Myth or fact? Sexual abuse is less harmful to boys than girls.
When we teach adults how to protect children from child sexual abuse, we start with "Learn the facts." Here's the first fact: The long term consequences for victims of child sexual abuse are nearly identical regardless of gender, according to a number of recent studies.
Our societal perception frequently does not recognize this when it comes to women abusing boys. In this regard, a very important discussion was presented in a recent Statesman article between the Ada County prosecutor and the judge in a case regarding the abuse of eight teenage boys by a 35-year-old mother in Kuna.
According to the article, the judge disagreed with the prosecutor, who argued that female perpetrators are "treated more leniently than men and that boys (abused by women) are somehow considered 'lucky.'" The judge concluded that "there is a difference" between boys abused by women and girls abused by men. "I have a problem articulating what the difference is," he said.
Unfortunately, this perception that there is a difference can lead to irreparable harm for male victims. According to the authors of an authoritative study reported in the American Journal of Preventive Medicine, sexual abuse significantly increases the risk of developing health and social problems - such as drug and alcohol abuse, mental illness, and marital strife - in both men and women. A history of suicide attempts was more than twice as likely among both male and female victims as among non-victims.
For boys abused by women there is also much social stigma and confusion associated with telling anyone about the abuse. According to Dr. Janet Rosenzweig in her excellent book, "The Sex-Wise Parent," "because sexual arousal is autonomic and a relatively easy response to elicit from an adolescent male, a boy may think he chose to engage in a sexual act, simply because of the physical response." Lost to him is the idea that sex requires mutual consent that is both intellectual and emotional.
In the case reported in the Statesman, the perpetrator was punished and the boys were able to tell their stories. Too often that is not the case. Unrecognized and unexamined the effects of abuse will shape the adults they become in unhealthy ways and make it difficult for them to have healthy relationships and build strong families.
As Rosenzweig reports, "The earliest sexual experiences often form the foundation for lifelong associations with sexual behavior. These boys may now have sexuality strongly associated with emotions other than love, respect and affection which are the foundations of building a strong family."
And here's the last fact: We know that one in six boys is sexually abused by the time he is 18. It is up to adults to stop it now. We can start by recognizing that our boys are damaged when more powerful adults abuse their position for their own gratification.
Roger Sherman is the executive director of Idaho Children's Trust Fund the state affiliate of Prevent Child Abuse America.