In part two of GET DOWN’s series Protecting Our Boys, we take a specific look at male child sexual abuse (CSA) and the myths, stigma and facts. Is male CSA under reported, if so, why don’t more young males come forward? Does male CSA often end up the punch line in popular culture? Does society play a role in stigmatizing a young man who comes forward? Take a read.
In this day and age we find that evolution is taking place in dramatic ways. Many taboo subjects around sexuality, sexualization, and sexual behavior are finally being had. Many things that have been lurking in the shadows and hidden in the deep forest of many a people minds are now coming into the light. With the late 2010 admission by movie titan Tyler Perry of his childhood sexual and physical abuse on The Oprah Winfrey Show and a much discussed special show followed with an audience of 200 male survivors of abuse and the recent spate of brutal accusations from many alleged victims of Penn State’s Jerry Sandusky and Syracuse basketball coach Bernie Fine, male childhood sexual abuse is beginning to take front and center. Many young men are being abused in churches, synagogues, youth programs, sports teams, and even at home. In fact the latest statistic estimates 1 in 6 young males have been sexually abused in the United States as of 2005. This is a shock to many as the focus has generally been placed on young girls. Many individuals have also tried placing blame solely on and person’s sexual orientation as a way to consciously deal with the epidemic, and finally the effects of male sexual abuse can have a lasting debilitating effect on the victim.
Studies of male college students have found prevalence rates from 4.8% to 28%. At the lower extreme of 4.8% is a study by Fritz, Stoll and Wagner (1981) in which 412 students responded to a self-report questionnaire that required them to label their experiences as "abusive" -- a method guaranteed to cause under-reporting. Risin and Koss (1987) obtained a rate of 7.3% in a national sample of 2,972 male college students. They used eight self-report behavioral descriptions about sexual behaviors before age 14. As pure behavioral descriptions, none of the items included the word "abuse." Finkelhor (1979) used a similar list of behavioral self-report items in a study of 266 college students and found an 8.3% prevalence rate; he included non-contact experiences and used specific age criteria (if under 14 there had to be a 5 year age difference with the perpetrator, if 14-15, a 10 year difference). Needless to say these outcomes were a shock and very difficult for some people to accept.
The effects of male childhood sexual abuse can be lasting for the victims. The list of possible outcomes can include anger, fear, sexuality issues, helplessness, isolation alienation, legitimacy, loss, masculinity issues, negative childhood peer relations, negative schemas about people, negative schemas about the self, problems with sexuality, self blame/guilt, and shame/humiliation. These feelings and emotions can lead to unhealthy behaviors including anxiety, depression, dissociation, hostility/anger, impaired relationships, low self-esteem, sexual dysfunction, sleep disturbance, suicidal ideas and behaviors.
There are several myths about male childhood sexual abuse that are prevalent (Pamphlet: CSA: The Facts).
Myth #1: Boys and men can’t be victims
This myth, instilled through masculine gender socialization and sometimes referred to as the "macho image," declares that males, even young boys, are not supposed to be victims or even vulnerable.
Myth #2: Most sexual abuse of boys is perpetrated by homosexual males
Peodphiles who molest boys are not expressing a homosexual orientation any more than pedophiles who molest girls are practicing heterosexual behaviors. While many child molesters have gender and/or age preferences, of those who seek out boys, the vast majority are not homosexual. They are pedophiles.
Myth #3: If a boy experiences sexual arousal or orgasm from abuse, this means he was a willing participant or enjoyed it
In reality, males can respond physically to stimulation (get an erection) even in traumatic or painful sexual situations. Many survivors feel guilt and shame because they experienced physical arousal while being abused. Physical (and visual or auditory) stimulation is likely to happen in a sexual situation. It does not mean that the child wanted the experience or understood what it meant at the time.
Myth #4: Boys are less traumatized by the abuse experience than girls
Some studies have found males to be less negatively affected, more studies show that long term effects are quite damaging for either sex. Males may be more damaged by society's refusal or reluctance to accept their victimization, and by their resultant belief that they must "tough it out" in silence.
Myth #5: Boys abused by males are or will become homosexual
While there are different theories about how the sexual orientation develops, experts in the human sexuality field do not believe that premature sexual experiences play a significant role in late adolescent or adult sexual orientation.
Myth #6: The "Vampire Syndrome" that is, boys who are sexually abused, like the victims of Count Dracula, go on to "bite" or sexually abuse others.
This myth is especially dangerous because it can create a terrible stigma for the child, that he is destined to become an offender. Boys might be treated as potential perpetrators rather than victims who need help. While it is true that most perpetrators have histories of sexual abuse, it is NOT true that most victims go on to become perpetrators. Again, the majority of victims do not go on to become adolescent or adult perpetrators; and those who do perpetrate in adolescence usually don't perpetrate as adults if they get help when they are young.
Myth #7: If the perpetrator is female, the boy or adolescent should consider himself fortunate to have been initiated into heterosexual activity.
In reality, premature or coerced sex, whether by a mother, aunt, older sister, baby-sitter or other female in a position of power over a boy, causes confusion at best, and rage, depression or other problems in more negative circumstances. To be used as a sexual object by a more powerful person, male or female, is always abusive and often damaging.
Above: Controversial Saturday Night Live skit based on Penn State and Syracuse sex abuse scandals.
Believing these myths is dangerous and damaging.
So long as society believes these myths, and teaches them to children from their earliest years, sexually abused males will be unlikely to get the recognition and help they need.
So long as society believes these myths, sexually abused males will be more likely join the minority of survivors who perpetuate this suffering by abusing others.
So long as boys or men who have been sexually abused believe these myths, they will feel ashamed and angry.
And so long as abused males believe these myths they reinforce the power of another devastating myth that all abused children struggle with: that it was their fault. It is never the fault of the child in a sexual situation - though perpetrators can be quite skilled at getting their victims to believe these myths and take on responsibility that is always and only their own.
-- J. Marshall Evans, AASECT, ACS, CHS
STAR Project Coordinator
(n.d.). Pamphlet: CSA: The Facts .