June 24, 2021

Sexual Assault of Boys: More Prevalent and More Damaging Than You Think

It is difficult for male victims of sexual assault to open up. After all, ours is a society that views silent stoicism as the masculine ideal — even in children — and victims are often reluctant to expose that façade.

Suppressing that pain comes with consequences. Not only does it make it harder for other male victims to come forward — masking the problem at a societal level — but it reduces the likelihood that victims will seek the help they need.

A 2009 study of 705 male survivors in Virginia found that only 15.4 percent sought counseling, despite being 3.4 times more likely to suffer from depression than non-victims and 2.4 times more likely to have suicidal thoughts.

Nor does it always end with suicidal thoughts. According to a 2005 report published in the American Journal of Preventative Medicine, male and female victims of childhood sexual abuse were more than twice as likely to attempt suicide after the experience. The retrospective study of more than 17,000 participants also found that childhood victims were 40-50 percent more likely to experience relationship problems, and were 40 percent more likely to marry an alcoholic.

A Prevalence Problem

Sadly, this is not an isolated problem. The grim reality is that roughly one out of every twelve males will be sexually assaulted before the age of 18. Exact figures are hard to come by, due to the reluctance of victims to come forward; national estimates range from as low as 14.2 percent of boys in one 2003 report to as high as 16 percent, according to a 2005 report by the Centers for Disease Control (these and other related statistics are available on the website of the victim advocacy group 1in6).

To better confront the problem, it’s important to know what signs to look for. Odd behavior can be a clue, with victims sometimes refusing to eat, having trouble swallowing, displaying violent mood swings, describing or depicting sexual scenes, showing regressive behavior, or attempting to recreate the experience with other children or with their toys.

Overall, sexual abuse of boys is believed to be “common, underreported, underrecognized, and undertreated,” according to one JAMA report.  Only through knowing the signs, reporting suspicious interactions and destigmatizing victimhood can this scourge be properly fought.

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Josh Gillispie