Their findings appear in the current edition of Child Maltreatment. By focusing their warnings on ‘stranger danger,’ Deblinger and her team say parents may be neglecting critical information that would help their children recognize, avert and disclose sexual abuse.
“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,” Deblinger said. “But more than 90 percent of parents in our survey identified strangers as the biggest danger when talking to their children about sexual abuse, and more than a third of parents failed to identify adults the child knows, while more than 55 percent did not mention relatives as potential abusers. These are essentially the same mistakes parents were making 25 years ago.”
Deblinger and her colleagues surveyed 289 parents or guardians of children in kindergarten through third grade at three New Jersey elementary schools. To examine how attitudes and awareness might have changed, they included questions similar to those used in surveys by other researchers in 1984 and in 1992. The current researchers found that these questions yielded similar results to the older surveys, indicating that parents may be no more willing or able than in the past to provide their children with accurate information about sexual abuse.
“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 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.”
To request an interview with Esther Deblinger, please contact Jerry Carey, UMDNJ News Service, at (856) 566-6171 or (973) 972-3000.
The CARES Institute provides an array of medical and mental health services developed to meet the diagnostic and therapeutic needs of children through an individualized plan for the specific circumstances of each child and family. The CARES Institute is a nationally recognized model of excellence in healing children and families who have experienced abuse, neglect and violence.
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