Sexual Abuse in Male Children and Adolescents: Indicators, Effects, and Treatments

Article excerpt

INTRODUCTION

Matthew was a frail, shy child who had difficulty relating with peers, boys and girls alike. He was especially fearful of adults, having been raised in a strict and puritanical home. His interpersonal difficulties led to his being a "loner." At about the age of eight, he was lured into a neighborhood garage by two teenagers who raped and sexually abused him. Matthew was thoroughly confused and overcome by this brutal experience. The sexual abuse by the two teenagers continued for three years. By age eleven, Matthew's family moved to another state and the sexual abuse was terminated.

Throughout the period of sexual abuse, Matthew remained silent because of threats made by the perpetrators. Finally, at age 23, Matthew was able to reveal his experiences to a college counselor. The effects of the abuse are still felt by Matthew, who is in the late stages of early adulthood.

This paper focuses on the experiences of Matthew and others like him: the sexual abuse of male children and adolescents.

INCIDENCE

Crimes involving all types of sexual trauma go largely unreported due to the secretive nature of the offense and the implied collusion that is forced upon victims by their perpetrators and passively encouraged by societal denial (Porter, 1986; Summit, 1988). The incidence of sexual abuse of male children and adolescents is especially "invisible"; it is the lowest reported form of child abuse in the United States (Schultz & Jones, 1983). Its prevalence has been reported to range between 3% and 31% (Finkelhor, Araji, Baron, Browne, Peters, & Wyatt, 1986), while the number of new cases occurring each year throughout the U.S. has risen steadily (Dimock, 1988). Finkelhor (1984) estimates that 46,000 to 92,000 male children under the age of 13 are sexually molested each year. Other estimates suggest that 3% to 9% of males in the general population have been sexually victimized as children or adolescents (Briere, Evans, Runtz, & Wall, 1988), and that they comprise from 11% to 47% of all sexual abuse victims (Singer, 1989; Wyatt & Powell, 1988). Actual reports total a small fraction of this number (Schultz & Jones, 1983). Responsibility for this underreporting is shared by both the victims and those in the helping professions, and is supported by societal attitudes. Much that goes unreported is initially a function of the boys' embarrassment or fear of social stigma--a consequence of our homophobic society (Porter, 1986; Sebold, 1987; Singer, 1989)--or results from the victims' use of repression as a coping mechanism (Singer, 1989), which is also in compliance with unspoken societal expectations (Porter, 1986). Helping professionals may unintentionally contribute to the underreporting of cases by not asking direct questions at the right time. Whenever a female child is found to have been sexually molested, not only should her sisters be regarded as potential victims, but also her brothers.

In a comparison of substantiated child sexual abuse cases, Pierce and Pierce (1985) found that young male victims tended to be from larger families, to be abused by their stepfathers, and to have suffered more threats and use of force by their assailants than young female victims. Rogers and Terry (1984) reported that force was used in half of the sexual assault cases in their clinical sample, although boys were 14% more likely to be threatened with physical harm as a means of gaining compliance. Once identified, fewer males than females were removed from their abusive homes, and females were more likely to receive counseling.

Faller (1989) reports that male subjects in her investigation of sexually abused children were older at the onset of the sexual abuse than were female subjects. They were also more likely to have come from a middle-class background than were females (46% versus 20.5%). Proportions of intra- and extrafamilial sexual abuse for both male and female victims in this study mirrored nationally reported estimates, with 23% of the boys and 14% of the girls having been abused outside of the family. …