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Few topics are filled with more myths and missunderstandings than sexual abuse. The following information will debunk some widley-held myths and gfive you the facts about sexual abuse.

Myth: Sexual abuse only happens to “pretty little girls”
Truth: The child’s looks seldom have anything to do with it, and every child can be at risk. Girls tend to have higher rates of molestation overall, but boys are by no means immune. In fact, some research suggests that when it comes to abuse outside of the home, boys have higher overall molestation rates than girls. (Tierney & Corwin, 1983) Others caution that cases involving boys go unreported far more often, and may be higher than current estimates reveal.

Important fact: Children can be a target at any age. According to averaged studies, the median age at which abuse starts is between 6 to 9-years-old for girls, 8 to 10-years-old for boys, However, this doesn’t mean your 5-year-old daughter is safe for another year. Amidst inter-family abuse the median ages often begin much lower, and these types of activities may go un-reported in younger children. It is prudent to note that a good portion of the emails we field from parents involve concerns or cases in regards to children 5 and under.

Myth: A child who is sexually abused is destined to be damaged for life.
Truth: There are certainly some horrific tales of abuse out there, but most cases are not nearly as damaging as they are made out to be. Of those children who are molested, around 30 to 50% show no apparent affects whatsoever from the experience. (Kendall-Tackett, Williams & Finkelhor, 1993) Of those that are symptomatic, most symptoms are mild and completely abate within two years. The most common symptom (and the only one that survives the scrutiny of proper statistical controls in studies) is that the child exhibits sexual behavior. This may not be desirable from a parent’s perspective, yet it’s not usually a troublesome or harmful side effect either. On average, less than 10% of cases result in any significant symptomology lasting beyond two years. (Kendall-Tackett, Williams & Finkelhor, 1993; Brunold, 1964; Baker & Duncan, 1985) Other studies have found that only 3% (Landis, 1956) to 5% (Gagnon, 1965) of those who report such experiences have serious problems later on, and of these, only a small percentage attribute their ills to the earlier sexual experiences, as opposed to other aggravating family conditions. (Gagnon, 1965) One large meta-analysis reviewed the data from 15 studies and found sexual abuse to have less than a 1% (and statistically insignificant) adjustment variance on measures of welfare. (Rind et al., 1998) This echoed the same finding in another similar analysis. (Cohen, 1988; Wisniewski, 1990)

We don’t mean to imply that some children won’t endure some bad situations and be harmed through them, they certainly can. The good news is that few children experience the types of things that might be expected to lead to lasting harm, and of those that do, many are able to recover regardless. To put things in perspective, the common case of sexual abuse is, on average, far less hurtful and destructive to a child than divorce, verbal abuse, physical abuse, neglect, substance abuse within the family, having a depressed parent, disciplinary abuse or neglect, being raised in a single parent household, living below the poverty line, witnessing family conflict, domestic violence, or the impact of childhood obesity. (GCF, 2009)

Myth: There are only a few pedophiles or molesters out there. We can solve this problem through prison & tougher penalties.
Truth: 28% of kids are not molested because there are a few select individuals out there molesting hundreds or even thousands of children each, as some seem intent on believing. This is a widespread human issue, which all research shows is at least as common as same-sex attraction, putting the estimated number of pedophiles in the U.S. at 8 to 12 million. What’s more, because of the ambiguous nature of the issue and the fact that many instances of sexual abuse occur within the family, most cases are never reported. (Nelson, 1981, found a reporting rate of 1%; Gagnon, 1965, found that 6% of cases were reported. Most estimates of actual reporting are well under 10%. Even when it comes to something such as rape among adults, as few as 12% of cases are reported; Kilpatrick, Edmunds & Seymour, 1992) For everyone person we catch, 20 more are born, created, or go undiscovered in the first place. This issue will never be solved or even remotely addressed through legal measures, and those pushing such avenues are wasting your tax dollars while diverting resources away from more productive resolutions.

Myth: Only men molest children.
Truth: Though a majority of sexual abuse cases involve men, women are by no means exempt from such tendencies. Studies indicate that females comprise at least 20% of sexual assaults against children. (ATSA, 1996) Our personal experience with pedophiles online tells us females likely comprise 15%-30% of molesters. Social prejudices distort this matter further. It’s commonplace for many females or mothers to engage in ambiguous behavior that would readily get a man arrested. We once infiltrated an online female pedophiles group, whose membership was solely females attracted to little girls. Their membership was 20,000 strong. Whatever actual numbers are, this is by no means solely a male issue.

Fact: Inter-family abuse is by far the most violent type of abuse and the situation where force is most likely to be used. Most molestation outside the home is non-violent and generally mild, if for no other reason than that the adult must recruit the child’s cooperation. So the fear of outsiders that parents have when it comes to sexual abuse is often misguided. Even if they do engage in something they shouldn’t, such instances are likely to be forms of sexualized affection absent of aggression on account of the circumstances, and therefore, generally mild and rarely causing any lasting harm. Inter-family abuse, on the other hand, brings different dynamics to the table. Force, threats, and violence become more common, and the environment also tends to allow such destructive abuse over extended periods of time. It’s always more convenient thinking about the danger as being “out there.” Yet in most cases, the stuff that is most concerning strikes much closer to home, and often within it.

Fact: Children routinely report being less troubled by such experiences than their parents and clinicians report them as being, indicating an adult­-child disconnect where adult bias causes fears and beliefs that don’t actually match the child’s experiences. (Rind & Bauserman, 1993)

The Perpetrators

* Nearly all cases occur at the hands of someone the child knows, and usually someone they otherwise like.

* By most reasonable estimates, at least 5% of the population (or around the same number of gays/lesbians in the population) can be classified as having active pedophile tendencies or an orientation that is primarily towards children. (Feierman, 1990) Our estimates put the number of such people in the U.S. (those with a primary orientation towards children) at around 8-12 million.

* Further evidence suggests that a more benign sexual interest in children may be quite common to the human condition. Plesmyograph studies suggest that as much as 50% or more of the population shows a significant sexual response to pedophilia stimuli (equal to or greater than the response shown by convicted molesters; Hall, Hirschman & Oliver, 1995). Other research suggests that “sexual” affection towards children may be a biological consequence of human nature, and that it is relatively prominent throughout the population. (Constantine & Martinson, 1981) We could cite further evidence suggesting the divide between normal affection and what we label as “sexual” affection is less pronounced than most people originally assume, but our point is this: while most people do not have a primary sexual orientation towards children, research suggests that the potential for such interests to arise is widespread among the general population.

* Around 40% of offenders against children younger than 12 are themselves children or adolescents. (Snyder, 2000) Other statistics from the Bureau of Justice show 23% of all sexual abuse “offenders” were under age 18 at the time of the offense, and 3.7% were under the age of 12. (Tofte et al., 2007)

* Youth and/or adolescents are responsible for around 15-20% of all forcible rapes that are cleared by arrest in the United States. (Sickmund, Snyder & Poe-Yamagata, 1997)

* Hebophilia, or the attraction to adolescents or youth who are sexually maturing, which people often mislabel as pedophilia, is even more common still. In fact, virtually all normal heterosexuals find teens and adolescents sexually attractive. It only becomes a condition worth noting when that attraction becomes exclusive, or begins to overwhelm a person’s actions.

* One study showed that in as much as 90% of clinical cases, and 83% of non-clinical cases, the child was molested by a relative. (Tsai, Feldman-Summers & Edgar, 1979) Though these numbers are higher than usual, it goes to show this is hardly a problem of strangers in parks.

* One study showed that in as much as 90% of clinical cases, and 83% of non-clinical cases, the child was molested by a relative. (Tsai, Feldman-Summers & Edgar, 1979) Though these numbers are higher than usual, it goes to show this is hardly a problem of strangers in parks.

* Under conditions of anonymity, nearly two-thirds of a random sample of men admitted to some type of sexual misconduct; such as sex with children, forced sex with women, peeping, or rubbing up against a stranger in a crowd. (Templeman & Stinnett, 1991)


Feierman, J.R. (1990; Ed.) Pedophilia: Biosocial Dimensions. New York: Springer Verlag

Hall, G.C.N., Hirschman, R., Oliver, L.L. (1995) “Sexual arousal and arousability to pedophilic stimuli in a community sample of ‘Normal’ men,” Behavior Therapy, Vol. 26, pp. 681-694

Kilpatrick, D., Edmunds, C., Seymour, A. (1992) Rape in America: A Report to the Nation. Arlington, VA: National Victim Center

Sickmund, M., Snyder, H., Poe-Yamagata, E. (1997) Juvenile Offenders and Victims: 1997 Update on Violence. Washington, DC: Office of Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention

Tofte, S. et ale (2007) No Easy Answers: Sex Offender Laws in the United States. Human Rights Watch, Vol. 19, No. 46

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