The first response the majority of people form when hearing of sexual child abuse or incest is denial: “I do not have to be concerned about that in my community.” “That would never happen in my family.”
The unbelievable reality is that a person who sexually abuses children may seem very average and ordinary to the world. He/she may be a leader in the church, in the community or in business, a sports coach, scout leader, or celebrity. Sex offenders do not fit a classic stereotype and are not necessarily uneducated, unemployed, impoverished or an alcoholic.
The majority of people find sexual abuse and incest even more difficult to believe or accept when the sex offender is someone they like, admire, love, and/or marry. Tragically, the unwillingness to accept the facts concerning sex offenders leaves children vulnerable to becoming victims and increases the likelihood they will be abused.
Myth: Rape/incest runs in the family–it is in the genes.
Fact: Rape is not in the genes in the family of someone who rapes. Rape is perpetrated by someone who is acting out rage. Physical and sexual child abuse are the majority factor in creating the level of rage that compels anyone to commit rape, domestic violence or murder. We have known for a long time that the one commonality among rapists is physical and/or sexual child abuse. Serial killer, Ted Bundy is a classic example of this phenomenon. Since 80% of sexual child abuse survivors are sexually abused by family members there are usually several generations within a rapist’s family–sometimes both maternal and paternal. Current statistics reveal 70% of children are physically abused once a week. It is believed the number of children who are physically abused has decreased in the past 15 years. However, the current rapists in society would have grown up in the era when physical abuse was more prominent, therefore, we can assume there is a high percentage of people, who are potential rapists when we consider date rape and rape in domestic violence, which is seldom reported or if it is reported, is seldom prosecuted. Therefore, society has no way to access the number of rapes committed per capita.
Myth: Children lie or fantasize about sexual activities with adults.
Fact: Using developmental terms, young children cannot make up explicit sexual information. They must be exposed to it to speak about it. Sometimes a parent will coach a child to report sexual abuse falsely. The key indicators of the falseness in such a report are the child’s inability to describe explicit details, the inability to illustrate the act, or gross inconsistencies within the account.
Myth: Most victims of sexual abuse are teenaged girls.
Fact: While more girls than boys are sexually abused, many are abused before their first birthday.
Myth: Boys can’t be sexually abused.
Fact: Masculine gender socialization instills in boys the belief they are to be strong; they should learn to protect themselves. In truth, boys are children and are as vulnerable as girls. They cannot really fight back against the sex offender. A sex offender generally has greater size, strength, knowledge, or a position of authority, using such resources as money or other bribes, or outright threats–whatever advantage the sex offender can take to get what they want.
Myth: Sexual abuse of a child is usually an isolated, one-time incident.
Fact: Child sexual abuse and incest occurrences develop gradually, over time; often, repeat occurrences are generally the rule rather than the exception.
Myth: Children will naturally outgrow the effects of sexual abuse or incest.
Fact: Sexual abuse or incest affects every aspect of human development. The damage is profound, extensive and pervasive. It is deeper than the physical and emotional level–it is a soul injury that requires multifaceted, multidimensional, therapeutic processing conducted by a professional who specializes in sexual abuse and incest trauma recovery.
Myth: Non-violent sexual behavior between a child and an adult is not emotionally damaging to the child.
Fact: Although child sexual abuse often involves subtle rather than extreme force, all survivors experience confusion, shame, guilt, anger, as well as a lowered sense of self-esteem; these are classic aftereffects, although they may not initially reveal obvious signs.
Myth: Child molesters are all, ‘Dirty old men.’
Fact: In a recent study of convicted child sex offenders, 80% committed their first offense before age 30.
Myth: Children provoke sexual abuse by their seductive behavior.
Fact: Seductive behavior may be the result, but is never the cause of sexual abuse. Amy Fisher, the Long Island teenager who shot her sex offender’s wife in the face and whom the media dubbed, Lolita having an affair with a married man, is a perfect example of this myth. During her trial for attempting to kill Joey Buttafuoco’s wife, Amy Fisher revealed that she had been sexually abused before her abuse by Buttafuoco. Her behavior that many considered seductive and promiscuous was, in fact, a result of prior abuse. However, regardless of the victim’s behavior or reason for such behavior, the responsibility for appropriate behavior always lays with the adult, not the child. A sixteen-year-old girl is no match for the cunning and streetwise tactics of a man twice her age, therefore, the ability to affect adult consent is unreasonable to expect.
Myth: If children wanted to avoid sexual advances of adults, or persons in positions of greater power, they could say, stop or no.
Fact: Children generally do not question the behavior of adults. In addition, bribes, threats, flattery, trickery and use of authority coerce them into cooperation and compliance.
Myth: When a child is sexually abused, it is immediately apparent.
Fact: In cases of incest against children, as much as the sex offender might be hurting the victim, the child loves him or her and needs her family. Therefore, she convinces herself that she is somehow causing him or her to behave this way, and she remains silent. In her confusion of loyalty to her sex offender, she protects him or her by holding the secret. Thus, she carries the shame and guilt. In cases regarding sexual abuse and incest, the victim often believes that she has cooperated with the sex offender in some way and places inappropriate blame on herself. Therefore, although with tremendous suffering, she hides her pain through denial, dissociation, numbing, zoning out, hyperactivity, as well as other distracting behaviors. However, the aware parent would recognize these behaviors as a sign that something is wrong.
Myth: When the sexual abuse victim is male, male homosexuals are the sex offenders.
Fact: Heterosexual men, who do not find sex with other men satisfactory, perpetrate most child sexual abuse. Many child molesters, even though they are heterosexual, abuse both boys and girls.
Myth: Boys abused by males are or will become homosexual.
Fact: Whether victimized by males or females, boys or girls, premature sexual experiences are damaging in many ways, including confusion about their sexual identity and orientation.
Myth: When a boy and a woman take part in sexual behavior and it is the boy’s idea, he is not being abused.
Fact: Child abuse is an act of power by which an adult uses a child. Abuse is abuse; a woman engaging in sexual behavior with a male child is still sexually abusive, even if she thinks he initiated the contact.
Myth: If the sex offender is female, the boy or adolescent is fortunate to have been initiated into heterosexual activity.
Fact: Premature or coerced sex, whether by a mother, aunt, sister, babysitter or other female causes confusion, at best, and rage, depression or other problems in more negative circumstances. Whether male or female, to be used as a sexual object is always abusive and damaging.
Myth: If the child experiences sexual arousal or orgasm from abuse, he or she has been a willing participant or enjoyed it.
Fact: Children can respond physically to stimulation (get an erection) even in traumatic or painful sexual situations. A sex offender can maintain secrecy by labeling the child’s sexual response as an indication of his or her willingness to participate. You liked it, you wanted it. The survivor is then manipulated with their own guilt and shame because they experienced physical arousal while being abused. Physical, visual or auditory stimulation is likely to occur in a sexual situation. It does not mean the child wanted the experience or understood what it meant.
Myth: Males who were sexually abused as boys all grow up to sexually abuse children.
Fact: Only some sexually abused boys become sex offenders.
Myth: Boys are less traumatized as victims of sexual abuse than girls.
Fact: Studies show that long-term effects are equally damaging for either sex. Ironically, males may be more damaged by society’s refusal or reluctance to accept their victimization, and by their own resultant belief that they must ‘tough it out’ in silence.
Myth: If a child is sexually active with his or her peers, then it is not sexual abuse.
Fact: The act is abusive if the child is induced into sexual activity with anyone who is in a position of greater power, whether that power is derived through the sex offender’s age, size, status, or relationship. A child who cannot refuse, or who believes she or he cannot refuse, is a child who has been violated.