There are many prevailing myths about sexual abuse that promote stereotypes and misinformation that have destructive consequences on every level of society: families, workplaces, schools, places of worship, and neighborhoods. We all play a role in breaking down these stigmas and changing the culture of silence around this issue. By speaking up when you hear misinformation, you help create a healthier society for individuals, families and communities.  In doing so, you help others to #SpeakHealThrive.

Myths VS. Realities:

About People Who Have Been Abused

Myth: Sexual abuse only happens to girls.

Reality: 1 in 4 women and 1 in 6 men, or 1 in 5 people experience some type of sexual abuse before 18 years of age. 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 geographic 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.

Reality: The most common ages of children when sexual abuse are between 8 and 12 years. Of rape victims, 15% are younger than 12 years old. The median age for reporting sexual abuse is 9.9 for boys and 9.6 for girls. Unfortunately, being sexually abused at this young age often leads to revictimization in teenage and adult years.

Myth: If you don’t have actual memories of the abuse it didn’t happen.

Reality: Due to the way a child’s psyche protects itself from trauma, it is not uncommon for years to pass before a survivor is able to remember, talk about or even understand that what happened was sexual abuse. In these cases, adult survivors of sexual abuse may come forward decades later about their experiences.

At least 10% of the people sexually abused as children will experience 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.

Whenever a survivor feels ready to address their trauma, that is the right time.

Myths VS. Realities:

About People Who Sexually Abuse

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 offender only abused me because I “asked” for it or am somehow responsible.

Reality: A child is never responsible for an adult or another child or adolescent choosing to abuse them. Children are unable to give consent and are rarely able to understand the power dynamics and coercion involved in sexual abuse.

Myth: Perpetrators of Sexual Asbuse are Always Men

Reality: Females account for approximately 1 in 4 people who sexually abuse children 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.  All genders can experience childhood sexual abuse and all genders can be responsible for sexually abusing children.

Sources

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).