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@Issue 360 | Issue 45 | September 2020

The Sexual Abuse of Boys

Although things are shifting, historically child sexual abuse has been a taboo subject that people were reluctant to talk about out in the open. Thankfully, people are becoming more aware of sexual abuse, and as a result, parents do amazing things every day to keep their kids safe.

But there are still painful facts about abuse that don’t get the attention they deserve, and one of those deals with the prevalence of sexual abuse of boys. Sexual abuse flourishes in the darkness of secret keeping. We believe that one of the best ways to create change is to make it safe to openly discuss sexual abuse, so here are some facts about the sexual abuse of boys that can help you start the conversation.

Sexual abuse of boys: What are the numbers?

According to the ACE study released by the CDC, 1 in 6 boys in the U.S. is sexually abused by the age of 18. While the number of abused boys is lower than abused girls (1 in 4), it is still alarmingly high. Also, whereas nearly all of the sexual abuse of girls is perpetrated by men (only 6% of female survivors report perpetration by a female), 40% of male child sexual abuse survivors report perpetration by a female.

What is important about these numbers? Even though the public dialogue about sexual abuse seems to focus on girls who are perpetrated against by men, boys are all too frequently victims of sexual abuse and their perpetrators are almost as likely to be women as men.

Disclosure rates are low

Victims of sexual abuse struggle to disclose and report their abuse to begin with, but boys and men can be especially unlikely to disclose. One study found that only 25% of boys who were sexually abused disclosed when they were still a child. Even further, male survivors of sexual abuse waited an average of 21 years after the abuse occurred to tell anyone and waited an average of 28 years to have an “in-depth discussion.”  Sadly, when boys don’t disclose, many don’t receive the help and support needed to heal.

The long-lasting Impact

Child sexual abuse has a long-lasting impact on any survivor regardless of gender, but there are some specific issues that men tend to deal with. In particular, men often feel like their gender identity has been compromised by sexual abuse. One male survivor put it simply: “. . . sexual abuse to a man is an abuse against his manhood as well.”

Many male survivors express that in the years following abuse, they felt like they needed to conform to masculine norms that include appearing strong and independent. This gender conformity can become a barrier to accessing healing resources.

What can we do?

So often we treat boys like they are only potential perpetrators of sexual abuse and assault and not potential victims. While discussion explaining sexual consent and respecting intimate partners are important, they are not the only conversations we need to have.

To protect our boys, we also need to have discussions about the risk factors of sexual abuse, and we need to watch out for potential perpetrators, and we need to empower our boys to have a voice. And if we ever suspect or discover abuse, we need to offer all of the love and support we can. Studies have revealed that one of the main barriers to boys disclosing abuse is a “fear of receiving an unsupportive or hostile response.”


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