The Scars of Sexual Abuse in Boys and Men

July 8, 2019
As much as we like to think we're a progressive society that has destigmatized many things, we still haven't gotten that far when it comes to the sexual abuse of boys. In fact, we still don't have clear statistics of this problem that has been hushed up for so many years.

The sexual abuse of boys is one of the most hushed-up horrors in recent history. Although this is something that also happens to girls, statistics show that the abuse of boys is something worth studying more in detail. Many people are surprised when they discover that it’s quite common.

A study conducted in Australia estimated that 1 in 11 boys and 1 in 4 girls have been victims of some form of child sexual abuse. The overwhelming majority of abusers are male (97%) and so are many of the victims. In fact, about 26% of all victims of sexual abuse are boys and men.

Similar studies conducted in the United States have yielded very similar results. That isn’t very encouraging. Many victims of sexual abuse carry the experience with them throughout their lives. It’s a burden they can’t shake off. It’s also a form of trauma that isn’t always obvious. They don’t feel good, but can’t figure out why.

Women are painfully, progressively standing up in the culture of silence surrounding this kind of sexual abuse. But there are still many stigmas with men who have been abused, and only now are some starting to report the things that happened to them as children.

A boy sitting against a brick wall with his face in his arms.

The Culture of Silence

It’s extremely difficult for boys or men who experienced sexual abuse as children to talk about it. In our patriarchal world, boys believe that if they don’t grow into a position of power, they’re weak and won’t survive.

It takes a deep, deep level of fragility for men to accept a role as a victim. It means entering an emotional territory that, in most cases, no one has ever showed them how to explore. This is one of the cruelest aspects of the way we raise boys from the time they’re really small.

When a man admits that he has been a victim of sexual abuse, he’s opening his “manhood” up to attack, disbelief, and doubts about his sexual orientation. It’s like twice the pain. Boys tend to react with disbelief to abuse too. It’s extremely hard for them to accept that “that” really happened to them. Their immediate thought is that no one will believe them.

The Power of Sexual Abuse of Boys

The sexual abuse of boys isn’t always about the abuser seeking pleasure. In many cases, it’s just an act of control, humiliation, and power over the victim. When those victims are male, the trauma often leaves a deep wound in regard to their sexual identity, masculinity, and future relationships. They’re also wounds that don’t scar over easily.

Sexual violence isn’t just physical either. Psychological abuse and the stigma that comes with having been abused are often worse for the survivor than the physical abuse itself. You have to understand that this type of violence is about power in order to see the real damage it causes boys and men.

The abuser uses violence against a boy as a display of their power as an adult. They always do it along the fine line of the victim’s inability to clearly determine the difference between sex with and without consent. 

That leads to an overwhelming feeling of guilt in the boy. He would need a much greater level of emotional maturity to process it than he currently has. That’s what makes this experience so damaging and dangerous.

The Hidden Terrors of a Vicious Patriarchy

A lot of people have a hard time understanding that sexual abuse by men, against men, is an extension of patriarchal domination. In many cases, we think of it as a system that gives men power over women. What it really does is give them power over the weak and the helpless.

It’s a dangerous game that our culture has continued to hide for far too long. It’s a system that we need to stop fighting along the lines of gender and start fighting as human beings. At the end of the day, the system is harmful to both men and women.

A man sitting down in a tunnel with his face in his hands.

Psychological Scars

The psychological scars left on boys who have been sexually abused have some things in common with the scars of girls who have gone through it too. Depression is an almost immediate reaction in both cases. Feelings of guilt and low self-esteem are also quick to show up.

Self-esteem levels go way down in cases of sexual abuse. If it never comes to light and, even worse, if it keeps happening, the feelings of shame, dirtiness, pain, abandonment, and powerlessness only keep growing. The child is living in a world that they can’t control, and there’s nothing they can do to stop this person from attacking them.

If you think about how this is also happening during a critical part of their development, you can see why the consequences are so devastating. When the victim is a child, you have all the things above, on top of countless social pressures and patterns of conditioning that prevent them from accepting that they’ve been abused. 

In many cases, it also creates a deep wound in their sexual identity, which they aren’t always able to heal. All these things work together to stop them from starting their healing process. Meanwhile, the trauma will keep worsening over time.