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Sexual Abuse of Boys-A Hidden Epidemic

Sexual abuse of boys is common, underreported, under-recognized, and under-treated.

Sexual abuse of girls has been widely studied, leading to awareness of the risk factors and prevalence. Unfortunately, there have been relatively fewer studies done on sexual abuse of boys, leading to inadequate knowledge about the facts related to this topic. Some of the studies that are available have a high degree of subjectivity, poor sampling techniques, and poor designs with few control elements.

Why Males Don’t Disclose

  • A cultural bias maintains that males cannot be victims. Males are expected to be confident, knowledgeable, and aggressive. To be a victim means one is an inadequate male.
  •   If the boy’s body has responded sexually, he feels he is somehow responsible for the sexual abuse.
  •   Male victims of sexual abuse struggle with issues of homosexuality as most offenders are male. Their homophobia plus their confusion and fear encourage silence. Not to mention the social stigma attached to homosexuality.
  •   If a boy receives money for sex, he is less likely to be perceived as a victim.
  •   If a boy has a homosexual orientation, he is often blamed for the “seduction” of the older male, instead of being acknowledged as a legitimate victim of sexual abuse.
  •   Molestation by an older female is often viewed positively as a kind of “initiation rite” into manhood. Cultural pressure encourages participation while denying feelings.
  •   Male victims of sexual abuse, more than female victims, may fear loss of freedom and independence if the sexual abuse should be made public.
  •   Fear of reprisals from the offender plays a role in under-reporting.
  •   When boys are victimized, they tend to be blamed more for their abuse and are viewed as less in need of care and support.
  •   Boys fear negative judgment by family and friends.
  •   Embarrassment and/or confusion prevent male victims of sexual abuse from disclosing.


Some Statistics on Male Victims of Sexual Abuse

  • Within the past few years, North American researchers have found that one out of six boys is a victim of sexual abuse (Dorais, 2002, p. 162).
  • Researchers surveyed 1,213 grade 6 – 8 students at Toronto area schools on whether they had been a victim of unwanted sex behaviours in the previous 6 weeks: 22% of males reported having been victimized (Blackwell, 20023).
  • Canadian estimates have shown that there are close to five million male victims of sexual abuse, most of which are unwanted sexual touching (Matthews, 1996, p. 154).
  • In a Los Angeles Times poll conducted in 1990 with 2,626 men and women over 18 years of age, Finkelhor and Associates (19905) discovered that 16% of the men recalled a history of sexual abuse. The median age for these male victims was 9.9 years of age (as cited in Wiehe, 1998, p. 216).
  • According to Dorais (2002, p. 177) two trends are evident in the existing statistics on male victims of sexual abuse:
    •  the more recent the research, the higher the incidence of abuse
    • with growing awareness, more men seem willing to disclose
  • In one study of 30 male victims of sexual abuse, the average age at the first time of abuse was 8 years, 4 months (Dorais, 2002, p. 1848).
  • 32% of (or an estimated 4,519) child sexual abuse investigations conducted with Social Services Agencies in Canada in 1998 involved males. 16% of these investigations involved boys in the 4 – 7 age group (Trocme et al., 2001, p. 659).

(Sources-Holmes, W. C. & Slap, G.B. “Sexual Abuse of Boys: Definition, Prevalence, Sequelae, and Management”.Journal of the American Medical Association. 1998; 280 (21): 1855-1872);

Resources for Male Sexual Abuse (MSA) Survivors:

Male Survivor- A comprehensive site on male victimization, including a message board and healing weekends of recovery

1 in 6-A comprehensive site for men with histories of unwanted or abusive sexual experiences in childhood – and for people who care about them.

Sexual Abuse of Males: Statistics, Possible Lasting Effects & Resources-An information clearinghouse on MSA, run by psychotherapist (and founding member of 1 in 6) Jim Hopper

Stories of Silence- Website for the powerful documentary about MSA

Boys & Men Healing- Another powerful documentary about MSA, produced by Male Survivor


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