Home > Learn about Child Abuse > Myths and Realities

Myths and Realities

Lack of knowledge about child abuse has led to a number of misconceptions. Some of these are: 

Myth: It is only abuse if it is violent
Reality: Child abuse does not necessarily involve violence or anger. Abuse often involves adults exploiting their power over children, and using children as objects for their own gratification rather than respecting their needs and rights as children.Child abuse is defined as "...the harming (whether phsycially, emotionally, sexually), ill treatment, abuse, neglect or depirvation of any child or young person".

Reference: (Section 2, Children, Young Persons and their Families Act 1989)



Myth: Children usually tell someone that they are being abused
Reality: Different studies have shown that 46% and 69% of adults abused as children never disclosed it in their childhood. Abusers can be very effective in making children too fearful to talk about what is going on. Often children do not have the words to use to let someone know what is happening to them. We are more likely to identify children who are being abused through physical signs or their behaviour.

Reference: (Jonzon, E. and Lindblad, F. (2004). Disclosure, reactions and social support: findings from a sample of adult victims of child sexual abuse. Child Maltreatment, 9(2): 190-200)



Myth: Children are usually sexually abused by strangers
Reality: Most children who are sexually abused are abused by someone they know. Sexual violence by strangers is rare. 85% of sexual violence is committed by someone known to the victim.

Reference:  (http://www.corrections.govt.nz/working_with_offenders/community_sentences/employment_and_support_programmes/release-and-management-of-sexualoffenders.html)




Myth: The most common form of abuse suffered by children at home is sexual abuse
Reality: According to Oranga Tamariki statistics children are most likely to experience emotional abuse, followed by neglect. Physical abuse is the third most common type of abuse suffered by children at home whilst sexual abuse is the least common.  It is important to note that these statistics relate to abuse that has been reported and substantiated.  We know that children often don’t disclose that they have been abused until they are in adulthood, and sometimes not at all. 

Reference: (https://www.msd.govt.nz/about-msd-and-our-work/publications-resources/statistics/cyf/findings.html)



Myth: Most children who are abused do something to cause it
Reality: While children are always the victims of abuse and are never to blame, some children are more at risk of being abused or neglected than others. E.g. Babies who are born with a high level of needs such as premature babies, those who are chronically ill and babies who constantly cry and are difficult to soothe are at greater risk for harm.

Reference: http://www.brainwave.org.nz/wp-content/uploads/Maltreatment_article_web.pdf (p.3)



Myth: Abused children hate their parents and want to get away from them
Reality: Most children who have been abused by their parents still have a strong attachment or love for their parents and want to remain living with them. What they really want is for the abuse to stop.

Reference: http://dana.org/Cerebrum/2010/Fear_in_Love__Attachment,_Abuse,_and_the_Developing_Brain/

Kelly as cited in https://practice.mvcot.govt.nz/documents/whats-new/social-work-now/news/2006-2008/swn34.pdf



Myth: Neglect is not as bad as the other types of abuse.

Reality: There is mounting evidence that “neglect has more dire consequences for children than other forms of maltreatment”, with behavioural, emotional and cognitive consequences*.  40% of maltreatment deaths are due to neglect. Neglect often plays a role in other causes of death, for example suicide, fatal accidents and inadequate supervision**.

Reference: *Dubowitz, H., Feigelman, S., Lane, W. & Kim, J. (2009) Pediatric primary care to help prevent child maltreatment: The safe environment for every kid (SEEK) model. Pediatrics, 123(3), pp 858–864.

** Gilbert, R., Kemp, A., Thoburn, J., Sidebotham, P., Radford, L., Glaser, D., et al (2009). Child Maltreatment 2: Recognising and responding to child maltreatment. The Lancet, 373(9658), 167-180.



Myth: Most physical abuse is carried out by men, especially fathers
Reality: Physically abusive acts towards children are just as likely to be carried out by mothers as fathers.

Reference: Statistics New Zealand as cited in NZ Family Violence Clearinghouse Report: Child Sexual Abuse and Adult Sexual Violence - Perpetration by Gender, July 2016



Myth: Children who disclose abuse and later retract their stories were lying about the abuse
Reality: It is extremely common for children who have truthfully disclosed abuse to retract (take back what they have told) due to negative adult reactions to the disclosure of the abuse.  This doesn’t meant the abuse didn’t happen.

Reference: Roland Summit (1983) The Child Sexual Abuse Accommodation Syndrome



Myth: If children don’t witness family violence they are not affected by it
Reality: Children can sense what is going on, may hear arguing and see the harm to people or property and are emotionally and psychologically affected by the behaviour of violent adults

Reference: "They didn’t see it. They were sleeping." --The voices of children who live with family violence as heard by KIDshine retrieved on 05th May 2017 from: http://www.2shine.org.nz/resource-room/reports-and-articles



Myth: Children often make up stories or tell lies, so can easily “make up” stories of sexual abuse

Reality: Children almost never make up stories about being sexually abused. In fact victims are often revictimised in multiple ways for truthfully asserting they have been sexually abused.

Reference: http://www.secasa.com.au/pages/is-the-child-victim-of-sexual-abuse-telling-the-truth/



Myth: Remove a child from the adults who abuse him or her and you have solved the problem for both adults and child
Reality: It may be necessary to remove a child from his or her parents or usual caregiver in time of crisis to ensure his or her safety and wellbeing. Removing a child from his or her parents can have significant emotional effects. The goal should be to return the child to his or her parents or other family members when his safety can be assured

Reference: https://practice.mvcot.govt.nz/policy/assessment-and-decision-making/key-information/focusing-on-attachment-and-stability.html#Commoncausesofnbspinsecureattachment4



Myth: Children with disabilities are less likely to become victims of abuse than children without disabilities
Reality: Children with disabilities are 3.4 times more likely to be abused.

Reference: (Spencer, E. Devereux, A. Wallace, R. Sundrum, M. Shenoy, C. Bacchus, and S. Logan, 2005, “Disabling Conditions and Registration for Child Abuse and Neglect: A Population Based Study,” Pediatrics116, 609–613; P.M)



Myth: Older men are typically the perpetrators of sexual abuse towards children
Reality: The median age for perpetrators is 30 years

Reference: World Health Organisation (WHO) Multi-Country Study on Violence Against Women (Incl. survey of a representative sample of 2,855 New Zealand women) as cited in NZ Family Violence Clearinghouse Report: Child Sexual Abuse, 2016



Myth: Only men sexually abuse children
Reality: Whilst statistically more men do sexually abuse children than women, women can also be perpetrators.

Reference: WHO Multi-Country Study on Violence Against Women (Incl. survey of a representative sample of 2,855 New Zealand women) as cited in NZ Family Violence Clearinghouse Report: Child Sexual Abuse, 2016