There is substantial evidence that rape and sexual assault against women are major problems in the United States and are highly likely to cause PTSD. Unfortunately, less research exists about the extent to which sexual assault impacts men. Sexual abuse more commonly occurs in boys under the age of 18 than it does in adult men. However, once those boys become men, they are more likely to become the perpetrators of sexual abuse rather than the victims. If these childhood traumas go untreated, they can create cycles of generational trauma that pass from adult to child. Breaking the stigma can interrupt that cycle and allow healing to occur.
Defining Sexual Abuse
According to the childhood sexual abuse researcher Kathleen Ratican, childhood sexual abuse is defined as any sexual act, overt or covert, between a child and an adult (or older child) where the child’s participation is obtained through seduction or coercion.
The 1 in 6 Statistic
Although it may be hard to believe at first, at least one in six boys (16%) experience sexual abuse before the age of 18. This statistic is likely much higher because it is common for men and boys to never report this intensely personal, private traumatic incident.
Long Term Effects of Sexual Abuse
While there is not enough research on sexual assault for adult men, the long term effects of this type of childhood trauma are known.
It’s important to note that experiencing sexual abuse does not mean a boy will definitely suffer significant long-term negative consequences. The impact of sexual abuse depends on multiple factors, including how many times it happened, how long it went on, who else was involved, whether the boy told anyone and, if so, the response he received.
However, long term effects can still be debilitating for many people who experience sexual abuse. Men who have experienced childhood sexual abuse are at much greater risk for serious mental health problems, including:
- Alcoholism and substance use
- Suicidal thoughts and attempts
- Problems in intimate relationships
- Eating disorders
Breaking the Stigma
The effects of sexual abuse in boys are serious, and the trauma that men face from these experiences can be debilitating. Coming forward can be challenging for men who still face a stigma. If you or someone you know are struggling to deal with this trauma, you can take steps to help yourself by seeking therapy, educating yourself, and trying out tools to self-manage your trauma symptoms.
How to Seek Help
The best way to get help in dealing with your trauma is to find people and a therapist you can trust. Online groups and communities of adult survivors, rape crisis centers, and local organizations can be helpful as well in bringing you closer to others who know how to deliver the help that you need.
The Rape, Abuse, & Incest National Network (RAINN) organizes the National Sexual Assault Hotline, which can refer you to a local rape crisis center and provide you with immediate help and support.
Call 1-800-656-HOPE or go to RAINN’s online chat service to access this care.
Dube, S. R., Anda, R. F., Whitfield C. L., et al. (2005). Long-Term Consequences of Childhood Sexual Abuse by Gender and Victim. American Journal of Preventative Medicine.
Ratican, K. (1992). Sexual abuse survivors: Identifying symptoms and special treatment
considerations. Journal of Counseling & Development, 71(1), 33-38.