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Myths & facts about child sexual abuse

Child sexual abuse is one of the most difficult subjects to talk about. Yet it occurs more often than we realize.

I’ve been in law practice for 30 years, and this is among the most painful cases that one can handle because of its impact on the child. We handle these cases together with child psychologists, child development specialists and counselors. It is important to work with these professionals who know how to help victims deal with trauma and go through the healing process.

The youngest victim of child sexual abuse – or CSA as we shall call it – who became my client was 5 years old. News reports reveal even younger victims, some of whom died because of the physical trauma on their fragile bodies. I have handled a number of these cases, and I still cannot understand the evil that lurks behind the act.

We should all be concerned about CSA. It is one of the greatest forms of injustice that could happen to a child. The results could be lifelong and devastating if not properly addressed. CSA victims are among the most voiceless of all, especially those who are Deaf, and so in this series of blog posts, I will be dealing with Deaf CSA victims as well.

CSA has once more hit the headlines with the recent news about clerical child abuse in PennsylvaniaOf this, Pope Francis said “We showed no care for the little ones; we abandoned them.”

CHILD SEXUAL ABUSE DEFINED

Also known as child molestation, CSA is not limited to forcible sexual intercourse or touching a child’s sensitive body parts. It  can be committed through harmful contact and no-contact ways. No-contact CSA includes exposing a child to pornograpic materials,  or taking photos of a child in sexual poses.

CSA is defined as the “involvement of a child in sexual activity that he or she does not fully comprehend, is unable to give informed consent to, or for which the child is not developmentally prepared and cannot give consent, or that violate the laws or social taboos of society.” 

This definition is from the World Health Organization (WHO) as a result of the 1999 Consultation on Child Abuse Prevention in Geneva.

The Philippine Statistics Authority defines it as “the employment, use, persuasion, inducement, enticement, or coercion of a child to engage in or assist another person to engage in sexual intercourse or lascivious conduct, or the molestation, prostitution, or incest with children.”

THE FIVE MYTHS

There are a lot of myths about CSA. Because of this, many people fail to recognize it and to help its victims. So, let me start this series by dealing with 5 major myths about CSA. Here they are:

  1. Child sexual abuse is rare.
  2. Abusers are usually strangers.
  3. Boys never become CSA victims.
  4. Most abusers are uneducated or poor.
  5. CSA victims always have physical evidence of abuse.

MYTH 1: CHILD SEXUAL ABUSE IS RARE

This is not true.

Child sexual abuse occurs more often than we realize. We also believe that many cases are not reported for several reasons. One  main reason is fear, because the abuser  often threatens to harm the child or her  loved ones if she tells anyone. Another is because there is no support system to help the victim recover. Sometimes, the victim even gets blamed or ridiculed. 

According to the United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF),“Worldwide, around 15 million adolescent girls aged 15 to 19 have experienced forced sex in their lifetime. Boys are also at risk, although a global estimate is unavailable.”  

In the United States, the National Center for Victims of Crime reports that:

  • 1 in 5 girls and 1 in 20 boys is a victim of child sexual abuse.
  • Self-report studies show that 20% of adult females and 5-10% of adult males recall a childhood sexual assault or sexual abuse incident.
  • During a one-year period in the U.S., 16% of youth ages 14 to 17 had been sexually victimized.
  • Over the course of their lifetime, 28% of U.S. youth ages 14 to 17 had been sexually victimized.
  • Children are most vulnerable to CSA between the ages of 7 and 13.”

On the other hand, in the United Kingdom, data from the National Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Children (NSPCC) reveal that 1 out of 20 children in the UK have been sexually abused. 

In the Philippines, according to the Abused Children’s Fund:

  • “100,000 children have been sexually abused.
  • Of them, 60,000 children have been prostituted.
  • Millions are homeless and labor slaves.
  • 1 in 4 girls are sexually abused prior to the age of 18.
  • 1 in 6 boys are sexually abused before the age of 18.
  • The average age for reported abuse is 9 years old.”

I must point out that children with disability are at a higher risk of abuse than others. A study by the former National Center on Child Abuse and Neglect shows “that children with disabilities are abused at approximately twice the rate of children without disabilities.” 

Moreover,  as stated by the Washington Coalition of Sexual Assault Programs (WCSAP), “Only 3% of sexual abuse cases involving people with developmental disabilities are ever reported”.

Deaf CSA victims find it doubly difficult when there are no sign language interpreters in police stations, emergency rooms or courts.

MYTH NO. 2: THE ABUSERS ARE USUALLY STRANGERS

Again, this is not true.

In all the CSA cases that I handled, the victims trusted their abusers.  The abusers were the father, uncle, cousin, or teacher of the child. The abusers exploit this trust relationship, making the abuse possible.

A study cited by Darkness2Light reveals that 90% of perpetrators are known to the child victims, and only 10% are strangers.

Among persons with disability, “33% of abusers of those with disabilities are friends or acquaintances, 33% are natural or foster family members, and 25% are caregivers or service providers”, as cited by the WCSAP.

MYTH NO. 3: BOYS NEVER BECOME CSA VICTIMS.

This is not true.

As shown above, boys are equally at risk of sexual abuse as girls. In the United States, 1 in 20 boys is a CSA victim, compared to girls at the rate of 1 out of 5.

The National Sex Offender Public Website (NSOPW)  gives a higher figure: about 1 out of 6 boys have been sexually abused before reaching the age of 18.

The same website states that 28% of male rape victims were first raped when they were 10 years old or younger.

MYTH NO. 4: MOST ABUSERS ARE UNEDUCATED OR POOR

I handled a case on behalf of a child who was sexually abused by her father from age 8 until she was able to run away several  years later. The father was an engineer. He freely admitted his heinous crime in open court, and entered a guilty plea. The judge ascertained that he understood the consequences of his plea.

In another child abuse case, the perpetrator was a high school tutor. And in still another, the abuser was the male employer of my client who was a minor and who worked as a domestic helper.

Perpetrators of child sexual abuse come from different social and economic backgrounds. We cannot put them in a box.

The Center for Sex Offender Management (CSOM) points out that there is no “sex offender profile” because their characteristics are so diverse that they might as well be similar to the common person in our communities.

The website of Mothers of Sexually Abused Children (MOSAC) describes it most aptly:

The majority of child sexual abuse is perpetrated by a family member. Darkness to Light (www.darkness2light.org) reports that 30-40% of victims are abused by members of their families. Research, however, has shown much higher rates of sex abuse by family members. Only 10% of child sexual abuse is perpetrated by strangers. Older children and known community members comprise a large percentage of the perpetrators. Neighbors, friends of the family, and babysitters commit sexual abuse. So do school teachers, softball coaches, grocery store clerks, lawyers, and preachers. No group membership list is exempt. Neither is any age, gender, or other characteristic. Sex offenders come from all walks of life. Young, old, male, female, rich, poor, educated, and uneducated.

MYTH NO. 5: CSA VICTIMS ALWAYS HAVE PHYSICAL EVIDENCE OF ABUSE

Some people insist that CSA victims should always have some physical evidence such as scars, lacerations, or bruises. Therefore, without any of these, there can be no CSA.

Again, this is wrong.

A 2009 article in Health News reveals that physical evidence is rare among girls who report sex abuse.  This is reiterated in 2014 article entitled “Physical evidence uncommon in child sexual abuse cases” in Times Record. The reasons for this include delay in reporting which may have led to the healing of injuries, if any; or injuries may not have been sustained at all during the abuse.

When the sexual abuse was committed without touching or contact, there will also be no physical evidence.

There are still a lot of myths about CSA but these are the major ones. Having discussed these, I will next deal with the nature and effects of CSA.

In the meantime, if you or someone you know is a CSA victim and you would like some assistance, send me a message at chato@chatoolivaslaw.com so that I can refer you to groups or organizations who can help.

Thank you for speaking up for the voiceless!

Posted in Children.

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