Childhood sexual abuse (pederasty) is a major mental health problem for people who suffer it.

This type of abuse has been considered a risk factor for the development of a variety of psychiatric disorders, including schizophrenia, dissociative disorder, or depression.

Child Sexual Abuse: Invisible and Ignored

Even so, at the social level it is a not very visible issue, with a high number of unreported cases and associated with a significant number of myths that influence the general knowledge of the problem. Beliefs that distort the vision of this type of abuse at a social level, that can influence the stigma towards the victims and create resistance to reporting these cases.

Therefore, it is important to know these myths in order to provide real and contrasted information about this phenomenon so that it can be addressed more effectively. In this article we will explore seven of the myths I consider most relevant:

Myth 1: Child sexual abuse is not as common as it is said

The truth is that this kind of abuse is more widespread than we think. It is estimated that one out of every four girls and one out of every six to eight boys have suffered sexual abuse in childhood .

Recent studies indicate that the prevalence of child sexual abuse in Spain is 19% among women and 15.5% among men. Many of the victims never reveal the abuse, so that, when it goes unnoticed by the authorities, these figures could be higher

Myth 2: Girls are more at risk than boys

Prevalence studies indicate that women suffer more sexual abuse during childhood, but these results may be influenced by a bias in reporting .

It is believed that men may find it more difficult to disclose abuse, due to cultural stereotypes of masculinity and sexual initiators.

Myth 3: Offenders are unknown to the victim

The literature shows that, in approximately 80-85% of cases, the abuser was known to the victim , even from his own family circle.

In Spain, it was observed that in cases where the victim was under 13 years of age, between 23.7% and 29.3% of the cases the aggressor was an unknown person. These numbers increased among the cases in which the victim was aged between 13 and 18 years old, and it could be observed that between 20% of the women and 54.5% of the men were abused by an unknown person.

Myth 4: Childhood sexual abuse only occurs in certain social classes, cultures, or dysfunctional families

Sexual abuse in childhood occurs in all cultures, communities and social classes . This myth can limit prevention, as it ignores that this type of abuse can happen to anyone, and the same goes for dysfunctional families.

This type of abuse is independent of the family’s functionality, as abusers can gain the trust of both functional and dysfunctional families.

Myth 5: All sex abusers were abused as children

Some of the abusers have been victims of sexual abuse during their childhood , but this is not a generalised fact, since studies indicate that one out of every eight victims of child sexual abuse ends up sexually abusing boys or girls.

This myth is used by abusers to gain sympathy or to rationalize their abusive tendencies.

Myth 6: Abusers are only men

The literature suggests that between 20-25% of the cases of sexual abuse have been perpetrated by women . This myth is based on the belief that women are caregivers and are not capable of being aggressive towards children.

Children under 5 and adolescents are at greater risk of becoming victims of women.

Myth 7: Abused children know it’s wrong and would disclose it

Children are not necessarily aware that this type of activity is wrong: the technique of “grooming”, is used by pedophiles to gain the friendship and trust of children before the abuse starts.

This technique ensures that the child does not want to lose his friendship with the abuser, or violate his trust, as they consider their relationship to be special, and therefore do not explain this abuse to anyone.

I hope that this information has been useful and that it will serve to understand this phenomenon much better.

Bibliographic references:

  • Pereda, N & Forns, M (2007) Prevalence and characteristics of child sexual abuse in Spanish university students. Child Abuse & Neglect, 31(2007), 417-426
  • Sanderson, C. (2006) Counselling adult survivors of child sexual abuse. London: Jessica Kingsley Publisher.