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ABOUT THE CRIME OF CHILD SEXUAL ASSAULT

It is important to understand that child sexual assault is a crime that can affect not only the child or young person, but their family and broader community as well. Below is some information about the crime of child sexual assault, including myths and facts, and links to download information sheets about indicators of harm and responding to disclosures of harm.

Child Sexual Assault: Myths and Facts

MYTH: The parents are at fault if their child is sexually assaulted

FACT Parents often feel guilt and blame themselves for not protecting their child. However, this attitude shifts blame and enables offenders to avoid responsibility for their actions. The offender is always the person who is responsible for child sexual assault.

MYTH: The stranger is the danger

FACT In child sexual assault cases, 70% to 90% of offenders are known to the child and family (Finkelhor, 1994; Mouzous & Makkai, 2004; National Child Protection Clearinghouse, 2005). Beyond this, 90% of child abuse incidents involving neglect, emotional or physical abuse are caused by the parent or primary caregiver.

MYTH Children with disabilities are less likely to be abused

FACT Research shows that children and young people with disabilities are up to four times more likely to be abused as they may not have the language or understanding to communicate what is happening to them (World Health Organisation, 2018).

MYTH: Children who are being sexually assaulted will tell someone immediately

FACT There can be many barriers to a child disclosing sexual assault. Perpetrators work hard at ensuring their victims remain silent, using many different tactics. The result is that a child who is being sexually assaulted may experience fear, confusion, guilt, shame and sadness, making it difficult for them to disclose.

MYTH: Only children from low socio-economic backgrounds are vulnerable to sexual harm

FACT All children are vulnerable to sexual harm regardless of their background.

MYTH Children who are sexually assaulted will hate the perpetrator, so it will be easy to recognise if the child is being harmed

FACT If a child is being sexually assaulted by a parent, loved-one or caregiver, they will often be confused by the behaviour and struggle with conflicting emotions. A child may still view the perpetrator as a loved one and may not outwardly show any anger or resentment towards them.

MYTH Children and young people lie and exaggerate about being sexually harmed

FACT 98% of child sexual assault disclosures are found to true (Dympna House, 1998). Although children may retract their report, this is commonly due to shame, confusion, fear of consequences or other threats that occur after the initial report has been made. It is therefore vital to believe and support the child throughout the entire process.

MYTH Children can misinterpret and wrongly accuse an adult of sexual assault

FACT Children often disclose long after the assault has started. The offender often uses behaviours such as ‘accidental touching’ or tickling to minimise their behaviour and blame the child. A child’s disclosure should always be acknowledged and believed.

MYTH All child sex offenders are male

FACT It is important to be aware there are both male and female child sex offenders. Although prevalence rates are variable, 4.6% to 10.7% of child sexual assault crimes are committed by women (Cortoni & Hanson, 2005; Peter, 2009; Stathopoulos, 2014).

MYTH Children and young people cannot be sexually harmed by other children or young people

FACT Australian studies find that 30-60% of child sexual assault is carried out by other children and young people, and most young people target younger children or peers, and know their victim (Department of Human Services [DHS], 2012; Hunter 1999; KPMG, 2014, p. 22; Weinrott, 1996). Preventing child sexual assault requires us to acknowledge this uncomfortable truth and be aware that it is not only adults who can sexually harm children or young people.

MYTH If a child discloses sexual assault and then retracts their statement, they must be lying

FACT Pressure is mounted on a child following disclosure. Consequences of disclosures can include family breakdown, parent distress, and other effects. Retracting a statement may be a child’s attempt to return their situation to normal, rather than an indication that they were lying. This is why it is so important that a child is supported and believed after a disclosure is made.

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