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Myths and Facts about Childhood Sexual Abuse

Myth: Children are most likely to be sexually abused by a stranger.
FACT: Four out of five cases of child sexual abuse occur by someone known to the child. Statistically, 80% to 85% of the child sexual abuse in the United States is perpetrated by a familiar individual to the victim. The perpetrator is often related to the child. Less than 20% of abusers are strangers.

Myth: Sex abusers are dirty old men.
FACT: A sex abuser's average age is 32. Any individual - male or female - can be a sexual abuser.

Myth: Sex abuse only happens in poor, uneducated socioeconomic groups.
FACT: Sexual abuse cuts across all boundaries - socioeconomic status, race, geographic area, gender, and educational level - equally.

Myth: All offenders are male, all victims are female.
FACT: While the majority of offenders are male, female offenders are not rare. The majority of reported victims are female, but evidence shows increasing reports of male victims. Girls and boys are both seriously at risk for incest and sexual abuse.

Myth: Occurrences of sexual abuse and incest are rare in the United States.
FACT: Incest is more common than most people dare to believe. Clinicians and researchers estimate that one million or more children under the age of 18 are currently involved in incestuous relationships. A national study in 1986 indicated that 35% of all children under age 18 had been sexually abused.

Myth: A discussion of sexual abuse will just frighten children.
FACT: It is important for children to receive information about sexual assault for their own protection. Inaccurate or no information is more damaging to children.

Myth: Family sexual abuse is an isolated, one-time incident.
FACT: For most victims, the abuse continues for years. In most cases, the offender will not stop until there is an intervention.

Myth: Sexual abuse victims are "damaged goods" and their lives are ruined forever.
FACT: While sexual abuse is incredibly damaging, victims are not "damaged goods." Healing is easiest when the intervention is immediate and appropriate therapy is provided. For adults who have repressed memories, the recovery process can be lengthy. However, all victims of abuse can become fully functioning, healthy children and adults. There is great hope for us all in facing and healing sexual abuse.


  • Ellen Bass & Laura Davis, The Courage to Heal: A Guide for Women Survivors of Child Sexual Abuse, 1988.
  • Vanderbilt, H., "Incest: A Chilling Report", Lear's February, 1992.
  • The Rape and Sexual Assault Center, Child Sexual Abuse Treatment Program. 612-825-HELP ( 4357), 1222 W. 31st Street, Minneapolis, MN
  • Spelman, C. (1993). Talking about Childhood Sexual Abuse. National Committee to Prevent Child Abuse.

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