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.

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