Myths & Misconception

Myth: Childhood sexual abuse survivors grow up to be abusers.

Although those who commit childhood sexual abuse are more likely to have had a traumatic experience (such as sexual abuse) during their childhood, the reverse is not true-childhood sexual abuse survivors are not necessarily going to become abusers themselves. Numerous studies have found that overall, the risk of becoming a perpetrator after a history abuse is much smaller than the commonly held misconception. The vast majority of those abused as children do not go on to victimize others.1

Myth: Childhood sexual abuse only includes physical, contact abuse between an adult and a child.

Childhood sexual abuse (CSA) does not always have to involve physical contact. CSA also includes the possession, creation or sharing of child pornography, as well as encouraging a child to participate in prostitution. Childhood sexual abuse also occurs when an adult encourages a child to participate in a sexual activity, such as masturbation, or if an adult regularly or purposefully exposes themselves to a minor. Sexual abuse can also occur between two children, specifically if there is a large age difference between two children, or if one of the children is very different in size or physical or intellectual development from the other.2

Myth: Childhood sexual abuse is only committed on a child by individuals they don’t know.

Although the characteristics of abusers can be varied, it is estimated that in 93% of CSA cases, the child knows the perpetrator beforehand. Further, as many as 47% of abusers are direct or extended family of the child.3,4

Myth: Individuals who sexually abuse children are typically of a certain age or demographic.

Perpetrators of childhood sexual abuse come from a variety of backgrounds, and can be of many different ages, races, religions, socio-economic standings, genders, sexual orientations, and more. Although more men commit childhood sexual abuse than women, both sexes can be perpetrators, regardless of the sex of the child.4

Myth: Childhood sexual abuse does not occur to children who have “good” parents.

Childhood sexual abuse can happen to any child, regardless of their background, home environment, or parents. Abusers tend to exploit children whom they have power over and easy access to. Since abusers can come in many forms, it may be impossible to predict who may or may not take advantage of a child in a potential abusive situation. Children may encounter potential abusers when participating in normal, healthy, or productive activities. This includes at school, while playing sports, at friends’ houses, and more. Although parents can be mindful of potential warning signs and encourage open communication with their children, even the “best” parent may not be able to predict an abuse before it happens. Parents can encourage their children to avoid risky situations, including one-on-one situations with an unfamiliar adult, and to report any suspicious behavior, in attempts to reduce their risk.

  1. Glasser M, Kolvin I, et al. Cycle of child sexual abuse: Links between being a victim and becoming a perpetrator. The British Journal of Psychiatry. Dec 2001; 179(6), 482-494.
  2. Child Maltreatment Report-2015. U.S. Department of Health & Human Services, Children’s Bureau. Published January 19, 2017. Accessed December 15, 2017.
  3. Adult Survivors of Child Sexual Abuse. RAINN (Rape, Abuse & Incest National Network). Accessed December 15, 2017.
  4. The Scope of Child Sexual Abuse Definition and Fact Sheet. Stop It Now! Accessed December 15, 2017.

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