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Women's Web - Common myths about child sexual abuse and incest

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Women's Web - Common myths about child sexual abuse and incest

Post  Guest on Wed 14 Apr - 7:16

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Child sexual abuse/incest - Common myths about child sexual abuse and incest

By Dorothy M. Neddermeyer, PhD

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 that 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, 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 that they are to be strong; that 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. (See Sexual child abuse knows no gender for more information.)

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, considered by many to be 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 lies with the adult, not the child. A 16-year-old girl is no match for the cunning and streetwise tactics of a man twice her age; therefore, the ability to effect 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 the 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 her abuser and needs her family. Therefore, she convinces herself that she is somehow causing her abuser 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. (e.g., "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.

Unless and until, society focuses on sexual child abuse prevention, before the damage is done, sexual abuse of children will continue to proliferate. Child sexual abuse is the greatest hidden epidemic in the world.

About the Author:

Dorothy M. Neddermeyer, PhD, author of If I'd Only Known... Sexual Abuse in or out of the Family: A Guide to Prevention specializes in mind-body-spirit healing and physical/sexual abuse prevention and recovery. As an inspirational leader and holistic healer, Dr. Neddermeyer empowers people to view life's challenges as an opportunity for personal/professional growth and spiritual awakening.

http://www.womensweb.ca/violence/incest/myths.php
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