Friday, August 14, 2009

Six Myths About Childhood Sexual Abuse

Before we start thinking about such dreadful topics as incest and other sexual abuse, I want to ask you to think for a moment about the number of children you know who wear braces on their teeth. We'll get back to that later.

Myth 1 - Childhood sexual abuse doesn't happen to people "like us."

Some people think childhood sexual abuse involves something out there, involves someone else... a dirty old man in a raincoat, for instance. Most sexual abuse is committed by a family member, a family friend, someone that the child and members of the child's family know. Childhood sexual abuse occurs in families that are faithful Roman Catholics or Baptists or members of no church at all. It happens in black and white families, in rich and poor families. A former Miss America has been very open in discussing her childhood sexual abuse, and so has Oprah Winfrey.

If you are working with young people in an elite prep school or in a juvenile prison, you are working with someone who has been sexually abused.

Myth 2 - Only men sexually abuse children, and only girls are abused.

The truth is, as many as one quarter of sexual abusers are women, and the proportions of boys and girls abused are about equal.

Myth 3 - The adult must be drunk or on drugs to do such a thing.

Childhood sexual abuse is so horrible, in fact, that we want to believe that the adult must be drunk or on drugs to do such a thing. Of course, the use of alcohol and drugs—of alcohol and other drugs—is involved in many sexual offenses. But there are many people who use drugs who do not abuse children, and there are people who abuse children who will not allow alcohol in their homes.

Myth 4 - The adult cannot help himself/herself. He/she is so attracted to the child.
This is not about "abusive sex with children." It is about "sexual abuse of children." Of course, in all honesty, perhaps most sexually "normal" (whatever that means) adults have probably seen a young person, let's hope at youngest a teenager, and felt sexually attracted.

But, these myths are not about sex but abuse. What happens in any abuse of children? A stronger person takes advantage of a weaker person, imposes his or her feelings onto the weaker person. A person who weighs maybe a hundred eighty pounds takes advantage of someone who weighs perhaps forty pounds to act out his/her anger or frustration or drunkenness. Imagine that you are facing a seven hundred pound sumo wrestler... and he has just been fired.

Sex is just one more way of taking advantage. Many sexual abusers offend against boys and girls alike, because it is not a matter of being attracted to boys or to girls but of being attracted to anyone smaller, weaker. Quite often, the child can understand the issue of power even though he or she is too young to understand what sex is about. That sense of powerlessness stays with survivors of childhood sexual abuse long after the abuse ends.

Myth 5 - Incest is not as bad as other sexual abuse since the child at least recognizes, knows, and perhaps loves the adult.

That the child knows and loves the adult makes incest the worst abuse of all. If you are being abused by your father, stepfather, uncle, or grandfather—or your mother, stepmother, aunt, or grandmother—then you are being abused by someone who should be there to protect you from abuse. The people you should trust violate that trust, and you may never be able to trust anyone again.

Myth 6 - ...

The final myth is so awful, so dangerous that I am not going to call it a myth anymore. It is a lie, purely and simply, a lie. This lie is that the child somehow wants, asks for, or brings about the sexual abuse. I have friends whose abuse began before they started to school.

If you do not remember anything else from this aticle, remember this: The child is not responsible for the sexual abuse. The child is not and cannot be responsible for the sexual abuse. The child is not and is never under any circumstances responsible for the sexual abuse. And, in case there is any doubt, any sexual contact between an adult and a child is abuse.

Now that we've gone through five myths and a lie about childhood sexual abuse, I want to review them, but this time, I want to tell you the six corresponding truths about childhood sexual abuse:

Truth 1 - Childhood sexual abuse occurs in all groups.

Yes, even in your group.

Truth 2 - Not all sexual abusers are men.

Nor are all victims girls.

Truth 3 - Alcohol and other drugs are not necessarily a part of childhood sexual abuse.

They certainly are not an excuse.

Truth 4 - Childhood sexual abuse is a form of child abuse.

It is about power, not about sexual attraction.

Truth 5 - Incest is the worst kind of childhood sexual abuse.

That is, if we can say that one form is worse than another.

Truth 6 - The child is not responsible for the sexual abuse.

Take a minute to say that last one aloud: The child is not responsible... for the sexual abuse....


I asked you about people wearing braces because... the number of children who wear braces is less than the number of children who are sexually abused.

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