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General Information About Child Sexual Abuse

According to SECASA (South East Centre Against Sexual Assault), 1 in 3 girls and1 in 5 boys are victims of sexual assault by the age of 18.

Child sexual abuse can impact individuals across their lifespan.

Supporting one another and seeking the help of professionals who have special training in the treatment of child sexual abuse (and related issues) can help you and your family cope with what has happened and plan for a positive future.

With help, you, your child and/or your family can overcome an experience of sexual abuse. You do not (and should not) have to go through this alone. There are many resources available to assist.

It is Tzedek’s hope that this information is useful to you. We encourage you to share it with others who may find it helpful.

 

For Information for parents as well as resources, please click here.

 

About Child Sexual Abuse

A child or young person is sexually abused when another person uses their power over the child to involve that child in sexual activity.

The perpetrator can be male, female or another (often older) child or adolescent. Under Victorian child welfare law a child is any person under seventeen years of age.

Child sexual abuse involves a wide range of sexual activity. It may include:

  • fondling of the child’s genitals (or getting the child to fondle the perpetrator’s genitals);
  • masturbation (with the child as either observer or participant);
  • oral sex (either fellatio or cunnilingus);
  • vaginal or anal penetration by a penis, finger, or any other object;
  • fondling of breasts;
  • voyeurism (regular observation of the child) or exhibitionism.
  • It can also include exposing the child to pornography or using the child for the purposes of pornography or prostitution.

Children always have less power than adults

Abuse occurs when a person uses their authority, either by using force or not, to get a child to participate in activities that are for the sexual gratification of the person in authority.

A sibling or older child may be in a relative relationship of power over a younger or more dependent child. The closer the relationship between the child and the adult, the greater the dependency and therefore the greater the power that the adult has over the child.

Children lack the necessary information and maturity to make an ‘informed’ decision about sexual activities with an older person. They do not possess adult knowledge of sex and sexual relationships, or an understanding of the social meaning of sexuality and its potential consequences. Child sexual abuse is never the child’s fault.

Child sexual abuse is a criminal offence

Children may be sexually abused by family members (incest), by acquaintances or by strangers. Most commonly, sexual abuse is perpetrated by someone known to the child; someone in a position of trust, power and authority.

Child sexual abuse is committed in all types of families, regardless of cultural, religious, ethnic, economic or educational status. Children of all ages (from infants to adolescents) may be sexually abused.

Child sexual abuse may occur once or many times over a period of months or years.

Over 90% of child sexual abuse perpetrators are male. Child sexual abuse is committed against both boys and girls; however girls are sexually abused far more often than boys. Girls are more likely to be abused by a family member, whereas boys are more likely to be abused by someone known to them outside the family.

ADAPTED FROM CHILD SEXUAL ABUSE (OFFICE FOR CHILDREN, VICTORIAN GOVERNMENT DEPARTMENT OF HUMAN SERVICES MELBOURNE, VICTORIA, 2009)

 

 

Child Sexual Abuse Defined

Child sexual abuse is defined as any sexual act with a child performed by an adult or an older child. 

A child or young person is sexually abused when any person uses their power over the child to involve that child in sexual activity.

Child sexual abuse involves a wide range of sexual activity/acts. It can be physical, verbal or emotional in nature, and can include:

  • fondling of the child’s genitals (or getting the child to fondle the perpetrator’s genitals);
  • fondling a child in a sexual manner;
  • masturbation (with the child as either observer or participant);
  • oral sex (either fellatio or cunnilingus);
  • vaginal or anal penetration by a penis, finger, or any other object;
  • fondling of breasts;
  • kissing or holding a child in a sexual manner;
  • exposing a sexual body part to a child;
  • talking in a sexually explicit way that is not age or developmentally appropriate;
  • making obscene phone calls or remarks to a child;
  • sending obscene mobile text messages or emails to a child;
  • persistently intruding on a child’s privacy;
  • exhibitionism, such as exposing genitals to a child;
  • exposing the child to pornography (showing pornographic films, magazines or photographs to a child) or using the child for the purposes of pornography or prostitution;
  • having a child pose or perform in a sexual manner;
  • forcing a child to watch a sexual act;
  • child prostitution

Children of all ages — from infants to adolescents — can be sexually abused.

Secrecy, misuse of power and the distortion of adult-child relationships are key factors in the sexual abuse of children.

Child sexual abuse occurs when a person uses their authority, either by using force or not, to get a child to participate in activities that are for the sexual gratification of the person in authority.

Children may be sexually abused by family members (incest; for example abuse perpetrated by an older sibling, father, mother, grandfather, uncle) or by acquaintances (older peers or other persons known to the child such as a teacher, babysitter) or by complete strangers.

Sexual activity between a child and older person is always inappropriate and constitutes child sexual abuse because children are never in a position to give informed consent to such activities.

Children lack the necessary information and maturity to make an ‘informed’ decision about sexual activities with an older/more powerful person. They do not possess adult knowledge of sex and sexual relationships, nor the social meaning of sexuality and its potential consequences.

Other terms for child sexual abuse include:

  • child sexual assault
  • child sexual victimisation
  • child exploitation
  • child sexual misuse
  • child molestation
  • child sexual maltreatment
  • child rape

 

 

The Offenders: What We Know

Abusers are often relatives or trusted friends

  • In 95% of cases, the sexual abuse offender is known to the child. That is, the offender is often a relative or trusted friend. Only 5% of child sexual assault cases constitute ‘stranger danger’ (Child Protection Council, 1993).
  • Family members commit 39% of the reported sexual assaults on children (Snyder, 2000).
  • Statistically, boys are more likely than girls to be abused outside of the family. An American study conducted in three states found 96% of reported rape survivors under age 12 knew their attacker. 4% of the offenders were strangers, 20% were fathers, 16% were relatives and 50% were acquaintances or friends (Langan & Wolf Harlow, 1994).
  • Because the offender is often a well known and trusted person to the child and their family, they are often able to arrange to be alone with the child and therefore the abuse is commonly repeated.

Offenders may spend months or years grooming victims

  • The strategies employed by offenders to gain the trust and compliance of children more often involve giving gifts, lavishing attention and attempting to form emotional bonds rather than making threats or engaging in physical coercion. That is, this abuse doesn’t always involve violence because, instead of using force, perpetrators typically use promises, threats and bribes to take advantage of their trusted relationship with the child’s family and the subsequent powerlessness of the child. In some cases, this can go on for years (NSW Child Protection Council, 2000).
  • Many sexually-abusive encounters with children are preceded by some form of non-sexual physical contact (Smallbone & Wortley, 2000; New South Wales Commission for Children and Young People, 2009).
  • Offenders may work to undermine the child’s reputation so that the child won’t be believed if the abuse is disclosed.

Most have multiple victims

  • 70% of child sex offenders have between 1 and 9 victims; 20% have 10 to 40 victims (Elliott & Kilcoyne, 1995).
  • One in three child sexual offenders are adolescents (Bagley, 1995).
  • As with adult sexual assault, the overwhelming majority of perpetrators of child sexual abuse are male. Females do sexually abuse in a small proportion of cases: an estimate of 3.9% of (reported) offenders are female (McClosky & Raphael, 2005)

Australian Bureau of Statistics survey

According to the Australian Bureau of Statistics’ (2005) Personal Safety Survey of all those who reported having been victimised sexually before the age of 15 years:

  • 11.1 % were victimised by a stranger. More commonly, child sexual abuse was perpetrated by a male relative (other than the victim’s father or stepfather; 30.2%), a family friend (16.3%), an acquaintance or neighbour (15.6%), another known person (15.3%), or the father or stepfather (13.5%)
  • Small proportions of victims were sexually abused by a female relative (other than the mother or stepmother; 0.9%) or by their mother or stepmother (0.8%)
  • Female victims were most likely to have been abused by another male relative (35.1%), followed by their father or stepfather (16.5%), a family friend (also 16.5%), an acquaintance or neighbour (15.4%), another known person (11%) or a stranger (8.6%). Very small proportions were sexually abused by another female relative (1%) or their mother or stepmother (0.6%)
  • Male victims were most likely to be sexually abused by another known person (27.3%), followed by a stranger (18.3%), another male relative (16.4%), an acquaintance or neighbour (16.2%), or a family friend (15.6%). Small proportions were sexually abused by their father or stepfather (5%)

 

 

Grooming Behaviour of Sex Offenders

Grooming refers to the process by which sex offenders groom individuals in the community (such as parents, carers, teachers and children) to engage, establish trust and gain access to a child.

  • Sex offenders spend considerable time targeting, enticing and trapping a child for sexual purposes.
  • Grooming involves the offender integrating themselves into places where they have access to children and then grooming the adults to create opportunities for the offender to abuse his/her victims.
  • Some examples of grooming behaviour can include a person:
    • regularly offering to babysit a child for free or take a child on overnight outings alone
    • actively excluding a child from other adults or children
    • insisting on physical affection such as kissing, hugging, wrestling or tickling even when the child is clearly resistant to such behaviours
    • being overly interested in the sexual development of a child
    • insisting on spending time alone with the child without interruption
    • taking lots of photos of children
    • sharing alcohol or drugs with younger children or adolescents

 

 

The Impact of Sexual Abuse on a Child, Adolescent and Adult

Child sexual abuse fundamentally damages the child’s developing capacities for trust, intimacy, agency and sexuality, and much of the psychopathology experienced in adults with child sexual abuse histories is likely mediated by the abuse.

Research suggests that child sexual abuse is a risk factor for the development of an array of long-term psychological sequelae including:

  • depression
  • post-traumatic stress
  • dissociation
  • personality disorders
  • self-destructive behaviour
  • self-harm
  • physical health issues
  • anxiety
  • isolation from others
  • low self-esteem
  • re-victimisation
  • substance abuse
  • suicidality
  • eating disorders
  • alcohol and drug misuse
  • postpartum depression
  • parenting difficulties
  • sexual dysfunction

(Fergusson, Boden, & Horwood, 2008; Johnson, 2004; Zwi et al., 2007).

It is important to remember that while the research on the longer-term impact of child sexual abuse indicates that there may be a range of negative consequences for mental health and adjustment in childhood, adolescence and adulthood, not all victims experience these difficulties.

Family support, feeling validated/believed and strong peer relationships appear to be important in buffering the impact.

Further, early identification and effective intervention can ameliorate the initial effects and long-term consequences of child sexual abuse and promote the recovery of victims.

 

 

Common Beliefs and Myths About Child Sexual Abuse

1. Normal-appearing, well educated, middle-class people don’t molest children.

2. Child molesters molest indiscriminately.

3. Children are too young to understand what has happened to them. They will forget, get over it quickly or just ‘grow out of it’. Therapy only traumatises and makes children remember.

4. A lack of observable behaviour or response means a child has not been upset by abuse

5. Children who are being abused will show physical evidence of abuse.

6. Children who have been sexually abused grow up to be adults who sexually abuse

7. Children are seductive and provoke others to abuse them

8. Children who are being abused would immediately tell their parents.

9. Parents know about, are complicit in and/or could have prevented the abuse

10. Commonly held beliefs by child victims of sexual abuse

11. People are too quick to believe an abuser is guilty, even if there is no supporting evidence. Hundreds of innocent men and women have been falsely accused and sent to prison for molesting children.

12. If asked about abuse, children tend to exaggerate and are prone to making false accusations. By using repeated interviews, therapists or police can easily implant false memories and cause false accusations among children of any age.

 

1. Normal-appearing, well educated, middle-class people don’t molest children.
One of the public’s most dangerous assumptions is the belief that a person who both appears and acts normal could not be a child molester. Sex offenders are well aware of our propensity for making assumptions about private behaviour from one’s public presentation. In fact, as recent reports of abuse by priests have shown, child molesters rely on our misassumptions to deliberately and carefully set and gain access to child victims. Child sexual abuse does not discriminate race or class. It is perpetrated by people from all walks of life, including those in positions of power and high social, spiritual or community standing.
In her years of work with sex offenders, Dr. Salter has found they commonly employ a variety of tactics which allow them to gain access to children while concealing their activities. For instance, many seek responsible positions that place them in close proximity with children. They also tend to adopt a pattern of socially responsible and caring behaviour in public. Many have practiced and perfected their ability to charm, to be likeable and to radiate a facade of sincerity and truthfulness. This causes parents and others to drop their guard, allowing the sex offender easy and recurring access to children.
I. Research actually suggests that perpetrators are generally young, heterosexual males from all sorts of socio-economic backgrounds. Most appear to be no different from other men in the community. Adolescent males who sexually abuse younger children are likely to continue to do so into adulthood. They are unlikely to grow out of this behaviour without assessment and appropriate treatment.
II. Only a small percentage of perpetrators have a recognisable mental illness.
III. Several studies suggest a link between child sexual abuse and alcohol or drug use. While drug use does have a disinhibiting effect which may allow usually suppressed impulses to be acted upon, it does not cause child sexual abuse. Alcohol or drug abuse is often used as a justification to absolve perpetrators of responsibility for their behaviour.

  •  Salter, A. C. (2003). Predators: Pedophiles, rapists and other sex offenders: Who they are, how they operate, and how we can protect ourselves and our children. New York: Basic Books.

 

2. Child molesters molest indiscriminately.
Not everyone who comes in contact with a child molester will be abused. Although this finding may seem obvious, some interpret the fact that an abuser didn’t molest a particular child in their care to mean that those children who do allege abuse must be lying. In truth, sex offenders tend to carefully pick and set up their victims Thus while sex offenders may feel driven to molest children, they rarely do so indiscriminately or a plan.
Research with sex offenders confirms that they tend to carefully select and “groom” their victims (Conte, Wolf, & Smith, 1989). For instance, Elliott, Browne and Kilcoyne (1995) interviewed with 91 child molesters, the all-male sample reported that they most often chose children who had family problems, were alone, lacked confidence, and were indiscriminate in their trust of others — especially when the child was also perceived to be pretty, “provocatively” dressed, young, or small.
Rather than being a sudden, initially traumatic occurrence, most sex abuse involves a gradual “grooming” process in which the perpetrator skilfully manipulates the child into participating (Berliner & Conte, 1995). To ensure the child’s continuing compliance, sex offenders report using bribes, threats and force (Elliott et al.,1995).
Below, a young paedophile describes the careful planning that went into finding his next victim.
When a person like myself wants to obtain access to a child, you don’t just go up and get the child and sexually molest the child. There’s a process of obtaining the child’s friendship and, in my case, also obtaining the family’s friendship and their trust.  When you get their trust, that’s when the child becomes vulnerable and you can molest the child. (Salter, 2003, p. 42)

  • Berliner, L., & Conte, J. R. (1995). The effects of disclosure and intervention on sexually abused children. Child Abuse & Neglect, 19, 371-84.
  • Conte, J. R., Wolf, S., & Smith, T. (1989). What sexual offenders tell us about prevention strategies. Child Abuse & Neglect, 13, 293-301.
  • Elliott, M., Browne, K., & Kilcoyne, J. (1995). Child sexual abuse prevention: What offenders tell us. Child Abuse & Neglect. 19, 579-94.
  • Salter, A. C. (2003). Predators: Pedophiles, rapists and other sex offenders . New York: Basic Books.

 

3. Children are too young to understand what has happened to them. They will forget, get over it quickly or just ‘grow out of it’. Therapy only traumatises and makes children remember.
The notion of so-called ‘developmental amnesia’ has led to the popular, albeit erroneous, view that infants do not recall traumatic experiences, including sexual abuse. In reality, even children too young to have the language to describe what has happened to them can be severely affected psychologically and physically.
The human brain has multiple ways to recall experience. Indeed, the brain is designed to store and recall information of all types – motor, vestibular, emotional, social and cognitive. When you walk, play the piano, feel your heart race when you’re afraid, feel calmed by the touch of a loved one or create a first impression after meeting someone for first time, you are using memory.
All incoming sensory information creates neuronal patterns of activity that are compared against previously experienced and stored patterns. New patterns can create new memories. A great many of these stored memory templates are based upon experiences that took place in early childhood – the time in life when these patterns of neuronal activity were first experienced and stored.
Many of our memories are in fact pre-verbal as opposed to cognitive. It is the experiences of early childhood that create the foundational organisation of neural systems that will be used for a lifetime. This is why, contrary to popular perception, infants and young children are particularly vulnerable to traumatic stress – including sexual abuse.
If the original experiences of the infant with primary care-giving adults involve fear, unpredictability, pain and abnormal genital sensations, neural organisation in many key areas will be altered. For example, abnormal associations may be created between genital touch and fear, thereby laying the foundation for future problems in psychosexual development.
Depending upon the specific nature of the abuse, the duration, the frequency and the time during development, a host of problems can result. In many ways, the long-term adverse effects of sexual abuse in infancy are the result of memories – physiological state memories, motor-vestibular memories and emotional memories – which in later years can be triggered by an array of cues that are pervasive.
Sexual abuse in infancy by a family member (eg brother or father) often results in the association of fear, pain and unpredictability into the very core of future human functioning: primary relational templates. If these original ‘templates’ for all future relationships are corrupted by sexual exploitation and abuse, the child is more likely to experience a lifetime of difficulties with intimacy, trust, touch and bonding; the core elements of healthy development a nd functioning throughout the lifecycle will be altered.
The development of attachment and healthy socio-emotional functioning depends upon the presence of consistent, responsive, attuned and nurturing caregivers. One of the central tasks of these relationships is to keep the child safe. If these caregivers are unable to protect, or worse, if they participate in the sexual abuse of the child, the core of all future relational interactions is prone to being corrupted. The distortions in attachment that result from sexual abuse in infancy can be toxic to all future relationships.
Again, the cascade of problems that result from impaired socio-emotional functioning due to early life sexual abuse can impact all domains of functioning and be a source of ongoing confusion and pain to anyone experiencing sexual abuse in infancy or early childhood.

The sequelae that result from child sexual abuse will vary as a function of several keys factors:

the nature, duration, frequency and intensity of the abuse;
the point of development; and
the presence of protective factors such as other nurturing, attentive caregivers in the child’s life.

In general, however, with all traumatic experiences, the earlier in life, the less specific and more pervasive the resulting problems appear to be. For example, when traumatised as an adult, there is a specific increase in sympathetic nervous system reactivity when exposed to cues associated with the traumatic event. With young children, following traumatic stress, there appears to be a generalised increase in autonomic nervous system reactivity in addition to the cue-specific reactivity (Perry, 1998).
Due to the sequential and functionally interdependent nature of development, traumatic disruption of the organisation and functioning of neural system can result in a cascade of related disrupted development and dysfunction. Examples of this include the motor and language delays in traumatised children under age six. The causes of these delays are likely due to the primary, trauma-induced alterations in other domains (e.g., the stress response systems, thereby influencing physiological reactivity, hyper vigilance, concentration), which, in turn, impair the young child’s willingness to explore, their capacity to process new information and their ability to focus long enough on new information in order to learn (Perry, 2001).
A child’s development is impacted by sexual abuse in many ways and across several domains, including (but not limited to) attachment, self-esteem, capacity for intimacy and sexuality, identity, self-regulation and coping skills.
Children who have experienced sexual abuse often display significant problems including depression, anxiety, social withdrawal and profound emotional problems. Many adult survivors experience depression, low self-esteem, difficulty in forming relationships and sexual problems.
Children can retain memories of abuse they have endured even if the abuse occurred in infancy and/or they lack the expressive language to describe what happened to them (see point 8).
Whilst concern about uninformed or unplanned intervention in children’s lives is valid (as are concerns about the effects on children of becoming involved in the legal system), this is not an excuse for adults to avoid acting to protect the child from further abuse.
If adults fail to act, the abuse is likely to continue and the child is more likely to experience life-long effects.
Therapy provides children, adolescents and adults with a chance to make connections between these reactions and their experience, to make sense of it all and to manage their thoughts, feelings and behaviour more effectively.

 

4. A lack of observable behaviour or response means a child has not been upset by abuse
Actually, some children become incredibly efficient, well-behaved and high achievers in the aftermath of, subsequent to or during the experience of sexual abuse; this is often a coping mechanism, means to deny/suppress the abuse, gain control or alleviate anxiety/emotional distress.
This can involve perfectionist or obsessive behaviours as well as inappropriately high self-standards and harsh self-assessments. Such individuals can find it very difficult to express their needs or put themselves first, which can have detrimental long-term psychological and behavioural consequences.

 

5. Children who are being abused will show physical evidence of abuse.
A lack of physical evidence of sexual assault is often cited as support that an alleged perpetrator must be innocent. However, research shows that abnormal genital findings are rare even in cases where the abuse has been proven. Some acts, like fondling and oral sex, leave no physical traces. Even injuries from penetration heal very quickly in young children and thus abnormal genital findings are not common, especially if the child is examined more than 48 hours after the abuse. In fact, even with proven penetration in up to 95% of cases, genital examinations will be essentially normal.

  • Adams, J. A., Harper, K., Knudson, S., & Revilla, J. (1994). Examination findings in legally confirmed child sexual abuse: It’s normal to be normal. Pediatrics, 94 (3), 310-7.
  • Heger, A., Ticson, L., Velasquez, O., & Bernier, R. (2002). Children referred for possible sexual abuse: medical findings in 2384 children. Child Abuse & Neglect, 26, 645-59.
  • Kellogg, N. D., Menard, S. W., & Santos, A. (2004). Genital anatomy in pregnant adolescents: ”Normal” does not mean “nothing happened”. Pediatrics, 113 (1 Pt 1), 67-9.

 

6. Children who have been sexually abused grow up to be adults who sexually abuse
This is not an automatic progression. In fact, most children who have experienced sexual abuse do not grow up to abuse others. Research indicates that only approximately five per cent of victims go on to become abusers (NSW Child Protection Council, 1996).
Some children may act out their experiences with other children as a way of making sense of the abuse, or because they do not know better. Some children may have learned through their experience that the only way they can be valued is by being sexual. Some young people may act out sexually or take risks with sexual behaviour as a way of regaining control over their lives. Many others show no such effects from their experience.

 

7. Children are seductive and provoke others to abuse them
This myth takes responsibility for abuse away from the adult and places it onto the child.
Children are relatively powerless. Child sexual abuse is never anyone’s fault but the offender – sexual abuse is never a child’s fault.
It is perpetrated against children and young people of all ages and in families from all backgrounds, religions and economic situations.
Sexual abuse is associated with discriminatory attitudes to women and sex that men learn from a young age, as well as unique power relationships between men and women and adults and children.

 

8. Children who are being abused would immediately tell their parents.
The fact victims often fail to disclose their abuse in a timely fashion is frequently used as evidence that an alleged victim’s story should be doubted. Research, however, shows that children who have been sexually assaulted often have considerable difficulty in revealing or discussing their abuse.
Estimates suggest that only 3% of all cases of child sexual abuse (Finkelhor & Dziuba-Leatherman, 1994; Timnick, 1985) and only 12% of rapes involving children are ever reported to police (Hanson et al., 1999). A nationally representative survey of over 3,000 women revealed that of those raped during childhood, 47% did not disclose to anyone for over 5 years post-rape. In fact, 28% of the victims reported that they had never told anyone about their childhood rape prior to the research interview. Moreover, the women who never told often suffered the most serious abuse. For instance, younger age at the time of rape, a family relationship with the perpetrator, and experiencing a series of rapes were all associated with delayed disclosure (Smith et al., 2000).
Sex offenders typically seek to make the victim feel as though he or she caused the offender to act inappropriately, and convince the child that they are the guilty party. As a result, children often have great difficulty sorting out who is responsible for the abuse and frequently blame themselves for what happened. In the end, fears of retribution and abandonment, and feelings of complicity, embarrassment, guilt, and shame all conspire to silence children and inhibit their disclosures of abuse (Pipe & Goodman, 1991; Sauzier, 1989).
Boys seem to have a particularly difficult time dealing with sexual abuse and are even less likely to report it than girls. A review of 5 community-based studies revealed that rates of non-disclosure ranged from 42% to 85% in abused men ( Lyons , 2002). Research with abused males has found that the more severe the abuse, the more likely the boy is to blame himself and the less likely he will disclose the abuse (Hunter et al., 1992). In addition to self-blame, reluctance of boys to disclose abuse may be traced to the social stigma attached to victimization, along with fears that they will be disbelieved or labeled homosexual (Watkins & Bentovim, 1992).

  • Finkelhor, D., & Dziuba-Leatherman, J. (1994). Children as Victims of Violence: A National Survey. Pediatrics, 94, 413-420.
  • Hanson, R. F., Resnick H. S., Saunders, B. E., Kilpatrick, D. G., & Best, C. (1999). Factors related to the reporting of childhood rape. Child Abuse & Neglect, 23, 559-69.
  • Hunter, J. A., Goodwin, D. W., & Wilson, R. J. (1992). Attributions of blame in child sexual abuse victims: An analysis of age and gender influences. Journal of Child Sexual Abuse, 1, 75-89.
  • Kilpatrick, D. G., Edmunds, C. N., & Seymour, A. (1992). Rape in America: A report to the nation. Arlington VA: National Victim Center.
  • Lyon, T.D. (2002). Scientific Support for Expert Testimony on Child Sexual Abuse Accommodation. In J.R. Conte (Ed.), Critical issues in child sexual abuse (pp. 107-138). Newbury Park, CA: Sage. (on-line: http://www.law.duke.edu/shell/cite.pl?65+Law+&+Contemp.+Probs.+97+(Winter+2002 )
  • Pipe, M. E., & Goodman, G. S. (1991). Elements of secrecy: Implications for children’s testimony. Behavioral Sciences & the Law, 9, 33-41.
  • Sauzier, M. (1989). Disclosure of child sexual abuse: For better or for worse. Psychiatric Clinics of North America, 12, 455-69.
  • Smith, D. W., Letourneau, E. J., Saunders, B. E., Kilpatrick, D. G., Resnick, H. S., & Best, C. L. (2000). Delay in disclosure of childhood rape: Results from a national survey. Child Abuse & Neglect, 24, 273-87.
  • Watkins, B. & Bentovim, A. (1992).  The sexual abuse of male children and adolescents: A review of current research. Journal of Child Psychology and Psychiatry, 33, 197-248.

 

9. Parents know about, are complicit in and/or could have prevented the abuse
Perpetrators do everything they can to conceal their criminal behaviour from any witnesses. Strategies used to conceal their behaviour include:
Building trust with a child and their family
Using emotional and physical coercion, isolation and threats of physical harm to the victim and others to exact silence and secrecy
Telling the victim that their parents know and approve, or that no-one will believe them
Threatening the victim that they will be responsible for anything that happens if they speak out
These strategies can be extremely effective. Many victims of child sexual abuse do not disclose for years.
By perpetuating the lie that parents know and/or are complicit in the abuse of their children, we may potentially separate the child from the person who is the one most likely to give them
support.
We deny and deflect the responsibility of the perpetrator when we assume that (non-offending) parents/primary caregivers can protect their children from abuse.

 

10. Commonly held beliefs by child victims of sexual abuse
The abuse is/was my fault
I could/should have stopped the abuse
I am a bad, dirty person and deserve to be sexually abused
I am better off dead
No-one will believe me if I tell
Sexually abused children may fear that
Those who I love will reject me
I will be removed from my home
My perpetrator will go to jail
I have destroyed my family
I have destroyed (or will destroy) my perpetrator’s family
I will lose my family home
I will have to move schools
Nobody will want to be my friend or associate with me if I tell

 

11. People are too quick to believe an abuser is guilty, even if there is no supporting evidence. Hundreds of innocent men and women have been falsely accused and sent to prison for molesting children.
In truth, people are too quick to believe that the accused is innocent, even if there is plenty of supporting evidence. According to Dr. Salter,” Normal, healthy people distort reality to create a kinder, gentler world than actually exists” (p. 177). She notes that in order to find meaning and justice in everyday life, most people assign victims too much blame for their assaults and offenders too little. In truth, it is hard for most people to imagine how any person could sexually abuse a child. Because they can’t imagine a “normal” person doing such a heinous act, they assume that child molesters must be monsters.  If the accused does not fit this stereotype (in other words if he appears to be a normal person), then many people will disbelieve the allegation, believing the accused to be incapable of such act.
Actual research shows that, as a whole, our society continues to under-react and under-estimate the scope of the problem.
Research has consistently shown that few abusers are ever identified or incarcerated. Estimates suggest that only 3% of all cases of child sexual abuse (Finkelhor & Dziuba-Leatherman, 1994; Timnick, 1985) and only 12% of rapes involving children are ever reported to police (Hanson et al., 1999).
After reviewing numerous studies, Bolen (2001) noted that in the end, offenders may be convicted in only 1-2% of cases of suspected abuse known to professionals. And even then, most convicted child molesters spend less than one year in jail.

  • Salter, A. C. (2003). Predators: Pedophiles, rapists and other sex offenders: Who they are, how they operate, and how we can protect ourselves and our children. New York : Basic Books.
  • Bolen. R. M. (2001).  Child sexual abuse: Its scope and our failure. New York: Kluwer Academic.
  • Ceci, S. J., & Bruck, M. (1993). The suggestibility of the child witness: A historical review and synthesis. Psychological Bulletin, 113, 403-39.
  • Finkelhor, D. (1983). Removing the child – prosecuting the offender in cases of child sexual abuse: Evidence from the national reporting system for child abuse and neglect. Child Abuse & Neglect, 7, 195-205.
  • Finkelhor, D., & Dziuba-Leatherman, J. (1994). Children as victims of violence: A national survey. Pediatrics, 94, 413-20.
  • Hanson, R. F., Resnick H. S., Saunders, B. E., Kilpatrick, D. G., & Best, C. (1999). Factors related to the reporting of childhood rape. Child Abuse & Neglect, 23, 559-69.
  • Kilpatrick, D. G., Edmunds, C. N., & Seymour, A. (1992). Rape in America: A report to the nation. Arlington VA: National Victim Center.
  • Sauzier, M. (1989). Disclosure of child sexual abuse: For better or for worse. Psychiatric Clinics of North America, 12, 455-69.
  • Timnick, L. (August 15, 1985). The Times poll: Twenty-two percent in survey were child abuse victims. Los Angeles Times, p. 1.

 

12. If asked about abuse, children tend to exaggerate and are prone to making false accusations. By using repeated interviews, therapists or police can easily implant false memories and cause false accusations among children of any age.
Contrary to the popular misconception that children are prone to exaggerate sexual abuse, research shows that children often minimize and deny, rather than embellish what has happened to them.
In one study, researchers examined 28 cases in which prepubescent children had tested positive for a sexually transmitted disease by forensically accepted procedures. To be included in the study, the children had to have presented for a physical problem with no prior disclosure or suspicion of sexual abuse and were required to have adequate expressive language capabilities. Each of the 28 children was interviewed by a social worker trained in abuse disclosure techniques and use of anatomically correct dolls. Only 12 of the 28 (43%) of the abused children interviewed gave any verbal confirmation of sexual contact (Lawson, & Chaffin, 1992).
Another study involved a perpetrator who pled guilty after videotapes documenting his abuse of ten children were found by authorities. Because of these detailed video recordings, researchers knew exactly what had happened to these children. They were thus able to compare what the children told investigators when they were interviewed to the videotapes. Despite this abundance of hard physical evidence, the researchers found a significant tendency among the children to deny or minimize their experiences. Some children simply did not want to disclose their experiences, some had difficulties remembering them, and one child lacked adequate concepts to understand and describe them. Even when interviews included leading questions, none of the children embellished their accounts or accused the perpetrator of acts that he hadn’t actually committed (Sjoberg & Lindblad, 2002).
Although research has consistently shown that children rarely confabulate about having been abused and false allegations have been found to be rare (Everson & Boat, 1989; Jones & McGraw, 1987; Oates, et al., 2000), the potential for false allegations continues to be an area of great concern in sex abuse cases.
Whenever prominent adults are accused of abuse, we frequently hear allegations improper questioning and suggestions that the child may have invented molestation stories to please probing authority figures. We also hear concerns that inappropriate, suggestive therapies by overzealous clinicians may have shaped or implanted the allegations.
Recent research suggests that these concerns have been greatly exaggerated ( Lyons , 2001). There is now a substantial body of laboratory research which finds that children are quite reluctant to discuss embarrassing events (Lyon, 1999; 2002). Overall, laboratory research using suggestive questioning has consistently shown that negative events, especially events involving a child’s genitals, are relatively difficult to implant in children’s statements. In fact, research shows that children are more likely to fail to report negative experiences that actually did happen to them, than falsely remember ones that did not.

  • Ceci, S. J., & Bruck, M. (1993). The suggestibility of the child witness: A historical review and synthesis. Psychological Bulletin, 113, 403-39.
  • Everson, M.D., & Boat, B. W. (1989). False allegations of sexual abuse by children and adolescents. Journal of the American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry. 28 : 230-5.
  • Jones, D. P. H., & McGraw, J. M. (1987). Reliable and fictitious accounts of sexual abuse to children. Journal of Interpersonal Violence, 2, 27-45.
  • Lawson, L., & Chaffin, M. (1992). False negatives in sexual abuse disclosure interviews. Journal of Interpersonal Violence, 7 , 532-42.
  • Lyon, T.D. (1999). The new wave of suggestibility research: A critique. Cornell Law Review, 84 , 1004-1087.
  • Lyon, T.D. (2001). Let’s not exaggerate the suggestibility of children. Court Review, 28 (3), 12-14. (on-line: http://aja.ncsc.dni.us/courtrv/cr38-3/CR38-3Lyon.pdf )
  • Lyon, T.D. (2002). Scientific Support for Expert Testimony on Child Sexual Abuse Accommodation. In J.R. Conte (Ed.), Critical issues in child sexual abuse (pp. 107-138). Newbury Park , CA : Sage. (on-line: http://www.law.duke.edu/shell/cite.pl?65+Law+&+Contemp.+Probs.+97+(Winter+2002 )
  • Malloy, L.C., Lyon, T.D., & Quas, J.A. (2007). Filial dependency and recantation of child sexual abuse allegations. Journal of the American Academy of Child & Adolescent Psychiatry, 46, 162-70.
  • Oates, R. K., Jones, D. P., Denson, D., Sirotnak, A., Gary, N., & Krugman, R. D. (2000). Erroneous concerns about child sexual abuse. Child Abuse & Neglect, 24, 149-57.
  • Pezdek, K., & C. Roe. (1997). The suggestibility of children’s memory for being touched: Planting, erasing, and changing memories. Law and Human Behavior, 21, 95-106.
  • Saywitz, K. J., Goodman, G. S., Nicholas, E., & Moan, S. F. (1991). Children’s memories of a physical examination involving genital touch: Implications for reports of child sexual abuse. Journal of Consulting & Clinical Psychology, 59 , 682-91.
  • Sjoberg, R. L., & Lindblad, F. (2002). Limited disclosure of sexual abuse in children whose experiences were documented by videotape. American Journal of Psychiatry, 159, 312-4.

The Leadership Council
http://www.leadershipcouncil.org/1/res/csa_myths.html

 

Disclosure of Abuse


Disclosure is the process by which the sexually-abused child brings the abuse to the attention of others.

When children or youth disclose or talk about their experience of being sexually abused, they do not always go to their parents or primary caregivers (especially if the abuse has occurred in the family context). They may talk to someone else they trust, like a teacher or friend.

Upon learning that your child may have been sexually abused, it is often difficult to understand why s/he did not tell you right away or why s/he disclosed to someone else. It is important to understand that this is not unusual. It does not mean that s/he does not love or trust you. It may be that your child does not want to worry or upset you. Alternatively, they may fear not being believed or may feel unsure about whether you can cope with learning about what has happened to them.

Many children are embarrassed to disclose details of sexual abuse, especially to their parents. Others may have been threatened or manipulated into keeping the abuse a secret.

When and how children disclose
What do you do if a child tells you they have been sexually abused?
How do children disclose?
What might keep a child from disclosing sexual abuse?

 

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