Child Sexual Assault: myths and facts
In order to understand the reality of child sexual assault and exploitation, it is important to understand the myths that exist. Below are the most widespread myths about this crime:
MYTH 1 The parents are at fault for the sexual assault. They should protect their child.
FACT Parents are often accused of not protecting their child. However, this attitude shifts blame and enables offenders to avoid responsibility for the actions. The offender is always the person who is responsible for a child sexual assault.
MYTH 2 Child sex offenders are mostly strangers.
FACT It is estimated that in 70-90% of cases the offender is someone the child knows.
MYTH 3 People who sexually assault their own children are not a danger to other children.
FACT Child sex offenders rarely engage in a single offence. A person who offends against their own child/ren may offend against other children.
MYTH 4 Children ‘invite’ sexual assault by acting seductively.
FACT No child wants to be sexually assaulted. Adults have power over children, and they must not manipulate this power.
MYTH 5 Incest and sexual assault only occur in poor families.
FACT Incest and sexual assault can occur in all kinds of families, rich or poor, large or small, well educated or not well-educated.
MYTH 6 Some children enjoy sexual attention from adults and this will not harm them.
FACT Sexual assault has many harmful effects on children, and survivors often require support regarding these. Sexual assault can result in children experiencing fear, confusion, guilt, shame, and sadness. These feelings may occur for a variety of reasons.
MYTH 7 The child did not say no or try to stop the sexual assault, so the child is partly to blame.
FACT A common stress response is to freeze, and this may prevent a child from responding or saying ‘no.’ Adult offenders are always to blame, as children are unable to consent.
MYTH 8 Children and young people lie about sexual assault.
FACT Actually, 98% of child sexual assault reports by children are found to be true.
MYTH 9 Children can misinterpret and wrongly accuse an adult of sexual assault.
FACT Children often disclose long after their assault has started. The offender often uses behaviours such as ‘accidental touching’ or tickling to defend their behaviour and blame the child. A child’s disclosure should always be acknowledged and taken seriously.
MYTH 10 Incest or child sexual assault is quite acceptable in some cultures.
FACT There is no evidence to support this. The cultural significance of incest and child sexual assault can vary between cultures. Both incest and child sexual assault are illegal in Australia.
MYTH 11 Sexual assault is not harmful, it is the fuss that adults and child protection and legal authorities make that is the problem.
FACT In some cases intervention by legal, medical and welfare personnel can be distressing; however, this shouldn’t be used as an excuse by people to not speak out and to allow sexual assault to continue. In surveys of survivors, most children describe negative effects during the time they were sexually assaulted.
MYTH 12 If a child discloses sexual assault and then retracts their statement, they must be lying.
FACT Pressure is mounted on a child following disclosure. Consequences of disclosures can include family breakdown, parent distress, and other effects. Retracting a statement may be a child’s attempt to return their situation to normal.
If you wish to learn more about the statistics around child sexual assault in Australia, as well as research about the effects of child sexual assault, we recommend you read our Position Paper Child Sexual Assault: Facts and Stats.