by The Sexual Assault Support Centre, Ottawa
1. MYTH: Some children are openly seductive and encourage sexual activity.
REALITY: Acting out sexual behaviors is an indicator that a child has been sexually abused; it is a consequence of sexual abuse, not a cause. Adults who claim that children “seduced” them are making excuses which would have us ignore that fact that adults are bigger, stronger, have more information, power and authority than children; and have us ignore the ridiculous notion that children can force adults to do something the adult does not want to do.
2. MYTH: All a child has to do is say “no” and tell someone. If she doesn’t, she has consented to the abuse.
REALITY: The child is never responsible for the abuse. Abusers often threaten (“if you tell I will hurt your mother.”) and guilt (“if you tell, your mother will divorce me and it will be your fault.”) the child into silence, but silence does not equal consent. The other reality is that many children do tell, and are disbelieved, ridiculed and punished.
3. MYTH: Incest only happens when the family is severely dysfunctional.
REALITY: Incest happens in many families that are considered “normal”. That is one reason why the abuse remains hidden. Abusers often depend on a “respectable” image to protect them. We must remember that the abuser is responsible for the abuse; not other members of the family. The family as a whole may have problems that existed before the abuse, or problems that developed as a result of the abuse, BUT family problems do not make a man rape his daughter.
4. MYTH: A good mother would know if her child was being sexually abused, and would do anything to stop it.
REALITY: Most mothers do not know. The abuser works hard at protecting his secret. He may sabotage the mother/child relationship so the child is less likely to be close to and trust the mother. He may offer the mother other explanations for the child’s behavior/distress. Mothers who do try to protect their children face unbelievable legal and social obstacles. We often expect mothers to accomplish something that the police, courts and social service system combined cannot do; and then we condemn mothers who fail.
5. MYTH: Incest rarely happens.
REALITY: Incest is more common than anyone would like to believe. Although exact statistics are impossible to come by, research indicates that one in four children will be sexually abused; most by a family member or other trusted adult.
6. MYTH: Only crazy people sexually abuse children.
REALITY: Psychiatric testing reveals that 97% of the men who sexually assault children are not mentally ill. They may have “personality” problems, like many men who do not assault children, but they know exactly what they are doing. Often their actions are in line with societal values which represent women and children as men’s property; as objects to be used for men’s gratification.
7. MYTH: Children lie about sexual abuse to get attention or get revenge.
REALITY: Most children do not tell anyone, ever. The idea that children lie or fantasize about sexual abuse has been protecting abusers for decades. Children do not have the information or motivation to make up stories of sexual abuse. The notion that children lie about sexual abuse does not acknowledge the shame and secrecy associated with the topic; or acknowledge that disclosing sexual abuse is rarely a rewarding experience for a child.
8. MYTH: Children are forced or manipulated into lying about sexual abuse by mothers who want revenge.
REALITY: When children tell about sexual abuse they don’t just speak with words. Their emotions, play, drawings, and posture all tell part of the story. Children cannot fake that kind of reaction. Mothers are often accused of forcing children to falsely disclose sexual abuse if the disclosure comes out as part of a custody battle. The reality is that the reason for the custody battle is usually because the child disclosed abuse and the mother is trying to protect her child.
9. MYTH: Adults who suddenly remember that they were sexually abused as children are victims of “False Memory Syndrome”.
REALITY: There is no such thing as False Memory Syndrome. It is simply an undocumented, unproven idea invented by the parents of a woman who was sexually abused by her father. Research does validate the existence of repressed traumatic memories. We are most familiar with examples of the repressed memories of war veterans. Most survivors of child sexual abuse have recovered some repressed memories, and many also have “un-forgotten” memories of abuse. Some women incest survivors propose that we investigate False Innocence Belief Syndrome (FIBS) for abusers who steadfastly maintain their innocence.