Coordinated Community Response Column

By Susan Lockwood, LCSW, Director, Sexual Assault Center/Willow Tree Child Advocacy Center

Although most parents today are aware of the occurrence of child sexual abuse, most think they only have to worry about protecting their daughters. Most of the research does say that girls are more likely to be abused than boys (one in four girls, one in six boys), but as more males come forward and as more extensive research is conducted, there are many experts who believe there are just as many boys being abused as there are girls.

As parents, the best way to protect our sons is much the same way that we would protect our daughters. There is no replacement for good communication, both in terms of giving your son and daughter protective behavior information, and in keeping the lines of communication open if they are feeling uncomfortable or unsafe about someone.

Most children don’t report sexual abuse because it doesn’t feel safe. If you can openly discuss sexual abuse with them they are more likely to tell if it happens to them.

Boys are even less likely to report than girls are, largely because of how we socialize boys. Most boys believe that men are not supposed to be vulnerable, so they fear that they will be thought of as “wimps” if someone finds out that they were abused.

And because most offenders are male, they also fear that someone will think they are homosexual and, again, won’t report the abuse.

Many boys who are abused by females do not even identify the experience as sexual abuse, especially if they are pre-adolescent or older. Society tends to see this kind of sexual abuse as a boy “getting lucky” or getting initiated, largely based on the way men are socialized to seek out sexual experiences.

The research indicates that although boys may have less sexual abuse experiences in regard to duration or intensity, the impact is equally devastating. Just as with girl victims there can be problems with self-esteem, anger, depression, isolation, substance abuse and difficulty establishing or maintaining relationships. Also significant in male victims is that some have problems with sexual compulsiveness, sexual identity confusion and other sexual dysfunctions.

Children who report, and then are believed and supported, are much less likely to have ongoing problems from abuse. Therefore, prevention and good parent-child or teacher-child communication is our best hope of curtailing the devastating personal and societal costs of child sexual abuse.

For more information on male sexual abuse, check out:  Victims No Longer by Michael Lew or Adults Molested as Children: A Survivor’s Manual for Women and Men, by E. Bear and Peter Dimock.

This article is brought to you in part by the Door County Coordinated Community Response (CCR) to Domestic Violence and Sexual Assault Teams and the Door County Elder and Adult-at-Risk Interdisciplinary Team.