Characteristics of child sexual abuse: Similarities and differences in experience and contexts
Whilst there are no typical circumstances in which childhood sexual abuse of males occurs, evidence suggest that, compared to girls, boys may be more likely to be:
- Subjected to extra familial abuse.
- Sexually abused in the offender's home, institution or public place.
- Sexually abused by a peer or someone closer in age to them, including their siblings, cousins, other relatives, and fellow residents in institutions.
- Sexually abused around witnesses.
- Sexually abused by a female or male and female together.
- (Faller 1989; Finkelhor 1990; Gold et al 1998; Gordon 1990; Hunter 1991; Romano and De Luca 2001; Thomlison et al 1991; Kendall-Tackett and Simon 1992; Levesque 1994; Dube et al 2005; Crome 2006; Richards 2011; Romano and De Luca 2001).
Cashmore and Shackel (2014) note there is some evidence that the sexual abuse of boys can involve:
- more violence and physical harm, with threats of force and physical harm increasing with age and male perpetration.
- victimisation by multiple perpetrators.
- repeated penetrative acts, oral intercourse, anal-genital contact, and masturbation.
- (Pierce and Pierce 1985; Gordon 1990; Thomlison et al 1991; Dhaliwal et al 1996; Holmes & Slap, 1998; Romano and De Luca 2001; Steever, Follette and Naugle 2001; Fogler at al 2008; Coohey 2010;. Maikovich-Fong and Jaffee 2010; Bilginer, Hesapçioglu and Kandil 2013).
The Royal Commission into Institutional Responses to Childhood Sexual Abuse found:
- The sexual abuse of boys may involve more physical violence and harm,
- Adolescent boys may be more likely to receive abuse from multiple perpetrators, and
- Ongoing abuse within the Anglican church may be more common for boys.
It also states that, 'These features of violence, duration and multiple perpetrators have been linked to more negative mental health outcomes', (p. 46, The Royal Commission Final Report, Vol. 3: Impacts).
The gender of the person perpetrating sexual abuse or sexual assault is of particular significance for males and females who have been victimised. It influences how they make sense of the offences, their willingness to speak about what happened, how others understand and respond, what the criminal and legal ramifications are, and the types of support that is available. In some instances, in order to highlight that sexual violence is a 'gendered crime', research evidence relating to the sexual abuse of males and females is brought together to emphasise that it is overwhelmingly men that commit sexual offences, which it is. However, this collapsing together limits opportunities to explore the similarities and differences in the experience of females and males, the contexts and circumstances in which there is an increased risk of victimisation for each, and to address these in order to prevent future offending. For example, in the research conducted by Dube et al (2005), males acting alone were predominantly responsible for sexual offending against males and females. However, females acting alone made up only 2.1% of sexual offending against females, yet 20% of reported sexual offending against males.
In seeking to better understand patterns of offending, it is useful to keep in mind that males are not a homogeneous group, that some males and groups of males are at significantly greater risk of child sexual abuse, in particular if a male:
- has a learning, intellectual or physical disability.
- is Aboriginal or Torres Strait Islander.
- is subjected to other forms of maltreatment in the home.
- comes from an impoverished and/or single-parent family.
- is same sex attracted.
- spends time in an institutional setting (Crome, 2006; ABS, 2005).
Evidence from the Royal Commission into Institutional Responses to Child Sexual Abuse has highlighted sexual offending against males within institutional settings by those in a position of authority like priests and religious ministers, teachers, sports coaches, counsellors, scout leaders etc. It has highlighted the extensive sexual abuse committed within state and church run homes, juvenile detention centres, schools, Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander missions, clubs, the defence forces, disability care homes, churches, etc. The following sections of this module details some of the tactics of those committing child sexual abuse and the characteristics of offending in different contexts.
Tactics of abuse
'Tactics of abuse' is a term used to refer to the ways in which those who commit sexual offences facilitate the abuse, keep it hidden, and subsequently seek to control and silence those they have abused. Some people use the term 'grooming' to describe this process. The tactics of abuse operate at the level of the relationship between the person who commits the abuse and the person they abuse, the particular circumstances in which they are engaging with the child (including institutional environment), and the social context in which the child and offending person live, with its set of cultural beliefs and understandings about sex, gender, sexuality, and sexual abuse. (Included here is some basic information on tactics of abuse, a more comprehensive module on sexual offending is in development).
Tactics of abuse range from overt threats and violence to more subtle forms of emotional and environmental manipulation. This can vary depending on the type of relationship – for example, whether the offender is a stranger or someone known, like an older sibling, teacher, or religious authority. In many instances, there will be no overt signs of violence or force used. Instead, the child's compliance is gained through fear and manipulation. Offenders may exploit the child's natural or learned tendency to trust and obey adults. They might spend a long time developing apparently nurturing relationships with the child, and sometimes with the child's family. A person might cultivate an image as someone who is 'good with children', trustworthy, and reliable, and seek out employment or voluntary work that provides opportunities for access to children as 'part of the role'.
In some instances, the offending may occur in a context where the person took advantage of a particular situation. The sexual offending may be opportunistic, with limited pre-planning. However, the limited the contact or planning prior to the assault may involve considerable efforts to cover up what was done and to ensure the child's silence. In some instances, the offending involves an outright attack, using fear and force to overwhelm the child's resources, and to ensure compliance with little or no communication. In some instances, the person offending can tell themselves that this is a mutual relationship and exploration, and that they are not harming the child. The person committing the abuse sometimes works to produce a sense of shared interest or complicity. This can leave boys and men feeling that they somehow consented or went along with the abuse and hence have a shared responsibility, guilt, and shame to carry.
Whilst workers have a role in providing information and support in the form of 'psycho-education' on common 'grooming' tactics and practices of those who commit sexual offences, this is to be done with care. Care needs to be taken that this information provision fits with the person's particular experience of victimisation – for instance, it might have been an opportunistic assault by a peer. Also, that any information sharing is not experienced as an imposition by an alternative powerful authority figure that discounts the understanding and meaning making of the boy or man who has been assaulted.
- Creating a special relationship, sharing private information, being there to listen, showing love and affection, offering encouragement and support, helping with homework or personal difficulties, separating from family and friends.
- Offering gifts, presents, or treats; taking to special events or activities; giving money; taking on holidays. (It is useful to note that taking of gifts or treats does not mean a child is responsible for sexual activity).
- Making the relationship, physical and sexual contact 'our little secret'; suggesting the relationship will end if someone finds out or that someone will get in trouble (child, family member, friend); suggesting the person offending might get in trouble and be taken away or to prison and that the child 'would not want to be responsible for that would they'.
- Imposing a sense of fear or potential harm to the child or someone close to them if the behaviour ceases or the child does not comply.
The task of exposing these tricks and 'tactics of abuse' is best undertaken as a process of collaborative enquiry with the person who has been abused. In providing basic information and psycho-education about the tactics of abuse, it is important to be aware that some people can make harsh judgments about themselves in relation to how they acted and responded as a child or younger person. Care needs to be taken to ensure that information provision does not occur in a way that leaves the man'feeling foolish for being so easily tricked', for not seeing the tactics of abuse and manipulation before. Men in particular often carry a feeling or belief that they were 'stupid', 'weak', or 'naïve' for not 'seeing what was going on'. Hence, a more thorough discussion of the particular circumstances of the offending is often best undertaken with a qualified trauma informed practitioner (See Trauma Informed Care Modules).
The Royal Commission into Institutional Responses to Child Sexual Abuse recently produced a research report into Grooming and child sexual abuse in institutional contexts. Below is some key information from the report produced by O’Leary, P, Koh, E, & Dare, A 2017.
- Grooming is recognised as a complex, commonly incremental process that can involve three main stages – from gaining access to the victim, initiating and maintaining the abuse and concealing the abuse (Colton, Roberts & Vanstone, 2012).
- Potential victims of child sexual abuse are not the only targets of grooming techniques. Grooming can target those involved in gaining access to the child’s life, including parents and other caregivers, colleagues and other staff in an institutional setting. Grooming does not inevitably lead to sexual abuse.
- Child sexual abuse can also commence in the absence of grooming, particularly for situational or opportunistic offenders (McAlinden, 2012).
- Factors unique to the institution may facilitate grooming. However, a committed perpetrator may also try to manipulate the conditions of the institution in order to sexually abuse a child and avoid detection or disclosure (Smallbone, Marshall & Wortley, 2011). Organisational factors may play a role in facilitating or preventing child sexual abuse. These include the physical environment and organisational culture.
Suggested typologies of sexual offending behaviour
(Cornish & Clarke, 2003; Smallbone, Marshall & Wortley, 2011; Wortley & Smallbone, 2010)
Individuals in this category are most likely to have a diagnosis of paedophilia, in that they are persistently and exclusively sexually attracted to children. They actively seek out and manipulate environments in which to perpetrate sexual abuse. Individuals in this group are highly likely to persist in perpetration over time and in multiple settings, accumulating higher numbers of victims. They are also likely to take advantage of opportunities to offend outside of any pre-meditated manipulation of the environment (Robertiello & Terry, 2007). Grooming techniques by perpetrators in this group are likely to be more elaborate, involving ‘special’ treatment of the child, gifts, enticements and bribery to initiate and continue the abuse (Elliot, Browne and Kilcoyne, 1995). They may normalise their ‘close’ relationships with children as part of grooming caregivers and the institution. Cognitive distortions may influence the way these perpetrators externalise responsibility for offending and justify their relationship with children. For example, post-offence justifications may be used by the perpetrator to suggest that the child initiated sexual contact or that the child conspired against them to make up false stories. These perpetrators are likely to be more sophisticated in their strategies to conceal their criminal behaviour, or may use threats and violence to silence victims.
Perpetrators in this category are less likely than other types of perpetrators to be fixated on sexually abusing children. They are indiscriminate in their sexual and moral behaviour, engaging in criminal behaviour outside the sexual abuse of children. Opportunistic perpetrators do not prefer children over adults but tend to use children for their own sexual interests (Terry & Tallon, 2004). They are likely to have poor impulse control and are not always concerned about social conformity. This category consists of individuals who will take opportunities to perpetrate child sexual abuse, but are less likely to create those opportunities through manipulation of the environment. If grooming does occur, it is likely to be prompted by the vulnerability of a child, lack of supervision or cognitive distortion of perceived ‘provocative’ or ‘seductive’ child behaviour (Wortley & Smallbone, 2010).
Perpetrators in this group do not have a sexual preference towards children but may, for example, sexually abuse a child in the absence of adult relationships and/or due to a sense of inadequacy, often relating to social isolation, low self-esteem and poor coping skills. This group is reactive to the environment in their motivation to sexually abuse children, which is mediated by behavioural cues and environmental stressors, such as unexpected isolated access to a child. A perpetrator may see a child’s playfulness, openness, timidness, physicality, nakedness or delinquency as a prompt or opportunity to abuse. These individuals are otherwise law-abiding and will generally have no other criminal involvement. Abuse may occur with or without prior grooming.
Limitations of typologies
Perpetrator typologies have several limitations. Typologies are predominantly based on data collected from samples of convicted sex offenders, rather than community-based samples. Given it is assumed the majority of perpetrators do not come into contact with the criminal justice system, data from convicted offenders is not representative of all perpetrators.
Secondly, perpetrators may not neatly align with one type, sometimes making clear assessment difficult. Similarly, it is possible that a perpetrator may shift from one type to another over time (Lanning & Dietz, 2014).
Based on the typologies above, at least within convicted offender populations, opportunistic perpetrators are considered the most common type of perpetrator. In simple terms, perpetrators who fall into this category are understood as ‘opportunity-takers’ (Smallbone, Marshall & Wortley, 2011). Opportunistic perpetrators are unlikely to actively create opportunities to abuse, particularly if creating these opportunities requires any sustained effort (Smallbone, Marshall & Wortley, 2011).
Grooming as harmful in and of itself
“Professor Anne-Marie McAlinden, Director of Research, School of Law, Queen’s University Belfast, giving evidence in the Nature, cause and impact of child sexual abuse case study, pointed out that grooming can work explicitly to prohibit disclosure by making the child feel that they will betray the abuser if they disclose. Disclosure is also discouraged when children are made to feel complicit in the sexual activity, such as by exposing them to pornography. This causes them to feel shame or guilt, and that they have acquiesced to the abuse in some way. She said:
“‘in terms of adults, the therapeutic work that has been done with adolescent and adult victims has shown that grooming has a deeply emotional impact [and] psychological harm on the victim. Irrespective of the actual sexual abuse itself, the grooming itself is very harmful and it is something that needs unpacking in therapeutic work. It can last for years, if that’s not dealt with, in terms of the emotional damage and the self-blame and the difficulty in forming adult relationships.”’
Vulnerability is a factor to consider when seeking to understand and address child sexual abuse. As indicated above, some children are identified as being more vulnerable to abuse than others. In identifying vulnerability, it is useful to note:
First, a degree of vulnerability is inherent in childhood (and is part of life for everybody). Children are dependent on adults to meet their basic needs. It is the responsibility of adults to respond to this dependence with the giving of care, not to exploit their position of power. Nothing a child does, or does not, say, feel, think or do changes this fact.
Second, the degree of vulnerability faced by a child is related to their environment, not their personality or individual characteristics. Children who live in families where violence or controlling behaviours are present, or who are placed in out of home care where adults are abusive, are not responsible for violence perpetrated upon them.
Third, societal factors can increase a person's vulnerability. For example, at a broader social level, homophobia increases the risk of sexual assault of same-sex attracted boys. Because some members of community denigrate same-sex sexual relationships, young men who are same sex attracted often seek out sexual contact in secrecy, whereupon, if they are sexually abused, they are less likely to report this abuse out of concern that they will be judged and not responded to appropriately. Another flow on effect of societal homophobia is that it makes males less likely to disclose sexual abuse, to the point that boys will actively deny or hide the abuse out of fear of judgement, and as a result, increasing their likelihood of its continuation (See Module on Gender and Sexuality).
The topic of vulnerability is particularly pertinent when speaking with men, given that dominant masculine norms leave men little room for acknowledging experiences of victimisation or vulnerability. It is not uncommon for men to hold themselves to blame; if not for the actual abuse itself, but for having been vulnerable. Boys and men who have been subjected to sexual abuse often feel pressured to stay silent, because to disclose the abuse would be to acknowledge vulnerability and be incompatible with 'being a man'. 'Belonging' to a gender is so integral to our cultural practices of identity that men may feel they have no other option but to continue 'being a man' and staying silent about the abuse.
Conversations which uncover the unrealistic presumption that men 'should' not be vulnerable and contextual dynamics which produce vulnerability can help shift the focus of evaluation from looking for a 'failing' or 'weaknesses' in the person, to understanding how particular contexts increase vulnerability and people actively take advantage and exploit this.
Sexual abuse experienced by Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander children
Rates of sexual victimisation of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander children have been consistently reported as higher than the general population. One estimate (Stanley 2003) suggest 2 to 4 times higher (Crome 2005; Ampe Akelyernemane Meke Mekarle: "Little Children are Sacred." 2007:12; AIHW 2014). The extent of the problem of child sexual abuse in remote communities in particular has become the subject of enquiry and report, noting that:
“In some remote communities, every person has reportedly been affected by child sexual abuse as a victim, a perpetrator, or a relative of either” (ACC: Final Report of National Indigenous Intelligence Task Force (2006-2014).
In seeking to better understand and respond to child sexual abuse, it is important to consider the historical and present context in which Australian and First Nation Peoples live. Many Australian First Nation communities are dealing with the legacy of colonisation, the forced removal from ancestral lands, the placement on missions, fracturing of clan groups and denial of language and culture, the stolen generations, and resulting inter-generational traumas. Colonisation and government responses have had a profound impact on Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples. For example, males are 6 times more likely to die by suicide and, their life expectancy is reduced by 10.8 years.
Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander children are more likely to be engaged with child protection and criminal justice agencies, and are also:
- 2-13 times more likely to be the subject of a substantiated report of harm or risk of harm.
- 9.2 times more likely than the general population to be placed in out of home care.
- 26 times more likely to be placed in youth detention.
- Child protection and Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander children (aifs.gov.au)
- Youth detention population in Australia (www.aihw.gov.au)
- No More Silence: It's Never Too Late to Start Healing (www.livingwell.org.au)
- Contributions to Healing (www.livingwell.org.au)
The high rates of removal from home, and placement in out of home care or youth detention is significant, as, as the Royal Commission has highlighted, these institutions report high rates of child sexual abuse.
The Ampe Akelyernemane Meke Mekarle: "Little Children are Sacred" Report of the Board of Inquiry into the Protection of Aboriginal Children from Sexual Abuse (Northern Territory Government, 2007), sought to better understand the nature and extent of child sexual abuse in the Northern Territory, and reported that:
As is typically found in analyses of sexual assault data, the majority of victims were female (67%), with non-Indigenous females accounting for almost half of all reports. Indigenous females, who account for 30% of the female population of the Territory (DHCS, 2007 online) accounted for 33% of female victims (23% of all victims). Aboriginal males, who make up 28% of the NT male population accounted for 32% of all male victims (10% of all victims). The modal age (most common) for all victims was 10-14 years (42%). When broken down into gender, 10-14 years was the modal age for female victims, but the modal age for male victims was 5-9 years (Northern Territory Government, 2007, p.246).
The report highlighted that there are a range of circumstances and relationship in which sexual violence occurs in communities:
“While media portrayal of the issue has predominantly related to incidents of older Aboriginal men assaulting young women and ‘paedophiles’ operating in Aboriginal communities, the reality of child sexual abuse is that it:
- Involves both female and male victims - from the very young to adulthood
- Is committed by non-Aboriginal and Aboriginal males of all ages – with a proportion of assaults being committed by offenders who are themselves children.
- Has led to inter-generational cycles of offending – such that victims have subsequently become offenders and, in turn, created a further generation of victims and offenders.
- Occurs across urban and remote communities and in various circumstances (in the home, during social occasions, in institutional settings). (Northern Territory Government, 2007, p. 59). Including:
- ‘Paedophile’ activity.
- Incest (intra-familial) offending.
- Situational or ‘opportunistic’ offenders.
- Child and adolescent offenders.
- Cyclical offending and intergenerational trauma.
Concerns were also raised about:
- Children’s exposure to sexual activity.
- Sex between children.
- Traditional marriages, and sub-cultural traditional marriage (Northern Territory Government, 2007, p. 60).
The report emphasised the complexities in the context surrounding sexual abuse in indigenous communities, and the need for unique responses. The responses to paedophile activity would be very different to sex between children, and sex as part of traditional marriages. The report highlighted the problem of faith based institutional personnel sexually abusing Aboriginal children. For example:
“…it was alleged that a non-Aboriginal Christian Brother in one community had sexually abused many children over a lengthy period of time. This man was charged and found guilty of some offences but these were set aside by the Court of Criminal Appeal. Difficult evidentiary problems often arise in such cases” (Northern Territory Government, 2007, p. 61).
The inquiry also found a strong association between substance abuse and the sexual abuse of children:
The Inquiry finds that there is a strong association between substance abuse, particularly alcohol, and the sexual abuse of children. This does not mean that alcohol, or other substances, are directly involved in or responsible for all instances of sexual abuse of children. The Inquiry finds, however, that alcohol and other drugs are having a massive negative impact on the social fabric of Aboriginal communities and contribute greatly to family and cultural breakdown. This ultimately results in an environment where children are unsafe (Northern Territory Government, 2007, p. 161).
The extent of the problem of child sexual abuse, the particular difficulties facing Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples and the importance of developing community led responses, has been highlighted the research report "Service and support needs of specific population groups that have experienced child sexual abuse: Report for the Royal Commission into Institutional Responses to Child Sexual Abuse" released in July 2016:
The importance of developing community led responses has also been highlighted by the Healing Foundation.
Northern Territory Government (2007). Ampe Akelyernemane Meke Mekarle: "Little Children are Sacred." Report of the Board of Inquiry into the Protection of Aboriginal Children from Sexual Abuse.
Australian Biography – Noel Tovey
In presenting research and government reports and statistical data, it is useful to remind ourselves of the many individual and personal stories of how people's lives are impacted by trauma and sexual abuse. And how they seek to address injustice and build a life for themselves.
Australian Biography: Noel Tovey
Considering the horror of his childhood, it’s amazing that Noel Tovey survived at all. Born in the slums of Melbourne in 1933, Noel's early memories are “all about drunks”. Sexually abused for the first time at the age of four, abandoned by his parents at six and bashed and bullied for being black, he ended up on the streets as a thief and “rent boy”. In Pentridge Jail at the age of 17, he contemplated suicide - but the voices of his ancestors prevented him and helped turn his life around.
Inspired to reinvent himself, Noel pursued his dream to become a dancer and actor. He built a career in theatre, radio and television before marrying and sailing for England in 1960. There, he became principal dancer at Sadler's Wells Opera and an acclaimed choreographer.
He also opened an internationally renowned gallery with his new partner, Dave, whose death, after 17 years together, is one of the most deeply painful episodes in Noel’s life story.
Noel's return to Australia in 1991 gave him the opportunity to connect more deeply with his Aboriginal heritage and contribute to the Indigenous community. As well as sitting on various boards and committees and teaching, he has continued to find success as a writer and theatre director.
In this intensely moving interview, Noel speaks - with extraordinary candour and grace - about his complex sense of identity (including his alter-ego, a blue-eyed white-skinned matinee idol called Rohan Scott-Rowan) and the forces and events that shaped him.
A Film Australia National Interest Program.
Men with a disability offended against as children
Research suggests the risk of child sexual abuse is doubled for children who experience a physical, psychological, and intellectual disabilities and difficulties (Chamberlain, Rauh, Passer, McGrath & Burket, 1984; Crosse, 1998; Kvam, 2004). Research indicates:
- Whilst both males and females with physical, psychological, and learning disabilities and difficulties are at increased risk of sexual victimisation than the general population, the rates of victimisation increase disproportionately for males with disabilities and difficulties (Sobsey, Randall, & Parrila, 1997).
- "Higgins (2010) suggested that the presence of any disability leads to a higher risk of sexual victimisation, with multiple disabilities further increasing the probability of abuse. Higher rates of sexual victimisation were associated with intellectual disabilities, behavioural disorders and communication disorders." (Kaufman, Erooga, Stewart et al. Risk profiles for institutional child sexual abuse. A literature review. 2016:6/7)
- Among 1293 children visiting Norwegian public hospitals with suspicions of sexual abuse, the non-disabled group had a gender distribution of 78% and 22%, and the disabled group 65% and 35% for girls and boys respectively (Kvam, 2000).
- A New Zealand study of 116 special education students noted that boys and girls reported equal rates of child sexual abuse (Briggs 2006).
- Research examining experiences of victimisation and perpetration of sexual abuse, relating to 43 young people with intellectual disabilities admitted to psychiatric care in the United Kingdom, indicates gender differences in the pattern of abuse and increased risk of sexual acting out and offending behavior exhibited by males with intellectual disabilities (Balogh, et al., 2001). Although this research is limited, it highlights the importance of providing appropriate care and support to people with leanring difficulties who have been sexually victimised.
- Sobsey and Doe (1991) analysed patterns of sexual abuse and sexual assault from 162 reports involving victims with disabilities. Results suggest that abuse and assault are frequently repeated and chronic, often result in significant harm to the victim, and are rarely reported to child welfare or law enforcement authorities. Many offenses are committed by paid service providers and occur in disability service settings, but other offenses occur in the same situations as sexual abuse and assault of victims without disabilities. Charges and convictions are rare. Victims with disabilities often experience difficulty obtaining treatment services that are accessible and appropriate to their needs.
Kaufman, Erooga, Stewart et al (2016:6/7) in a report for the Royal Commission into Institutional Responses to Child Sexual Abuse note:
Robinson (2015) argued that environmental and structural factors facilitate and perpetuate institutional child sexual abuse, make it difficult to punish offenders, and keep children with disability at risk. In particular, she identified risks at the interpersonal level related to children with disability who:
- Are kept in institutions where they and their families have little control over their daily activities (referencing Marsland et al., 2007; Sobsey, 1994).
- Are expected to be compliant and well behaved (referencing Fitzsimons, 2009).
- Have problems with communication that make it difficult for them to report abuse (referencing Gore & Janssen, 2007).
Watch this video lecture from The Utah Parent Center on the sexual abuse of people with disabilities:
Sexual abuse within Deaf communities
The extent of the problem of sexual abuse amongst the Deaf and hard of hearing community is often hard to quantify. However in international studies, 50% of Deaf adults reported being sexually abused as children, suggesting hard of hearing and Deaf females are twice as likely as hearing peers to be sexually abused, and hard of hearing and Deaf males three times more likely to be sexually abused (Sullivan, Vernon, and Scanlan, 1987; Kvam, 2004; Obinna et al, 2006).
Kvam (2004) noted the extensive nature of the sexual assaults on deaf children, that 'few cases were reported to parents, teachers, or authorities', and that 'special schools for the deaf represent an extra risk of abuse, regardless of whether the deaf pupils live at home or in boarding schools.' Kvam also noted that altogether 134 persons — 45.8% of the deaf girls and 42.4% of the deaf boys — had been exposed to unwanted sexual experiences during childhood, and that:
- The majority experienced 6 or more instances of sexual abuse.
- Deaf children reported more violence and invasive assaults than that reported by children in hearing populations.
- 57% of those committing offences were either older students or people working in the school, with less than one out of ﬁve (18.7%) being a family member. None of the respondents reported an unknown perpetrator.
- Altogether 41.0% were assaulted by a member of the deaf perpetrators, 44.0% a member of the hearing population, while 15.0% reported perpetration by both members of the hearing and Deaf communities.
- 65.4% reported one male perpetrator, 25.0% more than one male. Boys more often than girls reported a female abuser (14.5% and 5.1%, respectively), while 5.1% of the girls and 2.9% of the boys were abused by both male and females.
- Very few cases were reported by deaf children to parents, teachers, or authorities. When asked to whom they reported the incident, almost half of the children (49.0%) carried the secret alone, and 11 (10.8%) tried to tell somebody, but were not believed. In only 6 instances were those committing offences (5.9%) reported to the school or other authorities (Kvam, 2004).
In support of members of the deaf community who have experienced sexual violence, Living Well and Deaf Services Queensland created a series of 34 AUSLAN signing videos to provide practical information and assistance.
The documentary Mea Maxima Culpa: Silence in the House of God follows men within the deaf community who were sexually abused as children as they seek justice and healing. Watch the trailer below:
Same sex attracted males offended against as children
Same sex attracted men report an increased risk of sexual abuse in childhood compared with the general population (Cameron et al. 1986; Duncan 1990). In presenting research findings, it is unclear if same sex attracted men are more willing to report or at risk of same sex sexual abuse because they are less or more constrained by homophobia, because they are aware of their same sex sexual desire and therefore more clearly differentiate experiences of consent and non consent, or whether being same sex attracted in a heterosexual community places them at greater risk of being offended against by those taking advantage of the silence, secrecy, and shame associated with same sex sexual relations.
- In a study of 1001 same sex attracted men by Doll et al (1992), 37% of participants said that they had been encouraged or forced to have sexual contact before age 19 with older or powerful persons (94% were male).
- In a survey of same sex attracted men in the US, childhood sexual abuse was reported by 15.5% of the survey respondents (n = 134). (Brennan, et al., 2007, p. 1107).
- In a study by Tomeo, Templer, Anderson and Kotler (2001) 46% of men identifying as 'homosexual' reported sexual abuse by a male in childhood, in contrast with 7% of men identifying as 'heterosexual'.
- In a study of two separate population-based samples of gay and bisexual men (n = 1,941) residing in Portland and Tucson, over one quarter reported a history of childhood sexual abuse (sexual behaviour with someone at least 5 years older prior to age 13, or with someone at least 10 years older when between ages 13 and 15 (Jinich et al, 1998).
A question that men who have been sexually abused report confronting is whether the sexual abuse by a male has influenced their sexual orientation. This question is complex and will be discussed further in the 'Gender and Sexuality' module. This is a question that does worry some men, and has been the subject of research commentary. For example, a study by Eskin et al (2005) reported that childhood sexual abuse by someone of one's own sex is related to a same-sex sexual orientation for male, but not for female participants. An example of the complexity in researching whether sexual abuse influences sexual orientation is that typically researchers presume a 'heterosexual norm', hence there is no known research asking the question of whether 'females' have become 'heterosexual' because they were sexually abused by a male.
Childhood sexual abuse of males within institutional contexts
As this section is quite extensive, it has been collated on a separate page. Childhood sexual abuse of males within institutional contexts covers the following topics:
- Clergy abuse and child sexual abuse in faith based institutions
- Clergy abuse
- Information from investigative report completed prior to commencement of the Royal Commission
- Abuse within Anglican and Catholic institutions
- Findings from the United States Catholic Church study
- Sexual abuse in sports institutions
- Sexual abuse in community associations and groups including Scouts and YMCA
Female perpetrated child sexual abuse
Whilst males are predominantly sexually abused by males, males do report significantly higher rates of childhood sexual abuse by females than females do (Faller, 1989; Finkelhor, 1990; Gold, et al, 1998; Gordon, 1990; Hunter, 1991; Romano and De Luca, 2001; Thomlison, et al, 1991; Kendall-Tackett & Simon, 1992; Levesque, 1994; Dube, et al, 2005; Crome, 2006; Richards, 2011; Romano & De Luca, 2001). In the study conducted by Dube et al in 2005, 2% of females and 20% of males reported being sexually abused by a female. This significant difference in the reported rates of offending by females against males and females highlights the importance of not collapsing statistics on female and male victimisation when seeking to better understand and respond to sexual offending. Having said this, Clements et al (2013, p. 1), in looking at statistics for Female Perpetrated Sexual Assault (FPSA) against males and females, notes that it may be significantly under reported:
While female perpetrators remain a minority compared to males, it is estimated that they are responsible for 4-5% of sexual offences (Cortoni, Hanson, & Coache, 2010). However, given that FPSA remains significantly under-reported (Saradjian, 2010), with abused individuals often feeling unable to disclose (Denov, 2004), the prevalence of FPSA may be significantly higher.
It appears that there are both societal and individual attitudinal barriers to identifying and reporting female perpetrated sexual abuse and assault against males:
- Boys and men report confronting the suggestion that 'He should feel lucky if he has sex with a woman,' or 'A woman can’t rape a man'.
- Boys and men report allegations of sexual abuse being discounted or represented as sexual experimenting: "Some of them will say to you, 'Well you know – sexual experimenting.' And I told them, 'Well look, I was sexually abused by someone who was 18yr old approximately, and I was about 11.' There's no sexual experimentation there, not on my part. I was abused, I wasn’t experimenting. I didn’t even know what the hell sex was." (Teram, et al, 2006).
- Evidence suggests that males are less likely to identify sexual contact they had with an adult female when they were a child as sexual abuse than females who had sexual contact with an adult male when they were a child (Nelson & Oliver, 1998).
The difference in identifying sexual contact with an older person of the opposite sex as sexual abuse may also be related to the style of offending. There is evidence to suggest that females are more likely to offend in a relational context (baby sitter, known female) (Nelson & Oliver, 1998).
- In over 90% of reported cases, females use persuasion rather than actual or threatened force when committing an offence of sexual abuse. For many, the association of sexual abuse and physical force discourages acknowledgment of female perpetration.
- Up to one third of boys who identify as being abused say curiosity led to their participation in sexual contact with older females (Holmes & Slap, 1998).
In an episode of the Oprah Winfrey Show, a man who was sexually abused by his mother speaks out:
The Oprah Show - Raped by His Mother
Sibling/adolescent perpetrated abuse
The rates of sibling/adolescent perpetrated abuse are often overlooked. However, some research indicates that sibling incest is at least 5 times more prevalent than parent-child incest (Adler, 1995). According to Adler (1995, p. 811), "Sibling incest is the least investigated but probably the most common form of incest".
In general, there is insufficient research data about the prevalence of sibling incest. A recent literature review about sibling incest (Tidefors, et al, 2010) noted that sibling incest was a major taboo, and the few studies about it have predominantly been about male offenders, and were not about male victims and/or female perpetrators. In general, sibling incest demands further attention from clinicians and researchers.
Data from one of the few studies that has included male and female victims of sibling sexual abuse is shown in the following table. It shows the types of sibling incest experienced by each gender in a study of 41 adults who had experienced sibling incest (Carlson, Maciol & Schnieder, 2006). Of the seven males, three initiated the sexual behavior with sisters; for the four male victims, all the initiators were male. For the 34 women, in four cases the other sibling was a sister, with the remainder brothers.
|Behaviours reported||Females N= 34||Males N= 7|
|Fondled or touched||94.1||71.4|
|Genitals rubbed against my body||73.5||51.7|
|Fingers inserted into vagina or anus||38.2||14.3|
|Objects inserted into vagina or anus||21.1||--|
|Kissed in a way I was not comfortable with||52.9||28.6|
|Subjected to sexual comments||41.2||42.9|
|Made to watch sexual acts||11.8||--|
|Touched sibling's genitals||58.8||71.4|
|Exposure to pornography||20.6||14.3|
|Made to pose for seductive or sexual photographs||11.8||--|
|Ritually abused or physically or sexually tortured||14.7||--|
Table 4. Reported sibling incest experienced by gender (Carlson, Maciol & Schnieder, 2006, p. 24).
The sample for this research was purposive (generated by distributing information about the research to practitioners who passed it on to any clients who had experienced sibling abuse). It is also very small. Therefore the results cannot be interpreted as representative of prevalence of the types of behaviours experienced in general by female and males who have experienced sibling sexual abuse.
- This link is to a newspaper article in which the journalist Benjamin Law reported the experiences of men and women who had experienced intra-familial sexual abuse, as well as those who had perpetrated this type of abuse. Law, B. (2013, May 25). Indecent Obsession. The Sydney Morning Herald.
- See "John’s Story", from John Miller who contributed to the SMH story.
Conflict Related Sexual Violence Against Men and Boys
There is a developing awareness and international attention being given to the sexual violence committed against men and boys in conflict and post conflict zones, and the increased vulnerability of refugees. We aim to have further information available on this area soon, but for now have collated the following articles and resources.
- UNHCR, The UN Refugee Agency. (2017). "We Keep it in our Heart" - Sexual violence against men and boys in the Syria Crisis [ 6MB].
- UCLA School of Law, Health & Human Rights Law Project. (2017). Legacies and Lessons: Sexual violence against men and boys in Sri Lanka and Bosnia & Herzegovina [ 679KB].
- Australian Government, Australian Civil-Military Centre. (2014). Conflict-related Sexual and Gender-based Violence: An introductory overview to support prevention and response efforts [ 1MB].
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