The Stranger Danger Myth of Sexual Abuse – Why it puts our Children at Risk

What image comes to mind when you think of a sex offender? For most of us it is the man in the white van grabbing children from the street or the rapist lurking behind the bushes waiting to attack. While we see such crimes depicted on television and in the movies – they are statistical anomalies. The large majority of children are actually abused by someone who is known to them. In fact less than 10% of incidents of abuse perpetrated toward children under the age of 18 involve a stranger. Our tendency to think of sexual crimes as predominately involving strangers – when in reality it is those already known to us and our children who perpetrate the majority of offenses – is known as the stranger danger myth. One large scale study found:

  • 34 percent of children were assaulted by a family member

  • 59 percent of children were assaulted by an acquaintance

  • 7 percent of children were assaulted by a stranger

So why does the stranger danger myth put our children at risk? Because we are protecting our children from the wrong people. So rather than worry about your children walking to school by themselves or playing in the park with friends , we should be worried about who we are leaving them with when we are not around: coaches, babysitters, family members, and as we saw with Larry Nassar – even doctors. Sadly our current sex offender policies are misdirected in that they are based upon the stranger danger myth. They are designed to protect children from strangers, but they fail to educate parents about who the perpetrators most commonly are. So as parents – knowledge is power - and we hope that knowing who sex offenders are can help you in developing strategies to protect your children from sexual abuse.

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© 2018 by Elizabeth Jeglic and Cynthia Calkins