Parents often incorrectly tell their kids that strangers are most likely to sexually abuse children when, in fact, relatives and acquaintances are the usual perpetrators, researchers say.
By doing so, parents may be failing to give their children enough information about how to recognise sexual abuse when it happens and try to stop it, the study authors warned.
"At least 85% of the child sexual abuse is perpetrated by relatives, or by individuals who are known - but not related - to the child," study lead author Esther Deblinger, co-director of the Child Abuse Research Education and Services Institute at the University of Medicine and Dentistry of New Jersey - School of Osteopathic Medicine, said in a university new release.
"But more than 90% of parents in our survey identified strangers as the biggest danger when talking to their children about sexual abuse," Deblinger said. "More than a third of parents failed to identify adults the child knows and more than 55% did not mention relatives as potential abusers. These are essentially the same mistakes parents were making 25 years ago."
The study authors surveyed 289 parents and guardians of kids in grades K-3 at three elementary schools in New Jersey. The researchers found that the responses had changed little compared to responses noted by other researchers in 1984 and 1992.
"Too often, parents assume that their kids are too young to understand, or that their children are not at risk for sexual abuse," Deblinger said in the news release. "In fact, estimates suggest that as many as one in five individuals report experiencing sexual abuse in childhood or adolescence. The victims of child sexual abuse come from all ethnic, racial, cultural, economic and religious groups. Abusers rely on children's lack of knowledge and use it to their advantage."
The study findings were published in a recent issue of the journal Child Maltreatment. - (HealthDay News, April 2010)