Myths about Sexual AbuseWHAT'S ALL THE FUSS? Sexual abuse is a widespread problem in our society. It is estimated that one out of three girls and one out of five boys (Whitsell-Mitchell, 1995) are sexually abused by the age of 18. Researchers believe this is only the "tip of the iceberg." Sexual abuse has many negative consequences for the child, family and all involved. There is something you can do about it. Therapy is an essential part of the healing process. With treatment, children who have been sexually abused are able to lead normal, healthy lives by learning how to better accept and cope with the abuse. Therapy is an essential part of this process. Here are some of the common myths people give as reasons not to follow through with therapy.
Myth 1 - Children who have been sexually abused will grow out of it. This is true for some children; however, there is no research or testing that can identify those children. Many children who have been sexually abused suffer both short- and long-term negative effects. These include: Short-term Effects Loss of appetite, nightmares, bedwetting, excessive fears, social or emotional withdrawal, obsessive cleanliness, change in sleep habits, inappropriate sexual behavior, difficulty in social relationships, decreased school performance Long-term Effects Depression, anxiety, isolation, poor self-esteem, difficulty trusting others, substance abuse, interpersonal problems, possibility of future abuse, eating disorders, suicide, aggressive behavior. *It is important to note that these long-term behaviors may emerge in adulthood.*
Myth 2 - Children are too young to remember being abused. Children's recollections are much better than was once believed. In the past, it was believed that young children could not remember events. Actually, they are able to remember events quite accurately. However, they simply lack the verbal skills to express themselves.
Myth 3 - How can this be bothering my child? He or she never talks about it. There are several reasons why a child may not talk about the abuse. b) The child may not have the verbal skills to express him/herself. c) The child may fear upsetting the adult by talking about the event. d) It may be too painful for the child to talk about. e) The child may fear destroying the family. f) The child may fear getting the perpetrator into legal trouble.
Myth 4 - My child was the one who was sexually abused. Why do I need treatment? There are several reasons why the non-offending parent should be part of treatment. a) It is important to have a safe place for the parent to express his or her thoughts and feelings and receive emotional support. b) It is important to learn how to help and support the child who has been sexually abused. The single most important factor in a child's recovery is the parent's reaction to the abuse (Kendall-Tackett, et al., 1993). c) Sexual abuse affects the whole family. The symptoms of the child directly impact the family. However, research shows that d) families who acknowledge and partake in treatment improve more quickly than families who do not. e) If the parent has been sexually abused, the abuse of the child may bring the adult's problems to the forefront.
Myth 5 - Treatment will be expensive, especially if it involves the whole family. This may be the case for some other programs, but not for Family Learning Program (FLP). FLP is funded so that clients may pay on a sliding scale. Clients pay what they can afford. No family will be turned away because of finances.
Myth 6 - We have no time for therapy. While it is true that therapy takes time, treatment is necessary and essential. Most parents would never sacrifice their child's medical treatment due to time constraints, so why sacrifice his/her mental health. Ignoring the need for treatment will only worsen the problem and possibly cause serious long-term consequences for both the child and family.
Myth 7 - My family's problems are private. It is no one else's business. Chances are the abuse itself involved a component of secrecy. To lessen a child's shame and guilt, the secrecy must end. It is important to speak openly about the abuse. Furthermore, group participation can offer support and information from others with similar experiences. Confidentiality is maintained by the therapists and strongly encouraged among the group members.
Myth 8 - My child stated he/she was abused and then said nothing happened. Often times a child will take back what he/she has said (recanting) as part of a reaction to the disclosure process. Children may perceive that they are blamed or not believed. They may feel pressure from family members or the perpetrator to keep the family intact. A child may be threatened by the perpetrator to recant. Finally, a child's recanting may be a reaction to a variety of circumstances, such as court testimony, police investigation, removal from the family, etc.