Contrary to the stereotype, most child sex offenders are not ‘dirty old men’ lurking around parks or ‘white van men.’ They are often quite ‘normal’ to other people and frequently the last person you’d suspect. Child abuse is committed by men, women, teenagers and children. They come in all shapes and sizes. There isn’t one ‘type’ of person. Offenders come from all parts of society and all backgrounds. This is the message we must deliver to our children, parents, schools and other relevant institutes and organisations because without wanting to cause alarm, the danger is lurking closer than you think.
It is more likely for a child to be sexually abused by someone they know, like a relative, a peer, a family friend or a person they trust rather than a stranger. (source: nspcc). A sexual assault doesn’t always take time or need to have been planned out and can often be opportunistic. It can happen between friends, siblings and cousins and sometimes at a very young age, with little difference in age between perpetrator and victim. It doesn’t always happen down dark alleys, or in hidden places but sometimes right in front of us, in very busy rooms, family gatherings and social spaces. From my own experience and that of others I know, this is more often the case. It is part of what makes speaking up and speaking out so difficult; who would believe us that we are being abused right before your very eyes?
In my case, I was often never entirely alone with my abuser. There would usually be adults and other children around; either downstairs or in the next room. Of course, there were times when we were alone, but this wasn’t always the scenario. A fellow childhood sexual abuse survivor disclosed that she would often be penetrated with fingers when she would sit on her perpetrators lap, hidden underneath a blanket, sometimes in a room full of people.
Most sexual abuse isn’t reported, detected or prosecuted. Most children don’t tell anyone that they’re being sexually abused. They are often threatened. It’s a crime that is usually only witnessed by the abuser and the victim. (source: nspcc). Sometimes children won’t be aware that what is happening to them is abuse. They may not even understand that it is wrong, especially if it is all they’ve ever known or else are afraid to speak out. It doesn’t always involve contact; non- contact abuse involves non-touching activities such as grooming, exploitation, persuading children to perform sexual acts over the internet and flashing, having their picture taken or being forced to view sexual acts or sexually explicit material. The UK has many official definitions of child sexual abuse.
The painful truth is that some children are manipulated into confusing abuse with love and it often happens between children far more often than we would dare to believe. Some survivors remain silent due to an unhelpful stigma that I’ve often heard, which is that abused children go on to abuse themselves. This is of course might be true in a number of cases, but should not be yet another shameful and harmful judgement that victims of abuse fear.
It is important for us to start these taboo conversations for the safety and protection of our children, and as a form of preventative measure. So, do not always be looking for the stranger lurking on street corners, or at the park. Of course, we should warn our children of stranger danger, but we must also be explicitly aware of a danger that is unfortunately much closer to home because over 90% of children are abused by someone they know. (source: Radford, L. et al (2000) Child abuse and neglect in the UK today. London: NSPCC).
Maria Alfieri - January 2019