Mind Matters — Sexual Abuse Facts to Face the Myths

We may think that the perpetrator of child sexual abuse is usually a stranger. In fact, sexual abusers are generally known to the victims. The American Psychological Association reports that approximately 60% of perpetrators, while not family members, may be, for example, family friends, neighbors, child care providers. However, 30% of perpetrators are family members such as fathers, brothers, uncles, cousins. So that is then that 10% of abusers are strangers.

Generally the perpetrators are male whether the victim is a boy or a girl. Furthermore, these male perpetrators are equally likely to be heterosexual as they would be gay. The APA notes “a perception that most perpetrators are gay men is a myth and harmful stereotype.”

Women were reported as abusers in 14% of the cases among boys, and in 6% of the cases among girls. In 23% of reported child sexual abuse, the perpetrators are minors. Consider the recent case in Colorado where a young seventh grade boy was raped by his teammates. This sexual abuse was minimized by the community as a hazing rite of passage. “Boys will be boys,” in other words. Instead of rehabilitating the youthful perpetrators to help them understand the grave harm of their actions, this particular community supported them and shunned the victim. Such a collective attitude of blaming the victim can only exacerbate the trauma that the victim has experienced.

About 300,000 children are abused each year in the U.S. Before the age of eighteen, one in four girls and one in six boys will have been sexually abused.

The APA recommends steps that parents and caregivers can take to prevent and minimize risk for sexual abuse. Children need to be given basic sexual education that they can handle at their developmental level. Teach children healthy boundaries. That is, teach children about “okay” and “not okay” touches and that sexual advances from adults are wrong. Allow children the chance to communicate their feelings openly, and to ask questions and to talk about their experiences.

Get to know your child’s friends and families. Trust your instincts.