Many true things frighten people, and lying about them doesn’t help. Anna C. Salter

One of the most pervasive myths surrounding child sexual abuse is that all perpetrators were once abused themselves. This myth is repeated because it helps make sense of something incredibly difficult to understand. The evidence, however, doesn’t fall in line with this perception.

Less than 10 percent of men and 1 percent of women who are sexually abused as children will go on to perpetrate.1 This means that survivors turning into perpetrators is a lot less pervasive than most people believe. This is one belief that can do actual damage, however. It can lead to abuse survivors believing that they may become perpetrators. It is also an easy excuse for abusers—whether they were abused or not—because it may make their actions more understandable and often leads people to be more sympathetic toward them. Even if they weren’t abused, lying to say they were may lead to more lenient treatment.

The truth is that no one knows why people commit child sexual abuse, though research continues and theories abound. The idea that abuse is always cyclical makes it feel true that someone must have been abused in order to do such horrible things. In all honesty, we just don’t know all the whys.

It seems a cruel trick that people will readily believe a convicted perpetrator was abused as a child, but they won’t believe the child that tells them they are being abused. One makes us think the world is a more orderly place than it is; the other makes us realize our world is not as safe as we thought. We sometimes choose to believe or disbelieve to make ourselves feel better.

Relying on facts, truths, and statistics is important to get a clear picture of the epidemic of child sexual abuse in our country and around the world. Believing things simply because they are easier or “make sense” to us is not always accurate or helpful.

In this case, when you believe that every perpetrator (or even most) are survivors of childhood sexual abuse, then you make all survivors feel a twinge of fear that they will someday abuse someone else. This is both unfair and inaccurate. Don’t add to their trauma by implying that they are something they aren’t.

Anna C. Salter says, “No one has all the answers about how to stop [perpetrators], nor even why all of them do what they do. But at least we should have the decency as people to stop making excuses for them.”1

1. Salter, Anna C. (2004). Predators: Pedophiles, Rapists, and Other Sex Offenders. New York: Basic Books.

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