More than 50% children in India have faced some form of sexual abuse. And yet the issue gets brushed under the carpet because of the discomfort associated with talking about it and also, because the impact of the abuse is not acknowledged. This leads to misunderstanding the issue itself and also creates many myths. Dispelling these myths becomes one of the first steps to understanding and protecting our children.
Myth 1: Only girl children get sexually abused
Boys are as likely to be abused as girls and the trauma they suffer is also equally severe. There is no evidence to prove otherwise. Your sons need your protection and education just like your daughters need it.
Myth 2: Perpetrators are always male
While most perpetrators are male, there have been many cases where perpetrators were women. There is no data point to this effect, however it would be unwise to assume that women are always safe.
Myth 3: Only adolescent children get abused
Children as young as 1 and 2 have been victims. Anyone below the age of 18 years is considered to be a victim
Myth 4: This happens in lower economic households
There is no data to support this. Cases from all kinds of households have come to light.
Myth 5: The perpetrators are uneducated
This is also unsubstantiated.
Myth 6: It’s the parent’s fault
While it is the duty of a parent to keep one’s children safe, many abuse cases happen despite all the care and protection parents are able to provide. What is required is bringing awareness about the issue to the forefront and keeping communication lines with children open at all times. Schools that conduct awareness sessions proactively with parents are also able to prevent abuse.
Myth 7: Stranger Danger – Child sex offenders are mostly strangers
Nothing can be farther from the truth. In almost 90% cases, the offender is someone the child already knows and in 60% cases it is someone the child trusted and relied on. While Stranger Danger is a risk, it is by no means the biggest risk in this context.
Myth 8: Children can misinterpret and wrongly accuse an adult
Child sexual abuse is carried out after thorough planning. It is not something that is accidental or something that the child would misinterpret or lie about. If a child communicates having been abused, there would be no reason to believe otherwise. In most countries, including in India, the onus is on the perpetrator to prove his innocence.
Myth 9: If a child gets abused, they will tell their parents
In most cases, victims will not confide in their parents or any other friend or family member because they will believe that they did something wrong or because of a looming threat. This could be caused because of the emotional manipulations by the abuser.
Myth 10: Children who are abused grow up to be offenders themselves
While there could be such cases, the number is not substantial enough to indicate causality.
Myth 11: Sexual abuse will always involve physical contact
Sexual abuse includes non-contact abuse as well. Perpetrators may expose children to pornography or participate in acts of voyeurism. These can potentially have the same long-term effects on a child as physical sexual abuse.
Myth 12: Sexual abuse occurs in vans or dark alleys
Sexual abuse can and does occur anywhere children are including schools, swimming pools, gym classes, places of worship, at the doctor’s clinic, public transport, school buses and also at home. Sexual abuse can even take place online. This is why it is important to always be on alert and always have an open dialogue about the risks of abuse with your children
Myth 13: Sexual abuse is a part of growing up. It will happen and there is nothing you can do about it
Child sexual abuse can have far-reaching consequences on children and well into their adult lives. It can affect their relationships, work and life goals. Keeping them safe as children is an important aspect of parenting. And educated and informed parents can play a big role in reducing the likelihood of abuse. The more we talk about it, the less power perpetrators have. Taking actions on how to prevent, recognize and respond to sexual abuse can go a long way in protecting all children.