11 Myths About Child Abuse

Separating Fact From Fiction


It can be challenging to sort facts from fiction sometimes. Often, people base their understanding of situations on things they’ve been repeatedly told, even if they’re not true. When it comes to protecting innocent children, it’s crucial to separate myths from facts. Here are a few myths and facts about child abuse that you need to know to support child abuse prevention and to understand its aftermath for survivors.


Myth #1: Emotional abuse and neglect are less serious than physical abuse.


Fact: Child abuse in all forms can result in actual or potential harm. 


There are various types of child abuse, including physical, emotional, and sexual abuse, and mental and emotional neglect. All of which include an emotional component. The emotional impact of any form of child abuse can be devastating. While physical abuse can result in more obvious signs of maltreatment because its impact can be seen, the importance of caring for the emotional health of a child can not be overstated.


Emotional abuse is associated with severe, long-lasting psychological, behavioral, developmental, and physical health issues.



Myth #2: A child abuse diagnosis ruins a child for the rest of their life.


Fact: Child abuse and neglect is not a diagnosis or a life sentence.


Any life event has the potential to impact who we become as adults. But that doesn’t mean that abuse has to be a life sentence. And it isn’t a diagnosis. Support and access to services can provide the tools to heal.



Myth #3: It is easy to identify a victim of child abuse or neglect. 


Fact: It’s not that simple. 

Although there may be telltale signs of some types of child abuse, not all victims exhibit obvious signs. Even the best parents or most astute adults may not recognize the signs of child abuse, which is not an indictment on those who failed to recognize that abuse was happening.


Myth #4: Child abuse only happens in lower economic classes of society.


Fact: Child abuse doesn’t discriminate. 


Child abuse can and does happen anywhere and to anyone. It exists in every corner of society. It transcends locations, races, socioeconomic classes, and communities and can occur in many forms.



Myth #5: Children lie about abuse all the time.


Fact: It’s rare for a child to lie about being abused.


Although gathering statistics on the percentage of children who lie about abuse is difficult, it’s unlikely to be true. A child won’t usually use the words an adult would when reporting abuse. They may be confused, overwhelmed, or scared. As adults, our job is not to judge a child’s story. Our job is to listen and to keep children safe.


When children tell someone about abuse but aren’t believed, it can lead to further trauma, fear and shame.



Myth #6: A parent’s main worry should be to protect their children from strangers.


Fact: More than 90% of child abuse happens at the hands of someone the child knows. 


It’s common for parents to teach their children not to talk to strangers, and it’s drilled into most children from an early age. While we should stay vigilant about abductions, that’s not the whole story.


Abusers often form relationships with potential victims and their families before abuse, referred to as the grooming process. The process is intentional and works to gain the trust of the entire family. To prevent abuse and neglect, we must recognize that no child or family is immune to this threat.



Myth #7: The most common form of abuse children experience is sexual abuse. 


Fact: Neglect is the most common form of child abuse. 


Of the more than three million cases investigated for child abuse in 2017 (the most recent data available), 74.9% suffered from neglect. Neglect is most common among infants and young children, meaning that caregivers failed to meet their basic needs, including adequate health care, supervision, clothing, nutrition, housing, and physical, emotional, social, educational, and safety needs.



Myth #8: Perpetrators of child abuse are mentally ill.


Fact: There is no one-size-fits-all characteristic that defines an abuser.


While some abusers may have mental health issues that contribute to their maltreatment of a child ((e.g., severe depression leading to child neglect), many do not.


One study determined that parents with mental illness are not abusive, and most abusive parents are not mentally ill. This stereotype can be particularly harmful to the general population of people who have mental illnesses and may lead others to unfairly mistrust and discriminate against them.



Myth #9: If a child is abused at a very young age, there won’t be repercussions because they are so young and won’t remember the abuse.


Fact: Children can be and are affected by trauma at a very young age.


Depending on their age and cognitive ability, they can recall this trauma for years to come—even if it occurred when they were young. There is no absolute with this myth, but suffice it to say that if your child discloses abuse, it’s best to have them talk to a professional trained to examine the potential for long-term damage.


It is not uncommon for repressed memories of childhood trauma to resurface in someone’s adult years.



Myth #10: Child abuse isn’t that common.


Fact: Exact numbers are difficult to obtain due to under-reporting, but it’s estimated that one in seven children experience child abuse each year.


In 2018, nearly 1,770 children died of abuse and neglect in the United States.



Myth #11: Children’s bad behavior provokes abuse.


Fact: Regardless of the circumstances, children never deserve to be abused!


Corporal punishment forms, including spanking, are no longer recommended as a parenting tactic because of the long-term behavioral effects they can have on children. According to the CDC, children’s behavior disorders may stem from or worsen because of harsh or abusive parenting. There are plenty of alternative forms of discipline that can be used.



Facts are powerful and can help lead the way to prevent child abuse, and provide support for adult victims of child abuse. Find information and resources and be the change to stop child abuse.