Topic outline

  • Prevalence & characteristics of sexual offending against males

    Statistics of childhood sexual abuse and adult sexual assault

    This module provides an overview of statistical and research data on the prevalence and characteristics of sexual abuse and sexual assault of males. The module content is designed to increase general awareness of the extent of the problem of child sexual abuse and adult sexual assault. It is proposed that increased knowledge and understanding of the different circumstances and contexts in which males can be sexually victimised will support preventative action and improve the quality of individual and service responses.

    Research over the past 40 years has highlighted that there are gendered patterns in the prevalence and characteristics of child sexual abuse and sexual assault. Although most early studies of child sexual abuse and sexual assault focused on females, there is now a developing body of literature examining and addressing the sexual victimisation of males. In focusing on males, a gender analysis is utilised that supports the inclusion of information relating to the sexual abuse of females, as a means to better understanding how gender influences the prevalence, characteristics, particular contexts and experience of sexual abuse or sexual assault, and how best to respond (Briere & Scott 2015). This gender analysis recognises that:

    “There are both similarities and differences in men’s and women’s experiences of sexual violence and that there is a need to create responsive, evidence-based policy initiatives and service provision that recognises, but does not amplify these” (Foster, Boyd & O’Leary, 2012).

    In seeking to develop a picture of the extent and circumstances of childhood sexual abuse and male sexual victimisation, it is noted up front that evidence suggests males are particularly reluctant to report childhood sexual abuse, both as a child and an adult (see Disclosure and Masculinity modules), and hence what is presented here is a developing body of knowledge and understanding.

    Module Overview


    Module overview

    Part One: Child Sexual Abuse of Males
    • Working definitions of childhood sexual abuse
    • Prevalence of childhood sexual abuse
    • Characteristics of sexual abuse of males
    Part Two: Sexual Assault of Adult Men
    Coming soon


  • Part one: Childhood sexual abuse of males

    From ‘Scoping study for research into the prevalence of child abuse in Australia: Prepared for the Royal Commission into Institutional Responses to Child Sexual Abuse.’ Mathews, Walsh, Dunne, et al., September 2016:

    “This review identified an urgent need for a prevalence study in Australia, which is one of the few developed countries where such a study has not been conducted” (2016:2).
    “There has been limited research into various forms of child abuse, neglect and other childhood adversity in Australia that can be considered representative of the general population” (2016: 6).

    In seeking to provide an overview of the prevalence of child sexual abuse of males, it is recognised, as indicated above, that there is limited research evidence available detailing the extent of the problem of child sexual abuse within the general population. In noting these limits, a discussion is presented of statistics and data sources before providing an introduction to current research knowledge.

    Types of data sources

    Research statistics are one way of developing a picture of the extent of the problem of childhood sexual abuse and sexual assault within a community. They can facilitate a better understanding of who is assaulted, where, when, what are potential risk factors, and where to direct resources to prevent further childhood sexual abuse or assault and ensure adequate support is available. Statistics can carry significant weight and influence for advocates and government policy makers when seeking to determine where to allocate limited resources. However, when reviewing available statistics on sexual assault, we need to be mindful.

    “At one level they can appear to provide an instant and accessible way of grasping the nature and extent of social issue. Yet any statistic has a complex methodological history, which effects how it can and should be used. This is important to remember when attempting to determine the extent of sexual assault. A range of factors such as barriers to disclosure, the low rate of reporting to police, varying definitions of sexual assault and abuse, and the complexity of recording and counting such information make this a particularly hidden type of violence.”

    — Tarczon & Quadara, 2012, p. 1.

    When seeking to establish an enhanced understanding of the problem of sexual assault, it is useful to treat statistics as a general guide; whatever the statistics say, every person and community will have their own particular story to tell.

    Statistical data is typically drawn from two types of sources: administrative data, and victimisation survey data. Each source uses a different method for collecting data, and there are limitations associated with each.

    1. Administrative data: Data that is extracted through systems responding to sexual assault (police, courts, corrections, or support services). This type of data may give a good indication of recorded crime figures, but it does not provide a reliable estimate in terms of prevalence, because the majority of sexual offences are not reported to police. There may be inconsistencies between collection and recording of information across or between sectors and jurisdictions. Also, police records are collected primarily for law enforcement and administration of justice (investigation and case management); statistical and management information are secondary uses of the data, and therefore the whole context in which the offences takes place may not be reflected in the data.
    2. Victimisation survey data: Surveys of the general public, including identified sexual assault victims, regardless of whether they report the offences to police. Limitations can include: excluding vulnerable or hard to reach groups; logistical and financial difficulties of conducting in-depth surveys or interviews; complexity in collating the data; and possible bias in the interpretation of survey questions and sampling variability (Tarczon & Quadara, 2012).
    Extended reading

    An extensive discussion of how to read and make sense of statistics relating to the sexual abuse of males can be found at Child abuse: Statistics, research and resources.

  • Part two: Sexual assault of adult men

    Coming soon.