Last Friday we had the opportunity to attend a CICFEM panel in which Dr. Sandra Racionero shared the hoaxes about child sexual abuse (CSA) that often reach the public, as well as the scientific data that refute them and the actions that help overcome CSA. In what follows, we share some of these hoaxes, given their harmful influence on the conversations and actions adults can have in our jobs and in our lives:

  • Child abuse only occurs in some contexts, such as families and the church: false. They actually occur in all kinds of contexts; also in schools, different extracurricular activities, summer camps, political parties, etc.
  • Homosexual people commit more sexual abuse of children: false.
  • Celibacy in men is the cause of sexual abuse: false. The fact is that the vast majority of abusers are heterosexuals who are married or have a partner.
  • A person who was a victim of abuse as a child is more likely to become an abuser. It has also been said that many of the abusing priests had been sexually abused as children. This claim is not backed by evidence but blames and re-victimizes children, which can have serious consequences on their health and lives.

They then gave us some of the keys presented in the European Commission’s Report on actions and programs that contribute to overcoming child sexual abuse and, also, actions that claim to overcome it but have been shown not to do so. For families, teachers, and all of us who are part of educational communities, it is very important to have access to this information and share it, to dialogue about those actions that are managing to overcome CSA and, above all, to know how they do it:

  • They must be universal and transferable actions that can be applied in any context and thus be useful for everyone.
  • They involve the whole community: teachers, alone, cannot tackle the problem. Nor can families alone. No part of the community can, on its own, eradicate child sexual abuse without the other parts.
  • They are based on the scientific training of the adults involved. Often, we are trained in ideas and practices that have not proven to be effective or, as described in the NESET report, have even proven to be counterproductive. 
  • They give great importance to quality relationships, and dialogue about what friendship is, what characteristics it has (freedom, good treatment, etc.) and what is not acceptable and is not friendship.

The panel continued with examples of institutions, Jesuits Global, that have taken the courageous determination to uncover past abuses and at the same time take a firm stand to prevent them from continuing. To this end, they are training their staff in different parts of the world in the orientations we referred to earlier, understanding that only by building on what is proven to be effective can we overcome child sexual abuse. But this is another story for another article.

[Photograph: Artem Kniaz in Unsplash]