Myths and Facts About Childhood Sexual Abuse

Childhood sexual abuse is a topic widely regarded as taboo. For this reason, there are many misconceptions concerning why children are sexually abused, who abuses children, and the effects that sexual abuse can have on children. Below are some common myths about childhood sexual abuse and facts to dispel these misconceptions.

Myth: Childhood sexual abuse is rare.                                                          

Fact: Before the age of 18, at least one in six girls and at least one in twenty boys are sexually abused.

Myth: Most victims of sexual abuse do not know their victim.

Fact: Approximately 90% of child victims know their offender, and almost half of the offenders are family members. Of sexual assaults committed against people ages 12 and up, approximately 80% of the victims know the offender.

Myth: Most child sexual abusers use physical force or threats to gain compliance from their victims.
Fact: In the majority of cases, abusers gain access to their victims through deception and enticement, seldom using force. Abuse typically occurs within long-term, ongoing relationships and escalates over time.

Myth: Most child sexual abusers find their victims by frequenting such places as schoolyards and playgrounds.
Fact: Most child sexual abusers have established relationships with the children they abuse. Many of the sexual assaults committed against adult women are considered “confidence rapes” (i.e., the offender knows the victim and has used that familiarity to gain access to her).

Myth: Only men commit sexual abuse.
Fact: While most sex offenders are male, there are female sex offenders.

Myth: Child sexual abusers are only attracted to children and are not capable of appropriate sexual relationships.
Fact: While there is a small subset of child sexual abusers who are exclusively attracted to children, the majority of individuals who sexually abuse children are (or have previously been) attracted to adults.

Myth: Victims of sexual abuse are harmed only when offenders use force.
Fact: More harmful than any physical injuries the victim sustains, the violation of trust that accompanies most sexual assaults has been shown to dramatically increase the level of trauma the victim suffers. Emotional and psychological injuries cause harm that can last much longer than physical wounds.

Myth: If a child does not tell anyone about the abuse, it is because he or she must have consented to it.

Fact: Children often do not tell for a variety of reasons. The offender may threaten to hurt or kill someone the victim loves, or the child may feel shame and embarrassment, want to protect the offender, have feelings for the offender, fear being held responsible for the abuse, fear being disbelieved, or fear losing the offender who may be very important to the child or the child’s family.

Myth: Both child and adult victims of sexual abuse will wait some time before telling someone about the abuse, but eventually all do.

Fact: Not all victims of sexual abuse come forward and expose their abuser. If the person was assaulted as a child, he or she may wait years or decades. The reasons for this are numerous: victims may want to deny the fact that someone they trusted could do this to them, they may want to put the experience behind them, they may believe that they caused the assault by their behaviors, or they may fear how others will react to the truth.

Myth: If someone sexually abuses an adult, he will not target children, and if someone sexually assaults a child, he will not target adults.
Fact: Research as well as anecdotal evidence indicates that while some sex offenders choose only one type of victim (e.g., prepubescent girls, post-pubescent boys, adult women, etc.), most others prey on different types of victims. Therefore, no assumptions should be made about an offender’s victim preference regardless of his or her previous convictions.

Myth: It helps the victim to talk about the abuse.

Fact: The victim’s recovery will be enhanced if she or he feels believed, supported, and protected and receives counseling following the disclosure. However, sexual assault victims should always have the choice about when, with whom, and under what conditions they wish to discuss their experiences.

Myth: Sexual gratification is often the only primary motivation for a sex offender.
Fact: While some offenders do seek sexual gratification from the act, power, control, and anger are likely to be primary motivators.

Myth: Offenders could stop their sexually violent behavior on their own if they wanted to.
Fact: Wanting to change is usually not enough to change the patterns of behavior that lead to sexual offenses. Most sex offenders require a variety of treatments and corrective interventions such as, aversion therapy, behavior therapy, psychological techniques, and even medications.

Myth: Men sexually abuse children because they cannot find a consenting sexual partner.
Fact: Studies suggest that most sex offenders are married or in consenting relationships.

Myth: Drugs and alcohol cause sexual assault to occur.
Fact: While drugs and alcohol are often involved in sexual assaults, drugs and alcohol do not cause sexual offenses to occur. Rather, drugs and alcohol may act as a disinhibitor for the offender, while being under the influence may increase a potential victim’s vulnerability.

Myth: Victims of sexual assault often share some blame for the assault.
Fact: Adult and child victims of sexual abuse are never to blame for the assault, regardless of their behavior. Due to the inability to give consent, child victims are often made to feel like willful participants, which further contributes to their shame and guilt.

Myth: If a victim does not say “no” or does not “fight back,” it is not sexual assault.
Fact: Sexual assault victims may not say “no” or fight back for a variety of reasons, including fear and confusion. Sexual assault often report being “frozen” by fear during the assault, making them unable to fight back; other victims may not actively resist for fear of angering the assailant and causing him to use more force in the assault. Pressure to be liked and to not be talked about negatively by peers can cause children or adolescents to avoid fighting back or actively resisting.


  1. “Facts about Sex Offenders.” California Megan’s Law. N.p., n.d. Web. 11 May 2015.

Last Updated 16 May 2015.