on child sexual abuse
Myth: Child sexual abuse is a rare experience.
Fact: Child sexual abuse is not rare. It's an epidemic.
Retrospective research indicates that as many as 1 out of 4 girls and 1 out of 6 boys in the United States will experience some form of sexual abuse before the age of 18. However, because child sexual abuse is by its very nature secretive, many of these cases are never reported.
MYTH: A child is most likely to be sexually abused by a stranger.
FACT: Children are most often sexually abused by someone they know and trust.
90% of pedophiles abuse children they know with almost 80 percent by a parent or step-parent. That's right, approximately three quarters of reported cases of child sexual abuse are committed by family members or other individuals who are considered part of the victim’s “circle of trust.”
MYTH: Preschoolers do not need to know about child sexual abuse and would be frightened if educated about it.
FACT: Numerous educational programs are available to teach young children about body safety skills that show the difference between “OK” touches and “not OK” touches.
These programs can help children develop basic safety skills in a way that is helpful rather than frightening.
MYTH: Children who are sexually abused will never recover.
FACT: Not true. Children can and do recover from such traumas.
Many children are quite resilient, and with a combination of support from their parents or caregivers and effective counselling, they can and do recover from such experiences.
MYTH: Child sexual abuse is always perpetrated by adults.
FACT: Twenty-three percent of reported cases of child sexual abuse are perpetrated by individuals under the age of 18.
While some degree of sexual curiosity and exploration is to be expected between children of about the same age, when one child coerces another to engage in adult-like sexual activities, the behaviour is unhealthy and abusive. Both the abuser and the victim can benefit from counselling.
MYTH: Talking about sexual abuse with a child who has suffered such an experience will only make it worse.
Fact: Not true. Treatment from a mental health professional can minimise the physical, emotional, and social problems of these children by allowing them to process their feelings and fears related to the abuse.
Although children often choose not to talk about their abuse, there is no evidence that encouraging children to talk about sexual abuse will make them feel worse.
MYTH: Boys can't be sexually used or abused and if one is, he can never be a real man.
FACT: Not true. What happens to any of us as children does not need to define us as adults or men.
Everyone absorbs the myth that males aren’t victims, to some extent. It’s central to masculine gender socialisation, and boys pick up on it very early in life. This myth implies that a boy or man who has been sexually used or abused will never be a “real man.” Our society expects males to be able to protect themselves. Successful men are depicted as never being vulnerable, either physically or emotionally.
But boys are not men. They are children. They are weaker and more vulnerable than those who sexually abuse or exploit them – who use their greater size, strength and knowledge to manipulate or coerce boys into unwanted sexual experiences and staying silent. This is usually done from a position of authority (e.g., coach, teacher, religious leader) or status (e.g. older cousin, uncle, admired athlete, social leader), using whatever means are available to reduce resistance, such as attention, special privileges, money or other gifts, promises or bribes, even outright threats.
It is important to remember that that 1 in 6 boys are sexually abused before age 18, and that those boys can grow up to be strong, powerful, courageous and healthy men.
MYTH: If a boy experienced sexual arousal during abuse, then it was his own fault.
FACT: Boys are not seeking to be sexually abused or exploited. They can, however, be manipulated into experiences they do not like, or even understand, at the time.
Many boys and men believe this myth and feel lots of guilt and shame because they got physically aroused during the abuse. It is important to understand that males can respond to sexual stimulation with an erection or even an orgasm – even in sexual situations that are traumatic or painful. That’s just how male bodies and brains work. Those who sexually use and abuse boys know this. They often attempt to maintain secrecy, and to keep the abuse going, by telling the child that his sexual response shows he was a willing participant and complicit in the abuse. “You wanted it. You liked it,” they say.
But that doesn’t make it true. There are many situations where a boy, after being gradually manipulated with attention, affection and gifts, feels like he wants such attention and sexual experiences. In an otherwise lonely life (for example, one lacking in parental attention or affection – even for a brief period), the attention and pleasure of sexual contact from someone the boy admires can feel good.
But in reality, it’s still about a boy who was vulnerable to manipulation. It’s still about a boy who was betrayed by someone who selfishly exploited the boy’s needs for attention and affection to use him sexually. (See Sorting It Out for Yourself, which discusses feeling like you (partly) ‘wanted’ it then but now seeing it as an unwanted experience, in terms of it being part of your life and having continuing negative effects.)
MYTH: Sexual abuse is less harmful to boys than girls.
FACT: Most studies show that the long term effects of sexual abuse can be quite damaging for both males and females.
One large study, conducted by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control, found that the sexual abuse of boys was more likely to involve penetration of some kind, which is associated with greater psychological harm.
The harm caused by sexual abuse mostly depends on things not determined by gender, including: the abuser’s identity, the duration of the abuse, whether the child told anyone at the time, and if so, whether the child was believed and helped.
Many boys suffer harm because adults who could believe them and help are reluctant, or refuse, to acknowledge what happened and the harm it caused. This increases the harm, especially the shame felt by boys and men, and leads many to believe they have to “tough it out” on their own. And that, of course, makes it harder to seek needed help in the midst of the abuse, or even years later when help is still needed. (See How Unwanted or Abusive Sexual Experiences Can Cause Problems and How Being Male Can Make It Hard to Heal.)
MYTH: Most sexual abuse of boys is committed by homosexual males.
FACT: People who sexually abuse or exploit boys are not expressing homosexuality.
Pedophiles are deeply confused individuals who, for various reasons, desire to sexually use or abuse children, and have acted on that desire.
MYTH: Boys sexually abused by males must be gay or will become gay.
FACT: There is no good evidence that someone can “make” another person be homosexual (or heterosexual).
There are different theories about how sexual orientation develops, but experts in human sexuality do not believe that sexual abuse or premature sexual experiences play a significant role. Sexual orientation is a complex issue and there is no single answer or theory that explains why someone identifies himself as homosexual, heterosexual or bi-sexual.
It is common, however, for boys and men who have been abused to express confusion about their sexual identity and orientation. Some guys fear that, due to their experiences as boys, they must “really” be homosexual or that they can’t be a “real man.” Even men who are clearly heterosexual, and men who others see as very masculine, may fear that others will “find them out” as gay or not real men. (See How It Can Be Different for Men.)
Also, many boys abused by males believe that something about them sexually attracted their abuser and will attract other males. While these are understandable fears, they are not true. One of the great tragedies of childhood sexual abuse is how it robs a person’s natural right to discover his own sexuality in his own time.
It is very important to remember that abuse arises from the abuser’s failure to develop and maintain healthy adult sexual relationships, and his or her willingness to sexually use and abuse kids. It has nothing to do with the preferences or desires of the child who is abused, and therefore cannot determine a person’s natural sexual identity.
MYTH: If a woman sexually abuses a boy, he is considered lucky.
FACT: To be used as a sexual object by a more powerful person, male or female, is never a good thing, and can cause lasting harm.
This myth, like several of the others, comes from the image of masculinity that boys learn from very early. It says not only that males can’t be sexually abused, but that any sexual experience with girls and women, especially older ones, is evidence that he’s a “real man.” Again, the confusion comes from focusing on the sexual aspect rather than the abusive one – the exploitation and betrayal by a more powerful, trusted or admired person (who can be a child or adult).
In reality, premature, coerced or otherwise abusive or exploitive sexual experiences are never positive – whether they are imposed by an older sister, sister of a friend, baby sitter, neighbour, aunt, mother, or any other female in a position of power over a boy. At a minimum, they cause confusion and insecurity. They almost always harm boys’ and men’s capacities for trust and intimacy.
Being sexually used or abused, whether by males or females, can cause a variety of other emotional and psychological problems. However, boys and men often don’t recognise the connections between what happened and their later problems.
MYTH: Boys who are sexually abused go on to abuse others.
FACT: It is NOT true that most boys who are sexually abused go on to sexually abuse others.
This myth is especially dangerous because it can create terrible fear in boys and men. They may not only fear becoming abusers themselves, but that others will find out they were abused and believe they’re a danger to children. Sadly, boys and men who tell of being sexually abused often are viewed more as potential perpetrators than as guys who need support.
While it is true that many (but not all) who sexually abuse children have histories of sexual abuse, the majority of boys do not go on to become sexually abusive as adolescents or adults; even those who do perpetrate as teenagers, if they get help when they’re young, usually don’t abuse children when they become adults.