Tuesday, 9 October 2012

What parents should know about sexual abuse

*** May Trigger ***

Who abuses children?

Most people have the mental picture of the creepy guy, hanging out at the children's playground wearing a black trench coat, waiting to kidnap little girls. However, this cannot be further from the truth. Abuse perpetrated by strangers make up only a tiny minority of cases.

Some statistics:

  1. 1 in 4 girls and 1 in 6 boys will be sexually abused before their 18th birthday.
  2. More than 90% of abusers are know to, and trusted by their victims.
  3. About 30% of abusers are family members
  4. Not all child sexual abuse is perpetrated by paedophiles. 
  5. Gay men are no more likely to abuse children than straight men.

Female predators

Numbers for female predators vary wildly. Incidence studies, and studies done on conviction rates, show that less that 10% of convicted sex-offenders are female. However, prevalence studies, where people are asked if they had been abused, reveal much higher numbers, with some placing the number above 40%.

From: Center for Sex Offender Management (A Project of the Office of Justice Programs, U.S. Department of Justice):

Information about the low proportion of sex offenses committed by females is fairly consistent, at least when relying on data about female sex offenders known to the criminal and juvenile justice systems. Yet when various individuals are surveyed about their sexual victimization experiences, the incidence of female-perpetrated sex crimes is often higher and much more variable. For example, reviews of multiple sources of victimization data reveal that up to 63% of female victims and as many as 27% of male victims report having been sexually victimized by a female (see, e.g., Schwartz & Cellini, 1995). In addition, although the National Criminal Victimization Survey – which captures information from victims who may or may not have reported the incident to the authorities – indicates that females represent up to 6% of rapes or sexual assaults by an individual acting alone, it also implicates female offenders in up to 40% of sex crimes involving multiple offenders (BJS, 2006)

It is interesting to note, also, that in many countries legislation has only recently been amended to make provision for women to be charged with rape, or even for the charge to be "rape" when the victim is male.

Juvenile predators

As with female predators, statistics on under-age perpetrators vary widely, and thus are fairly unreliable. Some studies put the number under 10%, but some put it as high as 34%. However, it is disturbing to note that when polygraphed and offered immunity for any incriminating statements, around 70% of convicted sex-offenders admitted to abusing others while they were still under age.

Under reporting, statute of limitations and lack of convictions

Children who are sexually abused rarely report the abuse. Some studies estimate that as much as 90% of sexual abuse goes unreported until adulthood (after the statute of limitations have expired).

The biggest deterrent to disclosing sexual abuse, seems to be the fear of not being believed or of being ridiculed.

This is a very valid fear, considering that society still believes several myths about Child Sexual Abuse. Perhaps the most sickening of these myths, is that Sexual Abuse is not actually harmful. This is often expounded by paedophile activists, who proclaim that children are sexual and get pleasure from having sexual contact with adults. Abusers also often tap into this myth, emphasising that the child is special, that what happens is an expression of love, etc. This myth is also often cemented into the child's mind by the fact that the child often experiences sexual pleasure during the abuse.

The second harmful myth, is that women and children lie about abuse. Just like the still prevalent myth that women lie about rape, out of malice or other evil intent, so many people believe that children lie about abuse. This is exacerbated by the fact that abused children often have a history of acting out, and therefore are easily labelled as "trouble makers". When such a "trouble maker" accuses a respected adult, few people are willing to believe the child's word over that of the adult.

Thirdly, there is the myth that mothers make accusations of abuse in divorce cases, in order to gain custody.
From this study by LM Cromer:

Empirical research evidences that fewer than 10% of child sexual abuse claims are false (Everson Boat, 1989), yet the media and fathers’ rights groups make claims that up to 70% of child sexual abuse reports are false in divorce cases (Brown et al. 2001).

In cases where the victims are boys, the issue is even more complex. On the one hand there is the ludicrous attitude that boy should have been able to defend themselves, and on the other hand there is the terrible stigma of the so-called "vampire syndrome" myth. In cases where the perpetrator was female, boys are often considered "lucky" to have been introduced to heterosexual activity at an early age.

Additional reasons for not disclosing include being threatened by the offender, and a myriad of grooming practises.

Recognizing abuse

Considering that we have just established that children are very vulnerable to abuse, and at the same time very unlikely to disclose abuse, parents will need to be able to detect abuse without relying on the child to tell them.

Some signs of sexual abuse

  • Being overly affectionate or knowledgeable in a sexual way inappropriate to the child's age
  • Medical problems such as chronic itching, pain in the genitals, venereal diseases (Or has trouble sitting or walking)
  • Other extreme reactions, such as depression, self-mutilation, suicide attempts, running away, overdoses, anorexia
  • Waking up during the night sweating, screaming or shaking with nightmares.
  • Personality changes such as becoming insecure or clinging
  • Regressing to younger behaviour patterns such as thumb sucking or bringing out discarded cuddly toys
  • Sudden loss of appetite or compulsive eating
  • Being isolated or withdrawn 
  • Inability to concentrate
  • Lack of trust or fear of someone they know well, such as not wanting to be alone with a babysitter or child minder
  • Starting to wet again, day or night/nightmares
  • Become worried about clothing being removed
  • Suddenly drawing sexually explicit pictures
  • Trying to be 'ultra-good' or perfect; overreacting to criticism
It is important to note that this is not a ticklist that will emphatically determine whether or not a child is being sexually abused. It is merely a guideline, giving parents an idea of the type of things to look out for. 


I may have missed some sources. If you cannot find something I have stated in this article in one of the sources, please do not hesitate to ask me to substantiate it.

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