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The Sexual Abuse of Boys

Zero Tolerance, Scotland

Current studies tell us that 1 in 6 boys will be molested before the age of 18 and that 85% of the time, the child will know his abuser. These figures fly in the face of what many of us think we know and certainly what we are comfortable with; however, experts in the field of the sexual abuse of children agree that if anything, these figures are low. The sexual abuse of children in general is widely underreported, tragically the abuse of little boys is even more so.

We have been brain-washed with the stereotype of the dirty, sneaky stranger hiding in the alley or bushes waiting to ambush our children. We tell ourselves that a good parent needs to teach their children to stay away from strangers and keep the doors locked and all will, presumably, be well; in other words, we know what child molesters look like. Far too often the molester is the parent, grandparent, sibling, uncle, step-parent, cousin, neighbor, babysitter, coach, scout leader or spiritual leader; not the folks we’re likely to be locking outside the door. Sixty percent of child molesters are the father or the father-figure in the child’s life and he is definitely inside the door.

The overwhelming majority of child sexual abusers are adult heterosexual males who are married and maintain normal adult responsibilities and relationships within their community. They are not homosexual (exclusively attracted to the same sex) or Pedophiles (exclusively attracted to prepubescent children) and they are not mentally ill. Adult female sexual abusers comprise a much smaller but significant percent of the total abuser population and generally fall within one of two groups: a blood relative who, interestingly, is frequently mentally disturbed or a woman in a position of authority who engages in an “affair” with the male child, such as a teacher. In other words, we cannot spot a child molester from a mile away, or even from the next room.

The sexual orientation of boys has nothing to do with the sexual orientation of the offender or the victim. Molestation is not an expression of healthy sexuality; it is a crime that is motivated by a need to control, humiliate, and harm another. Victims are frequently chosen out of convenience (easy and continuing access) which is the major reason why so many molestations occur in the victim’s or offender’s home. Sexual abuse is abuse of power over a child and a violation of a child’s right to normal, healthy, trusting relationships.

Boys can have a particularly tough time disclosing their abuse because our society tends to feminize victimization: to be a victim is to be powerless. The very adults the child needs to be able to trust and confide in (his parents) may be the very people who are perpetuating the myth that boys must be tough and that to be a man means to be strong. A boy is more likely to feel that he will not be believed if/when he does disclose because boys are often taught to keep all emotion, with the exception of anger, in check: “Suck it up,” “Don’t act like a little girl,” “Big boys don’t cry.” etc. Although parents may not intend for their misguided lessons to be taken to the extreme of including disclosing sexual abuse, little children may fail to see the distinction.

Often times the child victim is too young to recognize their victimization for what it is and/or to be able to put it into words. The fondling may feel good, similar to the warm feeling one derives from hugging and cuddling to the child, the human body can have a physical reaction that the brain is not capable of distinguishing: the average age of a male child victim is only four. Because the fondling may be physically pleasurable, the male survivor must often deal later with confusion concerning his own sexual orientation, not understanding or having been taught that molestation has nothing to do with the sexual orientation of either his perpetrator or himself.

Should the molester be a female, the boy may meet with ridicule because he did not enjoy “scoring” on his initiation into “manhood.” He is likely to be nauseated that his body was violated and used by a female he should have been able to respect and trust such as his mother, sister, grandmother or teacher. Our society persists in teaching boys that men are the sexual aggressors. This arcane notion places a child victim of an older woman’s sexual violation in a double bind. If it felt physically good then it couldn’t have been abuse, but if it didn’t feel good then the child must be a homosexual. The child is put in a no-win situation.

The sad, but simple truth is that we are not talking about sex, but the sexual abuse of a child: if I hit you over the head with a frying pan you probably wouldn’t call it cooking. An adult male who abuses little girls is not engaging in heterosexual sexual behavior; he is sexually abusing little girls. The same is true when the victim is a little boy. The issues of anger, hostility, entitlement, and power are the same: the effects are equally harmful. The question, then, is not one of homosexuality or heterosexuality, but of the sexual abuse and its results on the child.

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