I’ve lost count of how many boys and young men I’ve encountered who were victims of childhood sexual abuse. It’s the nature of the job.
The typical perpetrator is male. The typical victim is female. And we have an image of both in our minds.
Such stereotypes of sexual abuse, whether they are accurate or not, can detract from good practice.
Professionals working with young people who are survivors of childhood sexual abuse (CSA) MUST think beyond the caricatures. We must reject the stereotypes.
Myths about males as victims of sexual abuse…
Those of us who work at helping such young people need to remain reflective and questioning of our own reflex thinking. If we don’t, we can end up believing the myths, too!
Here are a few myths that have crept into the public mind.
1. Boys don’t fall victim to sexual abuse…
There is something about the male-macho-myth that dilutes our thinking about boys as victims. We are sometimes reluctant to accept that they have all the same characteristics of girls a victims:
- They are little – they lack the physical power of their abusers. Adults easily exert physical power over their child victims – whether they are boys or girls.
- They are confused – adult or teenaged abusers have the advantage of greater knowledge. They have the power to play on the confusion of child victims. Whether they are boys or girls is immaterial.
- They are intimidated – physical size, psychological power, verbal erudition and the fear of doing something wrong are all things that perpetrators use against children – boys and girls.
The principle factor is that children lack power. Boys and girls equally. When young people or adults victimise children, the sex of the victim is immaterial.
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2. Boys are less harmed by abuse than girls…
Perhaps this is part of the male-macho-myth mentioned earlier. Somehow we expect boys to be more resilient. Is this reasonable?
Here are some of the moderating factors of harmed caused by abuse:
- Violation of trust – the relationship of the abuser to the victim and the degree of trust violation is one of the key features of how much harm victims suffer.
- Degree of violence – the amount and kind of violence used by the offender can contribute to the amount of trauma suffered. Pain, physical injury and/or the future threat of it, is extremely harmful. To boys and girls alike.
- Relationship to the abuser – there are unique challenges if the child is related to their abuser and the relationship is subjectively important to the child. The dichotomy of someone who cares for me a lot of the time, but then abuses me some of the time, is stark, unsettling and confusing.
- Duration of abuse – the longer the abuse continues and the more severe the behaviour is, the greater the problems suffered by victims. Again, this applies to both boys and girls.
There are a number of things that impact on the recovery problems victims suffer – none of them relates significantly to the sex of the child concerned.
3. Boys are abused by homosexual men…
There is an associated myth that boys abused by men must give out some kind of homosexual vibe that somehow “attracts” the man to abuse them. Neither is true.
- The sexual abuse of children is a category all of it’s own. It’s called paedophilia – a psychiatric disorder.
- Definition of paedophilia – The International Statistical Classification of Diseases and Related Health Problems (ICD-10) defines paedophilia as:
[callout]”A sexual preference for children, boys or girls or both, usually of prepubertal or early pubertal age.”[/callout]
- Men who abuse boys are no more homosexual than men who abuse girls are heterosexual; they are expressing a different sexual orientation altogether. A paraphilia – an atypical sexual orientation.
Boys who find themselves abused by males are no more to blame for putting out some kind of “gay vibe” than girls abused by men put out a “straight vibe.” The very thought is a nonsense. These are children being abused by adults.
There are a number of other myths, but these are a good starter-for-ten.
For me, the key lesson here is be aware of the reflex thinking that we all have. The place our mind goes first may not be the best or the most accurate.
Good practice requires us to keep thinking outside the box… Your thoughts?…
- What myths have you come across in your practice or personal experience?
- How can we work against these to keep the truth more in focus?
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© Jonny Matthew 2014