Challenging Myths About Sexual Abuse With Reality
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Adults who were abused as children will tell you one of the
most damaging effects of childhood abuse is not being believed when they tried
to tell someone, either as an adult or a child. There are many misconceptions about sexual abuse. They are often
perpetuated by abusers, because that gives power and stability to their secret.
These can also come from well meaning friends and professionals who are not
knowledgeable about abuse. Many survivors
try to no avail to get people close to them to understand the facts. It's
really not their job. It is our job, as those linked in support to shed the
secrecy and mistruths about sexual abuse.
Children can not be believed. Most stories about sexual abuse
are “planted” by another adult with a revenge motive. Or, the child is just
trying to get attention.
Research proves again and again, children seldom make up stories about sexual abuse. Why
would someone make up that story? Children who have not been
abused do not have that explicit knowledge of sexual acts or reactions. They
also do not know the common emotional reactions that are consistently described
in professional assessments. Children who report abuse, then later recant
or “take it back” often do so because of many fears: They fear they will lose
someone they love because of the report, it is causing too many problems,
they have been or will be removed from their family, they are intimidated
by the legal system, they have been threatened with physical abuse or abandonment
by the perpetrator, they think they are protecting other siblings,or they
fear a parent's reaction. The process can trigger multiple trauma bonds and
Good parents can always protect their children with education.
The truth is even the most attentive and well-meaning parents may not be able to protect their child against a perpetrator. You certainly can provide a more protective environment by assessing environments, knowing people who associate with your children and educating your child. But sometimes, children are abused and the best of parents could not have done anything about it. Perpetrators are excellent manipulators, and may also have manipulated the parents into believing their child is safe with them.
Of course, talking to your children about the difference between good touch and bad touch is important.
Also tell your children that rule applies to everyone, even
family members, teachers or people who are your friends. Teach them that it
is okay to remove themselves from uncomfortable situations and how to reach
you as soon as possible to tell you about any occurrences. Then listen carefully.
If you have any doubts, trust your child. You can learn to recognize behavior
symptoms to immediately get your child help if abuse occurs. Too often parents
also get lost in guilt and may even suffer from secondary post traumatic stress.
The guilt and over-protectiveness that often results may negatively effect
their child. Its important parents also get professional counseling when their
child is abused.
The majority of children are abused by strangers.
Most children are abused by people the child or parent knows
and trusts. Think about it. They are most vulnerable to these people. Of course,
parents need to continue to provide educational warnings regarding strangers,
too. But, children need to know that we can’t always trust people that we
think we can. They need to know how grown-ups can manipulate children, and
the difference between acceptable touch and non-acceptable touch. Children
find it easy to understand that one clear unacceptable touch zone is anything
that would be covered by a bathing suit. See sexual
abuse for more information.
Sexual abuse that occurs before a child can talk, or at a very
early age, is forgotten and does not cause any harm.
Sometimes it is even harder for those who have had early
abuse to work through the painful aftereffects because they have no concrete
memories to work from. However, they often find their life being sabotaged
by feelings flashbacks, overwhelming negative messages and painful core feelings.
This can effect relationships, career choices and even weight. Many survivors
reach for food, don't eat or purge to escape and gain control. (See Body Sense for more information
on how these can interfere with a survivor's life through adulthood, unless
specific techniques are utilized to let go of the trauma.)
It's not sexual abuse unless intercourse is involved. There is really no harm in fondling, touching, rubbing, French kissing, mouth kissing, lewd talk, pornography exposure or voyeurism.
Wrong! All of the above constitute sexual abuse and can have extremely harmful effects on a child.
It's not sexual abuse when a 24-year-old man has sex with a “willing” 14-year-old.
Sexual abuse is about a power differentiation. An adult has more power than a 14-year-old. He or she knows there is much developmental difference between a teen and adult. However, the child may believe he/she is a willing participant because of the “dance of the perpetrator.” This age perpetrator often uses seduction, the allure of romance to a child just entering romantic relationships, and act as a “confidant” to a teenager who often turns to friends or others as he/she begins to become individuals. In most states this is considered statutory rape. Why would a 24-year-old want to sleep with a young teenager? Who really has the power? It is a good idea to set age limits on who your child can date or associate with. You may limit it to the same grade, or make it no more than two years older. Sometimes though, even the best parents are fooled. Get to know the people in your child's life, the best you can. If you discover your child has lied, end the relationship immediately. Discuss your concerns with your child. And, consider contacting authorities if this person is an adult who is preying upon teens. Your family may need counseling to help you get through this tough time.
Sometimes children are seductive. They have the power to stop the “sexual advances at any time, but they like it.”
Children are children. Even if an adult is exposed to a seductive child, it is the adult’s responsibility to say no, not the child's. Children you perceive as seductive are often already victims of sexual abuse. They have learned attention and love equals this type of behavior – even if they don’t understand what it means. Many times perpetrators teach the child to act this way, and fool the child into thinking it is all their idea or responsibility. The adult is always responsible, yet adult survivors often struggle with a feeling that they are guilty because they did not stop it.
Children can stop abuse by just saying no or telling another adult
We’d like to believe that, but it's often not true. Perpetrators frequently don't stop when a child says no -- remember there is a power difference. They do often pick a child who appears more vulnerable overall. This child is less likely to be assertive and more easily deceived. Often the abuse escalates over a period of time. The perpetrator tricks the child. The perpetrator also may threaten the child with physical harm, family abandonment, abuse of a sibling or belief that they are bad and he/she would not be touching them unless they had not asked for it. Teach children to say no and keep telling until an adult listens and does something to protect them. But, don’t be angry with a child who does not tell you. Something within the child’s environment or the abuse by the perpetrator has stopped that from occurring. Focus anger at the perpetrator, not the victim. Sometimes the child tells a parent and is not believed, or the parent confronts the abuser and believes the abuser when told "the child is lying, it was nothing, I won't do it again." Parents should always take action to remove the child from the abuser.
Incest occurs because a man’s wife is not satisfying him sexually.
Incest occurs because someone has a strong desire to have power or someone else; does not control or get help for unhealthy desires; a person thinks only of theirself and negates any consequences to others; is willing to manipulate to get what he/she wants; is sneaky. It is not caused by the non-perpetrating spouse. The perpetrator may or may not be having sexual relations with an adult partner.
A sexual abuse survivor is likely to abuse his/her own children
This is not true! The majority of those who are sexually abused never sexually abuse their children. While perpetrators may have been sexually abused, they often also have grown up in a violent home, and have personality disorders. Their acts are a choice, not a genetic flaw. It is sad that some survivors choose not to have children because of that fear. It is important for you as a parent to get professional help to address the unresolved issues related to any abuse in your past though, because these can impact your child emotionally as well. You also don't want to continue to suffer from the impact of the abuse as an adult. Read more about that in Body Sense.
If the child acts sexually aroused, or does not complain during the sexual abuse, then it does no harm and could not be considered sexual abuse.
The body reacts to physical sexual stimulation. This also can occur during sexual abuse. That is not under the child’s control. The child may even enjoy these physical responses. There is nothing wrong with that. It is a physiological reaction. However, it does not mean the child is enjoying the abuse. Most children do not have emotional capability of understanding what is happening. In many cases, the events leading up to the touch may be the child's only moments of closeness. Children learn to dissociate from an early age. They also can “go away” mentally because the event is confusing. This misperception often hampers the adult survivor's ability to let go of their feelings of being responsible for past abuse. Remember to ask who really has the power?
You can spot an abuser by how he or she looks. They may look bizarre or mean.
Its true many sexual abuse survivors often get a negative feeling around perpetrators. If you get that feeling, honor it and take extra precautions until you can assess the situation further. That person may not be a sexual abuser, but your radar may be picking up things that are telling you to exercise caution. Unfortunately, there is no tell-tale mark of abusers. They often meet certain traits. (See abuse for more information.) But, they come from all professions and have a vast array of different appearances. They can be parents, siblings, relatives, teachers, religious or scout leaders, doctors, neighbors, therapists and friends. That’s why it's important that children and teens know that it's not just strangers that hurt children. Also be aware that abuse can be perpetrated on adults, particularly if they are in a vulnerable situation and are with someone they should be able to trust.
Abuse would not have occurred if someone had not been drinking or using drugs. Therefore, that person is not really responsible.
Using alcohol or drugs does not cause abuse, it loosens inhibitions. It is no excuse! The person who perpetrated the abuse is always responsible for their actions. Don't assume just because someone stops using that the abuse will stop.
Now that you've had a chance to review the myths and realities, you can make empowered choices in taking care of yourself and supporting those you love who have been abused. Remember, knowledge is the first step in power.
Brenda Crawford-Clark, LMHC, LMFT, NCC
Author: Body Sense Balancing Your Weight and Emotions
©Copyright 2001 Brenda Crawford-Clark