13 April 2010

Abuse Much Closer to Home: New Study Reveals Parents May Be Misinforming Kids

Many of us probably remember hearing the mantra, "don't talk to strangers," repeated time and again by our parents and teachers--or repeating it ourselves as parents and teachers, to help children avoid often unnameable dangers. In fact, this "stranger-danger" caution has dominated child sexual abuse prevention curriculum for decades. But what few among the general public know, and what survivors of abuse and increasing numbers of prevention advocates do, is that the majority of child sexual abuse is perpetrated by people much closer to home.

A recent study by the Child Abuse Research Education and Service Institute at the University of Medicine and Dentistry of New Jersey underscores the expansive gap between public perception and the reality that, according to lead author Esther Deblinger, "at least 85 percent of the child sexual abuse is perpetrated by relatives, or by individuals who are known -- but not related -- to the child."

The study, which surveyed 289 parents and guardians of children grades K-3 at three elementary schools in New Jersey, found that more than 90 percent of parents identified strangers as the biggest danger when talking to their children about sexual abuse. Discouragingly, Deblinger says, "These are essentially the same mistakes parents were making 25 years ago."

Such research illustrates just how deeply rooted the concept of "stranger-danger" is in our society -- and what a monumental task it will be to undo.

The Ms. Foundation, in partnership with NoVo Foundation, is working to tackle this and other harmful misconceptions about child sexual abuse that thwart meaningful, effective prevention. Learn more about our efforts to shift public understanding of the root causes of child sexual abuse and bring the best thinking of researchers, survivors, and national and grassroots advocates together to advance community-based, social-justice strategies for prevention. Watch a video about an inspiring gathering of survivor-activists at the Ms. Foundation.

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