Dr. Martin Finkel and Dr. Esther Deblinger, co-directors and co-founders of the Child Abuse, Research and Education Services Institute at the University of Medicine and Dentistry of New Jersey-School of Osteopathic Medicine, said most perpetrators desire to repeat the activities over time, so they don't intend to physically injure their victims.
The researchers also said "stranger danger" is a myth.
"Focusing on 'stranger danger' obscures the fact that 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 in a statement. "It's important to teach children, beginning at age 3, about personal space and privacy -- OK and not-OK touching -- and continue these discussions throughout adolescence. While educating children is not the only step we need to take to stop sexual abuse, it does encourage some children to disclose abuse despite the threats and fears that often keep children suffering in silence."
Children also need to know that they can tell an adult about what has happened.
"It takes an incredible amount of courage for a child to come forward," Finkel said. "Abusers rely on trust and secrecy, but what the child has to say is the best and most available evidence in child sexual abuse cases."
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