Sexual Abuse of Boys v Girls

Watkins, B. & Bentovim, A. (1992). The sexual abuse of male children and adolescents: a review of current research. Journal of Clinical Psychology & Psychiatry, 33(10), 197-248.


  • The subject of sexual abuse of the boy child is a very well kept secret
  • All conclusions of research must be interpreted with caution
  • The obvious cases are easy to recognize
  • No one knows the extent of those cases kept secret
  • Reasons for the secrecy surrounding the topic of the sexual abuse of boys is:
    • Girls (not boys) are typically regarded as sexual beings
    • It may be terrible to think that girls are sexually abused, but after all, they are girls
  • No one would sexually abuse a boy because boys are not sexually appealing


  • The abuser is generally at least 5 years older than the victim
  • Not too many years ago it was thought that girls were abused in far excess of boys and a ratio of 9:1 was suggested
  • This ratio, whatever it is, has been narrowing either with more abuse of the boy or more accurate recognition

Boys may react differently to sexual abuse

  • Boys may have a greater tendency to “act out” (externalize) their emotional with disruptive behaviors
  • Girls may have a greater tendency to “act in” (internalize) and become anxious or depressed

Reporting of Sexual Abuse-

  • Under-reporting is the rule
  • It is consistent and universal
  • Clinicians, teachers, parents may be ignorant
  • The child is immature & doesn’t understand

Blaming the Boys-

Under-reporting may be linked to boys being seen as not needing protection:

  • “Boys are tough”
  • “Boys don’t need protection”

Girls, on the other hand, are often blamed for the abuse especially by the abuser:

“Seductive child syndrome”

Child-Child Abuse-

This could be:

  • Cousin-cousin incest
  • Adolescent-child sexual abuse
  • Sibling incest
  • Sibling incest may be the most common form of incest
  • DeJong (1989) described a boy, whose abuse stopped by the age of 9 months; At 25 months this same boy was demonstrating sexual aggressiveness toward other children.
  • Girls, in child-child incest or sexual abuse, tend to molest two boys for every girl
  • It appears that girl cousins are twice as likely to abuse a boy relative than are brothers
  • It appears that a majority of sexual offenders begin their ‘careers’ in adolescence

Nature of Abuse-

  • Boys are more likely to be subjected to anal abuse than girls
  • Girls are likely to be anally abused when young and around 10 years of age the abuse tends to be vaginal
  • Boys are anally abused approximately equally at all ages
  • Anal abuse should be easier to identify

General Initial Effects of Sexual Abuse-

  • Confusion or anxiety over sexual identity
  • Inappropriate attempts to reassert masculinity
  • Recapitulation of the victimizing experience

Sexual Identity Confusion-

  • Victims, even at a young age, tend to show considerable concern over their gender identity
  • Some research shows that boys who were sexually molested by older men were four times more likely to be engaged in homosexual activity than non-victims
  • There appears to be a greater chance that boys who were molested by males would identify themselves as homosexuals than those molested by females
  • Adolescents often link their sexual victimization to their homosexuality
  • Only a minority of adult homosexuals report a homosexual experience in childhood
  • Only a minority of homosexuals have a sexual interest in children

Note: Fear of being perceived as perverted may significantly contribute to non-disclosure

Reasserting Masculinity-

  • Inappropriate attempts to reassert masculinity is perhaps the most common behavioral reaction of boy victims of sexual abuse; picking fights; destructiveness; marked disobedience; hostile or confrontative attitude
  • The male victim of sexual abuse is more likely to turn his rage outward in aggressive and antisocial behavior
  • Sexual abuse of the boy seems to be part of a legacy of rage
  • There may be a tendency for male victims of sexual abuse to recapitulate their own victimization, only this time in the role of perpetrator and someone else the victim

Patterns of Abuse-

  • Boys are usually younger than girls at first sexual abuse
  • Boys are least likely to present with their complaints of sexual abuse during adolescence when compared to girls
  • Boys are more likely to also be victims of physical abuse along with the sexual abuse
  • Boys are more likely to be abused forcefully than girls

Patterns of Discovery-

  • Boys are usually less willing to tell someone compared to sexually abused girls
  • Sexually abused boys are more commonly discovered via third parties, like sisters or cousins, than girls

Nature of Abuse-

  • Sexually abused boys usually have more physical findings
  • In the initial contact of boys there appears to be less fondling of boys (may more often get down to the real abusive act)
  • Boys experience less masturbatory abuse
  • Boys may experience more orogenital abuse
  • Boys do experience more anal abuse
  • Boys may experience more repetitive abuse
  • The severity of abuse in boys is usually greater
  • Boys less recognized as victims


  • Boys and girls equally likely to be abused by an extrafamilial individual
  • Boys and girls equally likely to be abused by strangers
  • Adolescent abusers more often chose boys as victims
  • Fathers more than stepfathers sexually abuse boys
  • Females are more likely to chose a boy than a girl to sexually abuse
  • It appears that when the abuser is a professional person, they may chose a boy over a girl
  • It appears that if the father is unemployed, he may chose the boy rather than the girl

Families of the Abused Boy-

  • The families in which a boy is being sexually abused is probably less likely to be African-American
  • It is more likely that the family where the boy is being abused will not be headed by a father

Service Response to Boys-

  • The boy is perceived as needing protection less often than girl
  • Sexually abused boys are provided less treatment than girls
  • Boy victims are less often removed from the family than girls

Initial Effects-

  • Boys, like girls, usually respond to abuse with sexualization (cross-dressing, etc.)

Longer Term Effects-

  • Male child/adolescent perpetrators have a frequent history of previous sexual abuse
  • Adult sex offenders often have history of previous sexual abuse
  • Sexually abused boys later have greater sexual identity confusion and increased likelihood of homosexuality
  • Sexually abused boys tend to have self-esteem and/or greater sexual dysfunction compared to non-abused males
  • They have an increased tendency towards compulsive sexuality
  • Self-report less psychological harm than non-abused boys
  • Abused boys have a greater prevalence of depression compared to non-abused males
  • They have more suicidal feelings than non-abused boys
  • They have an increased prevalence of anxiety disorders
  • They have more relationship problems

See also “Characteristics Observed In Male Sexual Abuse Victims

Courtesy of & ©1995 Andrews University, Berrien Springs, MI


Sexual Abuse of Boys v Girls — 1 Comment

Leave a Reply