Academic journal article Violence and Victims

Childhood Sexual Victimization among College Men: Definitional and Methodological Issues

Academic journal article Violence and Victims

Childhood Sexual Victimization among College Men: Definitional and Methodological Issues

Article excerpt

Little information exists on the childhood sexual victimization of males as it occurs in nonclinical samples. Employing a broad funnel-type of questionnaire methodology, the current study examined childhood sexual victimization in two samples of college men consisting of 253 and 329 students from a large Midwestern and Southeastern university, respectively. There was general consistency between the two samples in the prevalence and descriptive features of the abuse. However, different definitions of abuse generated markedly different outcomes in the data. Depending on the definition utilized, prevalence rates varied from 4% to 24% of the samples being defined as "abused." Moreover, the quality of experiences varied by definition. Using less restrictive definitions, the experiences reported by men were distinctively different from those reported in studies of college women or clinical samples of boys. This study identifies methodological and definitional issues as being critical to the study of childhood sexual victimization, particularly among males.

With the recent increase in research on child sexual abuse, the focus of research has broadened to include conceptual and methodological concerns. Further, as research findings have accumulated, the necessity for considering such definitional and methodological differences has been demonstrated by the considerable differences in even basic data-such as incidence or prevalence rates-generated through different methodologies.

Wyatt and Peters (1986a, b), in a review of four basic studies examining female child sexual abuse, suggested that the highly significant differences in prevalence rates obtained among these studies could be traced to the different definitional and methodological framing of research questions. Their review concluded with the need to consider more extensively the effect of these methodological and conceptual variations on findings on child sexual abuse. However, their review was limited, as is much of the research, to consideration of the sexual abuse of females. Overall, very little attention has been directed to the sexual abuse of males and there have been, to date, no published reports of the empirical consequences of variations in definitional and methodological framing in these research questions addressed to males.

Finkelhor (1984), in his review of the literature on the sexual abuse of males, makes note of the particular difficulty in adequately defining male child sexual abuse. He remarks that a priori assumptions involving the presumed nature of sexual abuse with boys, specifically presumptions of more self-initiated sexual behavior and less negative impact, may have considerable impact on researchers' orientation to investigating the area. Additionally, these assumptions may be contributing to the paucity of research on male child sexual abuse.

Not only have there been few studies examining the childhood sexual abuse of males in nonclinical samples, but the research to date on male child sexual abuse is characterized by less methodological sophistication and rigor than the recent research on females. This is particularly evident in reviewing the variety of methodologies and operational definitions of abuse used in the few studies of male child sexual abuse employing nonclinical samples.

As can be seen in Table 1, there is considerable variation in the prevalence rates reported in previous studies involving nonclinical samples of men. Part of this variation seems attributable to sample and methodological differences. In general, although the framing and number of sexual abuse questions vary, studies involving college samples tend to use similar methodological approaches. For example, all of the college studies listed in Table 1 used a questionnaire approach. More methodological variations were evident in nonclinical samples that did not involve college students. Kercher and McShane (1984) mailed out questionnaires to a random sample of people with Texas driver's licenses. …

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