Prevalence of childhood sexual abuse

As indicated within the introduction to Part one, there is a developing picture of the extent of the problem of childhood sexual abuse of males. Research from Australia and the United States suggests that between:

1 in 6 and 1 in 10 males, and 1 in 3 and 1 in 4 females, are sexually abused before the age of 16.

— Finkelhor & Dzuiba-Leatherman, 2001; Dube, et al., 2005; Dunne, Purdie Cook, Boyle & Najman, 2003; Briere & Elliot, 2003; Tjaden and Thoennes, 2006; Finkelhor, et al., 2014.

The figure of between 1 in 6 and 1 in 10 is often quoted as general guide, in recognition that prevalence rates do vary across studies. In order to develop a more reliable and comprehensive picture of child sexual abuse of males, researchers have started to undertake meta analysis of available studies, and in the process to distinguish between sexual abuse that involves penetrative and non penetrative contact. For example, a 2012 review of Australian studies reported:

  • Male prevalence rates of 1%–8% percent for penetrative abuse, and 6%–16% for non-penetrative abuse.
  • Female prevalence rates of 4%–12% for penetrative abuse and 14%–36% for non-penetrative abuse (Price-Robertson, 2012).

Meta analysis of studies conducted over the past 20 years report prevalence rates of childhood sexual abuse of males of between 3–76%:

  • 5.1% – based on telephone surveys of youth in USA in 2003, 2008, 2011 (Finkelhor, Shattuck, Turner, & Hamby, 2014).
  • 3%-17% – Systematic review of 55 studies between 2002-2009 from 24 countries not including Australia or New Zealand (Barth, et al., 2013).
  • 8%-30% – Various international studies, including a meta analysis of 22 countries (Healy, 2011).
  • 4%-76% - Meta analysis of 166 studies of males sexually abused in childhood (Holmes & Slap, 1998).
  • 3%-29% – Analysis of 21 countries (Finkelhor, 1994).
  • 4%-31%- Australian study (Goldman & Padayachi, 1997).

Prevalence of child sexual abuse of males and females in a global context

The extent of the problem of child sexual abuse of males, and comparisons between male and female victimisation, is beginning to be examined across the globe, with reported rates of:

  • 7.9% of males, 19.7% of females (Across 22 countries. Pereda, et al., 2009).
  • 7.6% of males, 18% of females (331 Studies. Stoltenborgh, et al., 2011).
  • 8% of males, 15% of females (55 Studies from 24 Countries. Barth, et al., 2013).

Personal Safety Survey – Australia

The Personal Safety Survey in 2005 was the first national survey to attempt collection of statistics on a national level regarding the sexual victimisation of males. Prior to this, the Australian Bureau of Statistics (ABS) only collected data regarding sexual assaults via the Women’s Safety Survey. In 2005 the Personal Safety Survey identified:

  • 4.5% of men and 12% of women reported being sexually abused before the age of 15.
  • 5.5% of men reported experiencing sexual violence after the age of 15, compared to 19% of women.
  • 0.6% of males and 1.6% of females reported sexual assault or sexual threat in the past 12 months.
  • Both men (44%) and women (39%) reported sexual assault by a family member or friend in the most recent incident.
  • Men (33%) were more likely than women (22%) to experience sexual assault by a stranger in the most recent incident. (ABS, 2005).
Extended reading

Dube, S. R., et al. (2005). Long-term consequences of childhood sexual abuse by gender of victim. American Journal of Preventive Medicine, 28, 430-438. Download article pdf

Holmes, W. C. & Slap, G. B. (1998). Sexual abuse of boys: Definition, prevalence, correlates, sequelae, and management. JAMA, Dec 2, 280 (21), 1855-1162. Download article pdf

Australian Bureau of Statistics (2012). Personal Safety Survey.

Royal Commission: Final Report findings

Volume 2: Nature and Cause describes what the Royal Commission has learned about the nature and cause of child sexual abuse in institutional contexts. It includes one recommendation.


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Last modified: Tuesday, 13 February 2018, 3:23 PM