Myths about Sexual Abuse
(including child sexual abuse)
Sexual abuse myths can be defined as ‘incorrect beliefs and stereotyped assumptions about victims of SA and perpetrators’ (Cromer and Goldsmith, 2009, p.619). When such beliefs are held as the truth, they will have a serious impact on several things: they will affect the likeliness of victims ever coming forward to report the abuse; they will impact various legal processes and decisions; they will serve to diminish the likelihood of perpetrators getting convicted for their crimes and serving appropriate sentences; and they will affect the number of resources allocated by governments and other authorities to combat sexual abuse, to list a few.
Myths about sexual abuse then become one of the root causes for the existence of this crime. Hence, it is important to identify the various myths about it as a means of curbing misinformation and spreading awareness.
Let's look at some common myths regarding sexual abuse, each of which have been deconstructed using facts:
01. Myth: “Sexual assault only happens in poor / less affluent families.”
Fact: The family’s socio-economic background to which a particular child belongs has no bearing on whether or not they will be subjected to sexual assault- they are equally vulnerable either way. Incest and sexual assault can occur in all kinds of families whether they are rich or poor, large or small, high profile or otherwise, well-educated or not. It happens everywhere in the world, cutting across all social classes and even occurs in locations spanning beyond the home, such as in schools and other public spaces. This is the frightening reality of the situation, which especially places children at risk no matter where they are.
02. Myth: “The child did not say no or resist at the moment - so the child should be blamed too.”
Fact: Any time a person resorts to questioning what a victim could have done differently to prevent a crime, then that individual is participating in the culture of victim-blaming (Roberts, 2016). This is a serious issue that serves to undermine the trauma of the victim and diffuse blame from the perpetrator. A child should never be blamed for the abuse he or she is subjected to. The imbalance of power, the onset of fear, confusion and trauma often compel children to “freeze” during these violations. The fault lies entirely in the hands of the adult who manipulated their position of trust to abuse a child.
03. Myth: “A girl loses value if she is raped/if she isn't a virgin.”
Fact: What is perceived to be a girl’s purity and virginity generally depends on whether or not her hymen is intact. Yet, when tracing the etymology of the word hymen from Greek to Latin and English, what becomes immediately evident is that our understanding of it is misinformed. The term was initially used to refer to any bodily membrane, then it shifted to refer to the womb and finally to the virginal membrane (Professor Kathleen Kelly, cited in International Women’s Health Coalition, 2010). Thus, even though it is now thought of as a thin membrane/piece of skin that partially covers the entrance to the vagina, according to its original meaning, the hymen does not refer to a fixed part of the body. The term hymen has become so problematic that The Swedish Association for Sexual Education proposed renaming it as the vaginal corona in 2009. This implies that virginity itself is a concept that we have constructed to meet our own needs, rather than a biological condition or a state. Accordingly, it is tragic and unjust when a girl is shamed over something that does not have an objective existence, for a crime that deprived her of her agency and reduced her to an object. A girl’s worth should be measured by her character rather than by an elusive concept.
04. Myth: “She was out late /she wore revealing clothes / she is too friendly.”
Fact: Such beliefs perpetuate the culture of victim-blaming—no one dresses or behaves with the intention of being subjected to sexual abuse. People have the freedom to dress and behave in any manner that they wish, and to go to any place they desire, at any time. It is the perpetrator who must be held accountable for their actions. Moreover, these values resonate with other gender-related myths such as the one which stipulates that boys cannot be raped and serve to confine victims to specific gender roles. Modesty and passivity are perceived to be virtues of femininity and as indicated by the above statements, any deviation from these norms will result in adverse repercussions such as rape. Hence, these beliefs inaccurately justify and normalize gendered sexual violence.
Abuse Law Suit, n.d. Long-term Effects of Child Sex Abuse. [online] Available at < Long-term Effects Of Child Sexual Abuse And Molestation (abuselawsuit.com)>
Bravehearts, n,d, Child Sexual Assault: Myths, Facts & Stats. [online]. Available at < https://bravehearts.org.au/what-we-do/education-and-training/for-parents/child-sexual-assault-myths-facts/>
Cromer, L.D. and Goldsmith, R.E., 2009. Child Sexual Abuse Myths: Attitudes, Beliefs, and Individual Differences. Journal of Child Sexual Abuse 19 (6), pp. 618-664. https://doi.org/10.1080/10538712.2010.522493
Darkness To Light, 2021. 7 Myths About Child Sexual Abuse. [online] Available at< https://d2l.org/7-myths-about-child-sexual-abuse>
Defend Innocence, n.d. 8 Myths About Child Sexual Abuse. [online] Available at <https://defendinginnocene.org.8-myths-about-child-sexual-abuse >
International Women’s Health Coalition, 2010. 10 Myths About Sex and Virginity- Debunked. [online] Available< https://iwhc.org/2010/05/10-myths-about-sex-and-viginity-debunked >
Roberts, K.,2016. The Psychology of Victim Blaming. The Atlantic. [online] Available at < https://www.theatlantic.com/science/archive/2016/10/the-psychology-of-vicitm-blaming/502661/>
RAINN, n.d. Child Sexual Abuse. [online] Available at< https://www.rainn.org/articles/child-sexual-abuse >
RAINN, n.d. Children and Teens: Statistics. [online] Available at < https://www.rainn.org/statistics/children-and-teens>
Tedi Bear: Children’s Advocacy Center, 2019. Child Sexual Abuse: Myth vs Fact. [PDF] East Carolina University. Available at < https://tedibear.ecu.edu/wp-content/pv-uploads/sites/189/2019/07/Child-Sexual-Abuse-Myth-vs-Fact.pdf>