Sunday, August 7, 2016

Ten Things People Do Not Know About Child Sexual Abuse

If you know some of these, I congratulate you on being knowledgeable about sexual abuse. However, for most people, this is a fairly accurate list of what ten things people simply are not aware of on the issue of child sexual abuse.

One: Sexual Abusers Are People We Trust

One of the most common statistics cited by prevention programs, advocates, and survivor groups is that over 90% of sexual abuse is perpetrated by those known and trusted by the victim. But that can sometimes mislead us. After all, these are people trusted by the victim. The child. Children trust everyone, right? According to Wikipedia, about a third of sexual abuse is perpetrated by immediate family members, and two-thirds is perpetrated by a friend of the family: Babysitter, teacher, coach, nanny, etc. So it is not just the child doing the trusting, it is everyone around the child.

Two: Sexual Abusers Are Not Registered Sex Offenders

This fact is going to be particularly shocking to most people, but sex offender registration happens after someone has been sentenced (not accused, not convicted, sentenced) for a sex crime that mandates registration. That is easy enough to understand. But we know from studies on the subject that most accused of sex crimes, to the tune of 95%, are first-time offenders, in other words, people completely new to the criminal justice system (they have a clean criminal record). While background checks are certainly useful for recidivist sex offenders, they will fail to catch nine out of ten potential sexual abusers.

Three: Victims Do Not Disclose Abuse

A statistic commonly cited by survivor organizations is that it takes the average victim of child sexual abuse 22 years to disclose that they were abused. Another common statistic is that for every child who discloses their abuse, another 8 do not. We like to think that our children will talk about it if someone is mistreating them, but most of the time that person is someone they know and trust. There are a variety of systemic issues that prevent children from speaking up that can be corrected by properly educating children about good/bad touch, boundaries, and good mental health in general, but these systemic corrections cannot completely compensate for the fact that sexual abuse is a horrid violation of a child’s trust, respect, and boundaries, and for the child, talking about that is humiliating.

Four: Sexual Abusers Are (Mostly) Not Attracted To Children

This is probably another shocking statistic for most people: Two-thirds of sexual abusers are not sexually attracted to children. Most abusers are not motivated by positive factors like the sexual pleasure from their actions, but by negative factors like significant life events, daily stress and frustration, resentment towards others, and many other factors. Entire books and studies examine the numerous motivations of sexual abusers and sexual offenders, but the point is that sexual pleasure is typically not a motivating factor. In other words, the stereotypical sexual predators are not really the biggest threat we need to worry about.

Five: Most Sex Abusers Do Not Re-Offend

How many times have we heard (or expressed) the idea that sexual abusers, child molesters, or sex offenders should be locked up, castrated, or killed on the basis that if they are, they can then never harm another person sexually? If we were somehow able to search every news story on the subject, I suspect this would be the overwhelming comment. Yet, according to research, the opposite is true: Most of the time sex offenders re-offend, it is with a non-violent offense, and child molesters re-offend at a lower rate. To be more exact, 11.5% of sex offenders will go on to commit another sexual crime. We know from studies too numerous to name that the things that help lower recidivism are not sex offender registries and harsher punishments, but softer approaches like reentry projects like housing and job assistance and therapy specifically tailored for sex offenders.

Six: A Significant Number Of Sexual Abusers Are Juveniles

35.6%, to be more exact, and researchers at the Moore Center for the Prevention of Child Sexual Abuse have more recently been saying half, not 36%. While adults do make up the majority of sexual abusers, a statistically significant portion of them are juveniles, not adults. Motivations for juvenile offending are just as vast and complex as adult sexual offending, but with one major difference: While it is true that most adults do not re-offend sexually, it is even more true for juveniles. Sexual recidivism for juveniles is generally around 3%. Punishing juveniles and placing them on sex offender registries is not only barbaric, it is not supported by research. Just ask Elizabeth Letourneau, I am sure she would welcome questions on the subject.

Seven: Most Abuse Happens 1-on-1 In A Residence

To save you the trouble of grabbing your dictionary, a residence is a house or apartment where someone lives, as opposed to an institution like a school, sports program, or office. To be exact, 80% of sexual abuse happens in a residence, and 85% is in a private situation between the child and the abuser (both statistics courtesy of Darkness to Light). In other words, keeping sex offenders (who already do not re-offend much) away from schools or parks (which probably fall somewhere in the remaining 20%) is not based on fact, but wishful thinking and yes, probably some vengeance.

Eight: Boys Are Sexually Abused Also, And Some Of Them By Women

For some reason, many criminal courts go easy on women who sexually abuse boys. It comes up from time to time in my Twitter feed. And inevitably, someone makes the comment that the boy is lucky, or that the commenter would not have minded the attention. The fact of the matter is, this is still sexual abuse, and the effects of it on the victim are well-documented. As the name might indicate, 1in6 is an organization of male survivors who were sexually abused as children, and they have numerous statistics on this subject. What is the rate of boys who are sexually abused? Every one in six boys. That is almost as much as girls (one in four).

Nine: Most Pedophiles Do Not Sexually Abuse Children

I have covered this before, but according to what we know about child molesters and pedophilia, the vast majority of pedophiles, or those sexually attracted to children, do not hurt children. For a more detailed analysis of why pedophilia is not a risk to children, see here.

Ten: The Majority Of Sexual Abuse Victims Do Not Abuse Others

It is common knowledge to researchers that roughly 40% of sexual abusers are known to have been abused as children, but most people still believe the myth that if a child is sexually abused, they will go on to sexually abuse other children. And, while prior abuse may be a factor in juveniles who sexually abuse, it is hardly a factor for adults who sexually abuse. I am not entirely sure what the exact statistic is for the ratio of victims who have never abused to victims who have, but it is very safe to say that most victims of sexual abuse are perfectly safe to other people. Typically, the challenges they face as victims and survivors are directed inwards, not outwards.

The Politics Of Prevention

Prevention… Political?

Yes, the area of prevention is very political. Unfortunately, preventing child sexual abuse is not nearly as straightforward as researching the facts surrounding the issue, forming policies to address the facts, and getting those policies put in place. There are interest groups, such as the Association for the Treatment of Sexual Abusers (ATSA), the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children (NCMEC), Rape Abuse Incest National Network (RAINN), Darkness to Light (D2L), Stop It Now, Abuse Stoppers, Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests (SNAP), Parents For Megan’s Law (PFML), and a number of other state-specific prevention organizations or abuse survivor networks. The problem? None of these organizations is united in the things that can help stop sexual abuse.

For example, the NCMEC this year pushed heavily for the passing of the Adam Walsh Renewal of 2016, a number of laws related to the sex offender registry. As I have stated many times, the facts do not support a sex offender registry being the most effective method of protecting children, given that most who are caught and sentenced do not repeat their crimes. PFML obviously pushes for Megan’s Law to be broader and works with the state of New York to monitor registered sex offenders. Yet none of these approaches is based in fact, and that should be disturbing to many people. Yet, it is not.

The One With The Most Resources Wins

A basic fact of any legislative battle over anything these days is that the party with the most resources to throw at an initiative is going to win. What this means is that, regardless of the efficacy of the initiative, if it has enough backing by enough money and people, that initiative takes the cake. That is why the Adam Walsh Renewal Act of 2016 passed this year. That is why International Megan’s Law was passed this year, even though it has zero basis in fact: People believe what politicians, media outlets, and interest groups tell them, even if what they are being told has no basis in fact.

Two Parties And A Lot Of Stupidity

I suppose that stupidity is a rather strong word that is best left out of academic circles, but the basic fact of the matter is that Republican candidates consistently vote down initiatives to provide comprehensive sexual education to children and that Democrats generally support these initiatives. Republicans often vote up measures to be “tougher on crime”, and Democrats generally vote up measures that provide “restorative justice”.

This is stupid. Why is this stupid? Because politicians are not experts in these fields. Psychologists, criminologists, researchers… all of the people dealing with the facts of these issues do not side with a particular political party. They side with what is effective, but that is not what gets popularity, votes, or public approval. One might ask what the point of having experts is if no one is willing to listen to them and do what they suggest.

The Rub

The political nature of these things amounts to a huge rub in the face of humanity. That rub is that putting in place systems and policies that are ineffective at rectifying the very problem they seek to correct means that, no matter what the issue is, the problem is not addressed in the most effective method possible. When that issue is child sexual abuse, that rub is not just a rub. It is pathetic and appalling, and should have every single person up in arms protesting the policies that do not do nearly enough to stop children from being sexually abused.

I wish I could say something light-hearted, like, “If the American public was aware of half of the facts around child sexual abuse, they would demand abolishing sex offender registries for all but the most heinous of recidivists.” The problem with that… is that most Americans do not even read up on the issue of child sexual abuse. No one cares enough, or they are uncomfortable discussing it, reading about it, and learning about it. Say what you will about effective marketing, but my blog only has a total of 6,300 page views to date. Yet I think most people would agree that the best method for solving a problem is to prevent it from becoming a problem in the first place. But when it comes to child sexual abuse, one must know why that is more effective before they can support primary prevention.

My Wish

My hope is that America, and indeed the rest of the world, wakes up to the reality that child sexual abuse is a large issue that affects a significant portion of the population, and that is just the statistics we know about. Sexual abuse and sexual assault are very underreported crimes. So my wish is that we stop bickering over what the solution is, listen to the experts that deal with this issue every day, and put systems in place that are based not in a political agenda, but on facts and research. I suppose that holds true for any issue, but child sexual abuse is too big an issue to get wrong. What will your contribution be?

Monday, August 1, 2016

Why Sexual Education Is Necessary To Primary Prevention

Sexual Education Should Be Mandatory

Sexual education of children is essential to the prevention of sexual abuse, before it can happen. This also applies to sexual assault. I believe that sexual education should be required of all children in every country in an age-appropriate format. But I am sure that saying that much may have shocked you, and you may wonder what the reasons I have are.

Say What?

Let us begin with defining what sexual education means. Sexual education is the educating of children about the topics and mechanics involved in sex and sexuality, but that is not all that it is. Sexual education means teaching children about safe sex practices, about consent, and about sexual boundaries. It also means teaching children that if they are having an issue of a sexual nature, they can get help for it.

Let me expand what I mean by that. If a child has been the victim of sexual abuse or assault, it means that the child hears they can get help and they can tell someone. They may not even realize that what was done to them was abusive. If a child has sexual thoughts towards someone else that they would like to act out, but have no idea how to go about that, they might seek help if they know they can. Some have no idea that is even an option.

It also means that if someone is wrestling with pedophilia, or a sexual attraction to children, they hear the message that there is help and they do not have to face it alone. You see, sexual education does not just mean teaching children about sex. Facing reality, they will find out about sex eventually. As rational human beings, we would prefer that they do not find out by watching pornography and getting an unrealistic idea of what sex is. Right?

Guidance Versus No Guidance

So… what happens when a child starts having sexual feelings, but they have no guidance for them? We know that there is age-appropriate and age-inappropriate sexual behavior, and we know that it is possible for children to sexually abuse other children. In the absence of knowing what to do with sexual feelings, or unwanted sexual advances, or sexual issues and struggles, they will do what children often do: Experiment. Sometimes, that experimentation is expected and does not harm other children. But sometimes, the other child is traumatized by such experimentation.

It is obviously beneficial for children to have guidance so that they learn what is and is not socially acceptable, and so that they can avoid harming someone else. Sexual education is essential to preventing child sexual abuse for that reason.

Everyone Makes It Political

Sexual education is a political topic for many, because there are differing approaches to sexual education. Some want abstinence education, or trying to teach children that they should abstain from sex before marriage. Some want comprehensive sexual education, or teaching children everything from the mechanics, boundaries, and expectations around sex to the physical health aspects of the risk of STD’s, AIDS/HIV, and safe sex. Others want to teach children about LGBTQ issues, so that children who have attractions to their same sex have resources to utilize, support groups to go to, or someplace to go to know they are not alone.

Let me cut through the political messes on this issue and ask you a simple question… If sexual education is not taught in school, and you are a parent, are you willing to honestly answer every question your child has about sex? Are you capable of having that conversation in a professional, calm atmosphere, without freaking out because it is your child asking the questions? Do you have what it takes to ensure that your child does not walk away with the message that sex is inherently wrong or evil?

I ask that because many parents struggle with how to have those conversations, because of how emotionally involved they are and because they may not know what to say or how to teach their children what they need to know about sex. They may have no idea what their child even needs to know about sex, or why they need to know it. Sexual education should not be a political issue. Part of being human for the vast majority of humanity is having sexual feelings, just as the vast majority of humanity needs a job, shelter, food, clothing, etc. We teach children about these things, but we sometimes expect them to just figure the sex aspect out on their own.

That is a dangerous expectation for reasons I have already outlined. It is also possible for children to commit crimes because they do not know that what they did is a crime. Sexual education can teach children not only the parts about sex that make us squirm, it can teach them ethics of how to behave so that they do not harm others, or themselves, through sexual behavior.

Putting Facts First

Rather than making the issue political, we should go where the facts go. Are there studies that look at which kinds of sexual education are more effective at teaching body safety? Are there studies that look at the sexual behaviors of children with differing kinds of sexual education? Are the results of some forms of education more advantageous compared to others? These are the kinds of questions we should be asking, for the sake of our children. I am not going to propose studies or link you to any. Go Google it. Go find out the information. Explore the topic.

I have no idea what political background you, dear reader, may be coming from. But let me explain mine: My father is a republican, and my mother does not care about politics. We never discussed politics much in our house. I formed my own ideas. I am neither a democrat or a republican. There are issues that I find to be important, and I vote on those issues and choose the candidate I prefer based on that. I do not believe it is rational or sane to stick to a particular political platform. I suppose it is possible I just insulted someone, but my point is that sticking to a particular ideology is fallacious because it can all too easily lead us to conclusions that are not based on facts.

On issues involving crime, when we form ideas based solely on ideology and not on the facts of varying approaches, we can enable more crime to happen through negligence. That is not in anyone’s best interests, particularly where children are concerned. Child sexual abuse is an epidemic that demands that the facts be placed above ideology, religion, political party platform, or opinions. We cannot prevent child sexual abuse before it happens by only doing what we think is best. We must consult facts, studies, and experts on the subjects involved so that the best course of action to protect children is taken.


I hope you can see better my perspective, and the perspective of primary prevention, on why sexual education is necessary. I hope you have the time to research what works and what does not work, and I hope that children are important enough to you that you are willing to put aside your own ideas and look at the facts. Sexual abuse and sexual assault cannot be adequately prevented if the facts do not matter.