Stop the Stygma: The Truth About Child Sexual Abuse
Hannah Andrea M. Manalo
In a world where everything is as it should be, weird, middle-aged men who look like they haven’t bathed in days who are accused of child abuse are put to trial, convicted, and rot in jail for their whole sentence.
Well, not exactly.
In a world where everything is as it should be, child sexual abuse shouldn’t even exist at all. But in this world, it does. And in a world where everything may not be right, but where we claim justice prevails, sex offenders, no matter what they look like, how they speak, how much power or money they have, or what sex or gender they may be, are put to justice.
Today, the WHO estimates that around 28-33% of girls and 9-18% of boys are sexually abused, and yet people still harbor several myths and misconceptions about child sexual abuse. To be able to further guard against incidences of child sexual abuse, we must arm ourselves with the truth.
1. ANYBODY can be a sex offender.
We often have a model of what a sex offender should look like in our minds and this doesn’t help in identifying offenders who do not fit the predetermined demographic. Anyone can be a sex offender, even people you know, and these people double lives, where they are blameless and show good motives, but once they are alone with the child, away from prying eyes, their true intentions show.
2. Sex offenders carefully choose their victims.
Sex offenders don’t just choose children at random. They choose kids and “groom” them to so that they are less likely to think of the act of sexual abuse as an offense. In the process of grooming, the offender also targets the parents or guardians of the child. They may give gifts or offer money to the child. They also befriend the parents or guardians of the child to build trust in the relationship. Offenders usually talk to the child about sexual topics in order to make it seem more “normal” to the child.
3. Abused children aren’t so open about confiding in someone about their situation.
Most of the time, children will only tell you when they are abused if you ask them directly. Only 34.9% of abused children tell people about their situation voluntarily, and even fewer children are open about disclosure when the abuser is a member of his or her family because they are afraid of causing problems for the family.
4. Sexual abuse doesn’t always show physically, but it still has harmful effects.
Sexual abuse often doesn’t leave a physical mark on the victim. It may be because the type of sexual abuse inflicted, like touching, doesn’t leave physical evidence. And even if the perpetrator did leave physical evidence, oftentimes such wounds heal since children aren’t really keen on telling on their abuser. Despite this, child sexual abuse still leaves scars visible in the emotional department, child’s behavior, and even their physical health.
5. Sexual abuse of boys is something we need to look into.
Sexual abuse in boys, though common, is often underreported, underrecognized, and undertreated. There are several reasons why young boys don’t report about what happened to them. Some of them may not think of it as abuse, especially when a female inflicts it. They may also fear the stigmatization or the ridicule and shame that may come with being a victim. They may also be pushed into silence because of what they believe a man should be. Nonetheless, it happens, and we must create an environment where it is safe for girls AND boys to confide in us.
6. Male abusers aren’t always homosexual men.
Male offenders may prefer a certain sex when it comes to sexual behaviors, but they may not always be gay, which is an identity. They are often heterosexual males with relationships with adult women. In a study by the Philippine General Hospital, 95% of sex offenders were male, with almost 32% of them being neighbors, 20% acquaintances of the victim, 9% from the immediate family, and 6% were members of the family. Only 14% were strangers and 8% authority figures while the rest art unknown.
7. Abuse, perpetrated by anyone, is abuse.
Abusing someone is a show of power. Even if the perpetrator is a woman and she thinks the boy initiated contact, it is still abuse by the woman if they take part in sexual behavior. Just because they are male does not mean that boys are immune to the ill effects of sexual abuse. Boys, not unlike girls, will still experience the aftermath of health, social, and psychological problems.
8. Accused offenders often are true sex offenders.
Children aren’t inclined to telling stories involving a traumatizing sexual experience. But when they do, and the offender doesn’t fit our typical image of what an offender looks and acts like, the child may be subject to shunning from his or her family and may feel responsible for what the abuser did which has made her family act in such a way.
9. Child sexual abuse can happen no matter how much your family earns.
Children from upper, middle, and lower socio-economic classes alike can become victims of sexual abuse. It can happen to any child, no matter how much money your family has.
10. Child sexual abuse is not a one-time thing.
Child sexual abuse often happen gradually and do not stop once. They may begin with small touches but as time goes by and no intervention happens, it can lead to unwanted sexual penetration. These kinds of incidences usually repeat over time.
Now that we know the truth about child sexual abuse, we can always be on guard against it. As bystanders, it is our duty to identify and protect victims from further sexual abuse and prevent such instances from happening inside our homes, schools, and communities. We must stop-victim blaming and empower our victims to speak up and be heard.
As long as we believe that we are powerful enough to combat child sexual abuse, we have the power to leave sex offenders powerless.