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Debunking child sexual abuse myths to keep your kids safe!

‘If parents knew what I knew, they would do things differently with their kids’. 

That is the thought that runs excessively through my mind after 10 years as a specialist child interviewer and a detective, interviewing victims and investigating cases of child sexual abuse.

After 10 years, I can categorically say that ‘yes’ we need to be keeping an eye out for  strangers outside of our homes and networks, but we should be closely watching the people in our own backyards, lives and homes. 

So, what do you think of when you think ‘child sex offender’? Do you think, creepy man in a white van? Maybe unkempt appearance, long beard, handing out lollies or watching kids from afar? In my career, I didn’t see many child sex offenders that fitted that old and outdated profile. 

What I did see were parents, grandparents, uncles, aunties, step-parents, cousins, siblings, close family friends, parents of friends, neighbours, coaches, teachers, abusing children. The stereotype & myth of ‘man in a white van’ has enabled child sexual abusers to hide in plain sight often causing us to let our guards down. 

Let’s debunk some myths and get educated on how they work and in turn keep our kids from harm. 

Myth 1 – Child sexual abuse isn’t common 

1 in 3 girls and 1 in 7 boys are sexually abused by the time they reach 18 in Australia.

Source: Price-Robertson, Bromfield & Vassallo (2010)

Child sexual abuse didn’t seem very common because until recently, it wasn’t something we talked about or discussed openly but from my experience and when I speak with the families of victims - parents and grandparents, they would share similar stories of child abuse. Even now, I have at least one person disclose their child abuse to me in-person and online each day.  

Myth 2 – All child sex abusers are attracted to children 

There are actually 3 main types of child sex perpetrators who abuse children. 

·  Fixed and persistent perpetrators – long-term sexual attraction to children and young people. Often serial repeat offenders abusing many children over a life time and have a typical ‘paedophilic’ interest in children. This is the stereotypical child sex offender we associate with grooming children. 

·  Opportunistic perpetrators – not necessarily attracted to children/young people but will use children for sexual gratification if an opportunity presents itself. Are less likely to groom and create situations to abuse children like the first perpetrator but will if given the chance.  

·  Situational perpetrators – Do not usually have a sexual preference for children. They sexually abuse children in response to things happening in their own lives that make them feel out of control, like the loss of a relationship, loss of job, social isolation, lack of positive adult relationships and low self-esteem. 

Myth 3 – It is only men who abuse children

During the Royal Commission into institutionalised child sexual abuse, it was found that 93.9% of child sexual abuse is perpetuated by adult men. Unfortunately, there are still a lot of female child sexual abusers and in the cases I saw, most victims of female offenders are less inclined to come forward and report their abuse. 

Women are more inclined to facilitate and enable the abuse of a child for the male abuser and are therefore also a party to the offence of abuse against a child.

Myth 4 – Child sex abusers are abused as children

Although there is a link between those who are sexually abused as children and becoming an abuser, it is not easy to prove due to the difficult task of substantiating claims of historical child sexual abuse. 

It is also possible that a child sexual abusers will use the claim of being a victim of child sexual abuse to create compassion towards them instead of being seen as a monster in society.

Myth 5 – Child sex abusers are strangers 

90% of children who are sexually abused, know their abuser. Source: ABS 2016. Over the years, the number of cases of child sexual abuse I saw that were perpetuated by a family member, close lineal relative or friend were overwhelming. 

Myth 5 – Kids are safe with other children 

Between 30-50% of child sexual abuse is perpetuated by another child in the form of Harmful Sexualised Behaviours (HSB). 42.5% of HSB is perpetuated within the victim’s home with 30.4% of HSB perpetuated by a sibling, 28% by a classmate and 14% by a friend. 

HSB is regularly justified away by adults as ‘kids just being kids’, ‘harmless experimenting’ or ‘doctors and nurses’, however, HSB’s are a major portion of all child sexual abuse and a large cause of trauma for survivors. 

With knowledge comes power. Through debunking these myths, we are better able understand how child sex abusers work and take preventative action to ensure our children are happy and safe. 

For more in-depth information, get your copy of Operation KidSafe - a detective's guide to child abuse prevention through our website or on Amazon and follow our socials.