexual violence in general please feel free to contact Kristin Harding, Prevention and Education Coordinator, by phone at 540-371-6771 or by e-mail at email@example.com .