The following are some common myths about child sexual abuse:

Children are mostly sexually abused by strangers

Fact:  In 2008, of the 13,600 police reported cases of child/youth sexual assaults:

  • 10% of the accused were strangers –  Strangers were more likely to assault older children/youth between the ages of 12 and 17 than younger children (80% of stranger assaults were perpetrated against this older age group).
  • 75% of the accused were known to the child/youth.
  • Of those known, 33% were family members (97% were male relatives – 37%  male extended family members, 35% fathers, 27%  brothers), and 42% were acquaintances of the child/youth.
  • Acquaintances were more likely than family members to assault older children and younger children were more at risk for assault by a family member.
  • Risk from peers increases for youth aged 12 to 17 – 25% of the accused for this age group were ages 12 to 24.  (Canadian Centre for Justice Statistics, 2010).
Child sexual abuse is rare

Fact:  Prevalence rates are difficult to determine with certainty. They are affected by different definitions of sexual abuse, different methodologies for collecting information (reported versus unreported), and different populations (children versus adult reports of child sexual abuse). The following are the most commonly cited prevalence rates for child sexual abuse:

  • The Badgley report (1984) is the only national study ever conducted in Canada.  The author reported on survey results from adults and indicated that 54% of girls and 32% of boys were sexually abused before the age of 18. Bagley (1988) re-analyzed the data from the Badgley report finding 17.6% of girls and 8.2% of boys suffered severe sexual abuse.
  • Vine, Trocmé and Finlay (2006) referenced two reports (Finkelhor, 1994; MacMillan et al., 1997) and reported that approximately 12 to 20% of girls and 3 to 11% of boys had experienced sexual abuse.
People are too quick to assume that a person who has sexually abused a child is guilty, even when there is no supporting evidence

Fact:  When a disclosure of sexual abuse is made, it is more common for the person who has been abused to be challenged about their assertion, than the person who has been accused.  Salter (2003) notes that the vast majority of people distort reality to create a kinder and gentler world than what really exists.  She notes that this leads people to assign blame to those who have been abused rather than those who offend in order to make sense of the injustice and harm that has been perpetrated. As a whole, our society tends to under-react to, and under estimate the scope of the problem. In fact, research has consistently shown that few abusers are ever identified or incarcerated. Estimates suggest that only 3% of all cases of child sexual abuse (Finkelhor & Dziuba-Leatherman, 1994; Timnick, 1985) and only 12% of rapes involving children are ever reported to police (Hanson et al., 1999). Based on the high prevalence of sexual abuse perpetrated against children, it is presumptuous to assume that the small number of cases that are actually prosecuted constitute a “witchhunt”, or that somehow mostly innocent people are targeted for prosecution. In fact, statistics suggest quite the opposite: child abusers are rarely identified or prosecuted.

Children often lie about being sexually abused

Fact:  In child abuse cases reported to Children’s Services in 1998, 4% of those cases were considered intentional ‘false allegations’. Of those, the majority were related to neglect rather than sexual abuse, and most occurred within custody or access disputes (Vine, Trocmé, and Finlay, 2006).

Few boys are sexually abused

Fact:  Depending upon the definition used and the approach to data collection, 6 to 15 % of adult men report a history of child sexual abuse (Badgley, 1984; Briere, 1992; Finkelhor, 1994).

  • Common attitudes about masculinity place an unrealistic expectation on boy children to protect themselves from people who sexually abuse children (Finkelhor, 1994, 2009).
  • Homophobic attitudes and a lack of information about people who offend against children can make it more difficult for boy children to disclose abuse by males (Finkelhor, 1994; 2009).
  • Attitudes about male heterosexuality and sexual development can contribute to boys not identifying or disclosing sexual abuse by adolescent or adult females (Finkelhor, 1994; 2009).