Myths & Realities About Childhood Sexual Abuse
There are many myths that exist about sexual abuse, survivors, and perpetrators that promote stereotypes and misinformation. Speaking up when you hear misinformation can help to reduce the stigma about talking openly about sexual abuse and its victims.
Myth: Sexual abuse only happens to girls.
Reality: 1 in 4 women and 1 in 6 men experience some type of sexual abuse by the time they turn 18.
Current estimates report there are 60 million survivors of childhood sexual abuse in the United States today.
Myth: Sexual abuse only happens to people of a certain race, religion, socioeconomic status, or location.
Reality: Sexual abuse is an equal opportunity crime and occurs across all races, cultures, religions, sexual orientations, socioeconomic statuses, and countries.
Myth: Sexual abuse happens mostly to teenagers who are sexually promiscuous to begin with.
Reality: The most common ages of children when sexual abuse occurs are between 8 and 12. 15% of rape victims are younger than 12.
The median age for reporting sexual abuse is 9.9 for boys and 9.6 for girls.
Myth: If you don’t have actual memories of the abuse it didn’t happen.
Reality: Sometimes the child may be so traumatized by sexual abuse that years pass before he/she is able to understand or talk about what happened. In these cases, adult survivors of sexual abuse may come forward for the first time in their 40s or 50s and divulge the horror of their experiences.
At least 10% of the people sexually abused in childhood will have periods of complete amnesia for their abuse, followed by experiences of delayed recall.
In a study of 129 women who were taken to an emergency room due to sexual abuse during childhood, 38% did not recall the abuse when asked by researchers 17 years later. Of those who did remember the abuse, 16% reported that there was a time in the past when they did not remember that the abuse had happened.
Myths & Realities About Offenders
Myth: Perpetrators are strangers who hide in the bushes and await their victims.
Reality: More than 90% of all sexual abuse victims know their perpetrator. Almost 50% of the offenders are household members and 38% are already acquaintances of the victims.
Of perpetrators in state prisons, 1/3 had committed their crime against their own child and about half had a relationship with the victim as a friend, acquaintance, or relative.
Only 10% of child molesters molest children they don’t know.
Myth: My perpetrator only abused me because I “asked” for it or am somehow responsible.
Reality: The average serial child molester has between 360-380 victims in his lifetime.
At least half of convicted child molesters report that they have also sexually assaulted an adult.
Over two thirds of offenders who reported committing incest said they also assaulted victims outside the family.
Myth: Perpetrators of sexual abuse are dirty old men.
Reality: Females account for approximately 1 in 4 sex offenders and may have an easier time abusing children using the guise of caretaking (diapering, toileting, bathing).
Approximately 20% of child sex offenses are committed by women.
Abel & Harlow Child Molestation Prevention Study (2001)
Finkelhor, D. et al. A Sourcebook on Child Sexual Abuse, Newbury Park: Sage Publications (1986).
Finkelhor, D., et al. (1990). Sexual Abuse in a National Survey of Adult Men and Women: Prevalence, Characteristics, and Risk Factors.
Greenfeld, Lawrence. Bureau of Justice Statistics “Sex Offenses and Offenders” February 2, 1997.
Recall of Childhood Trauma: A Prospective Study of Women’s Memories of Child Sexual Abuse, Linda Meyer Williams, Journal of Consulting and Clinical Psychology, Vol. 62, No. 6, 1994.
Texas Department of State Health Services, Jennings, 1993; Pearson, 1997; Mitchell & Morse, 1998.
US Department of Justice. (1991). Bureau of Justice Statistics, Survey of State Prison Inmates.
US Department of Health and Human Services, (2000).
Colorado Bureau of Investigation Website (2005).