The media, the tabloid press in particular, still tend to depict abusers in terms of "stranger danger" (even though this accounts for a tiny fraction of abuse cases.) We are much more comfortable with the idea of an abuser as a sleazy unkempt man in a park who preys on children. Some Christian groups still perpetuate the myth that abusers are largely homosexual men, rather strange considering that girls account for 86% of known victims! Whatever our choice of profile to demonise as a typical abuser, few of us want to believe that abusers may be respectable professional people, women, or other children - but they can be and they often are. A third of abused males report being abused by a woman, for example, a statistic which scotches the myth that women do not abuse.
The abuse of children by other children is a particularly painful and thorny issue, and it is horrifying to read that a quarter of abusers are under the age of eighteen. Sexual abuse by another child also poses great difficulties for the abused child. It is no easier to speak out about abuse carried out by other children, the shame, sense of taboo and fear of not being believed is just as great. Children who "come out" about it as adults often face problems because the abuse is dismissed as "less serious" or not "real abuse"; it can be put down to "playing doctors and nurses" when often it was no such thing. I can't imagine what it is like to be abused by another child, but one of the hardest cases I heard was of someone who was abused when she was nine, initially by three teenage boys and then by some more of their friends. By the time she was in her own teens she was promiscuious, reckless, getting into trouble at school and home. As an adult she still found it hard to accept she was not responsible and this is common in those abused by children ; it is clear that a fifty five year old man should not be acting in that way, harder when the abuser is fifteen.
We need to move away from tabloid myths about abuse and abusers and be clear sighted in recognising the often complex situations involved and the pain and damage inflicted. We need to educate and empower children and we need to learn how to deal more effectively with survivors and with perpetrators.