Eight things you need to know about childhood sexual abuse
Childhood sexual abuse is a subject that makes many people very uncomfortable. Yet it is one of the most heinous of crimes possible. It is a sad fact that it exists in all societies all around the world.
Statistically, it is known that 1 in 4 children will experience sexual assault before the age of 18. For something that is so widespread, there is much that is misunderstood. As they say, knowledge is power. So here are some facts that you need to know.
- Child abusers are not easy to pick
There is no stereotype of a perpetrator. They can be in highly respected positions and come from all sectors of the community. They can be either male or female.
- The majority of abusers are known by the victim
It’s rare that abuse is perpetrated by a stranger. In most cases, abuse is usually committed by someone the victim knows and trusts.
- Children do not make up stories about abuse
It is extraordinarily rare for a child to lie about abuse. Children who have been abused often have intimate knowledge of sexual behaviour that is beyond what would normally be expected for their age.
Statistics have indicated that a high majority of reports from children are true. To add to this, children don’t have the cognitive ability to be able to continue telling stories that aren’t true. In fact, children often feel frightened and embarrassed talking about what has happened to them.
- Children don’t grow out of or get over their abuse
Child abuse is not something you ‘just get over’. It’s necessary for children to be given as much support as possible, and to have someone the child can confide in without their confidence being betrayed is crucial if they are to recover from what they’ve experienced.
- Children can repress their abuse
Children don’t have an immediate memory of what has happened to them. Research collated over one hundred years has shown that traumatic amnesia has been present among war veterans, survivors of man-made and natural disasters, and adult survivors of child abuse.
Memories of traumatic events can resurface later in life through flashbacks, nightmares and intrusive thoughts. In the past, these memories have been called ‘recovered memories’. It is thought that as a means to survive, thoughts of abuse will purposely be avoided and unacknowledged. This will often continue into adulthood.
- People who abuse are not mentally ill
Most sexual perpetrators don’t fit the criteria set out for paedophilia, and are usually married or in sexual relationships with adults. While often perpetrators are often referred to as ‘monsters’, it is important to remember they are very much human and as such, are accountable for their crimes.
- Abusers have not been abused themselves
Research shows that most sexually abused children are female while the majority of perpetrators are male. Some research shows that male sexual abusers have a greater history of sexual abuse than those within the community however; the vast majority of men who sexually abuse do not report being sexually abused in childhood.
- A child is never responsible for what happened to them
A child is never ever responsible for the abuse sustained. The responsibility lies with the perpetrator. More often than not, perpetrators will try to shift the blame for their actions by accusing the child of being promiscuous or seductive, especially if it involves a teenager.
What to do if your child has been sexually abused:
It can be devastating and disorientating to find out your child or a child you know has been abused. If that’s you, here’s what you need to do.
- Believe what your child has told you!
- In an emergency call police on 000
- Call the Child Protection Hotline: 1800 212 936, operational 24/7
- Call National Child Abuse Helpline: 1800 99 10 99, operational Monday to Friday 9am – 5pm
If you are an adult survivor of childhood sexual assault and would like more information and support, a great place to start would be visiting The Blue Knot Foundation at http://www.blueknot.org.au/. They, like me, believe that recovery from abuse is possible and that there are people who can help make this happen.
Rita Barnett xx