Child Molestation Facts & Myths
It’s natural for parents and caregivers to assume that their children aren’t at risk for child sexual abuse.
Like other tragedies that appear out of our control, such as sickness, home break-ins, or accidents, most of us take necessary precautions (eat our veggies, lock the door, wear our seat belts) and assume that for the most part, these things happen to someone else.
But that child sexual abuse, or molestation, is uncommon is one of the most dangerous myths that parents can believe. In fact, one out of every four girls and one out of every six boys will experience some form of inappropriate touching or exposure before the age of eighteen.1
If that number is disturbing, but the risks still appear too distant to affect your family, count your children s friends: approximately three out of every twelve will be subjected to sexual abuse. And out of those three children? 93% of them will be sexually abused by someone they know – someone your child might be exposed to as well.2
While sexual abuse safety can be an uncomfortable topic, addressing misconceptions and increasing awareness – both within your immediate family and with others who watch your children – is a powerful tool to protect your children.
Here are several other myths and misconceptions about child sexual abuse:
1. My preschoolers are too young to learn about sexual abuse safety.
Nearly 30% of child victims are between the ages of four and seven. Parents looking for the best way to speak to their young children about body safety and “okay touch” can find numerous resources online to help start the conversation, like the video below at the bottom of the page. Additionally, the “swimsuit rule” isn’t just for water safety – using the area covered by a swimsuit can help even young children understand what areas are private.
2. Predators are easy to spot and can’t help but act “creepy.”
The general misconception is that child predators are disheveled, dirty looking older men who drive around offering children candy. Even knowing that 93% of molestations are performed by someone within a family’s circle of trust, it’s difficult to shake the idea that well-groomed, middle-class women and men can be a risk to your child.
Unfortunately, predators come in every shape, color, class, and age. They can be figures of authority, such as teachers, priests, camp counselors, even doctors, as well as a close family member or friend.
While there’s no unifying trait to help parents recognize child predators, they do have something in common: child predators do their best to appear “normal” in both appearance and behavior.
That’s why it’s so important for parents to make the extra effort and get to know coaches, teachers, and other parents who will be spending time around your children. Predators rarely sexually abuse immediately, and instead work by grooming and spending time with a victim. Do your part by being aware of any adults to continually spend time with your child and help decrease their risk.
3. When touching is between kids, it’s just play.
Curiosity and sexual exploration are a natural part of child development. However, reports show that 23% of children sexually abused are victimized by a child under the ages of eighteen.3
So, when isn’t playing doctor “just play”?
It’s a complex question that each parent must answer for their own family. Healthy and normal exploration is generally defined as happening between two children of similar ages, mental development, and physical strength. When one child can coerce another to engage in sexual activities, through manipulation, force, threats, or another aspect of imbalanced power, the behavior is considered sexually abusive.
4. Children who have been sexually abused can learn how to cope.
Both research and personal stories relate a difficult truth: children who have suffered sexual abuse will be shaped by their trauma for a lifetime.
If left to cope without counseling or exposed to disbelief from trusted family members, a child can grow up to experience health issues, emotional disorders, addiction struggles and ongoing issues with healthy relationships.
However, receiving treatment from mental health professionals has proven invaluable in helping child victims of sexual abuse process their feelings and fear. There’s strong evidence showing that counseling and family support go a long way in helping victims in learn healthy coping skills, avoiding the long-term negative effects associated with sexual abuse. Parents struggling with how to support a child are encouraged foremost to keep an open line of communication, offer unconditional, and always explore professional counseling to help a child who has been sexually abused.
The best time to talk to your children and community about sexual abuse safety is now.Want more tips on how to start the conversation with your children? Check out our quick guide here. You can also find information to ask youth organizations and how to engage bystanders.
Have you encountered any myths or misconceptions about child sexual abuse? Please let us know in the comments below!
- U.S. Department of Health & Human Services, Administration for Children and Families. 1995 Child Maltreatment Survey. 1995.
- U.S. Bureau of Justice Statistics. 2000 Sexual Assault of Young Children as Reported to Law Enforcement. 2000.
- Snyder, H. N. (2000). Sexual assault of young children as reported to law enforcement: Victim, incident, and offender