Whoever you are, maybe you’re thinking something like, “1 in 6?! Come on, how can that be?” or even “That can’t be true!” Again, if so, you’re not alone. Those are common responses to this statistic, which many people find hard to believe – including men who’ve had such experiences themselves.
Researchers use “sexual abuse” to describe experiences in which children are subjected to unwanted sexual contact involving force, threats, or a large age difference between the child and the other person (which involves a big power differential and exploitation). See former advisory board member Dr. Jim Hopper’s Sexual Abuse of Males for a detailed discussion of definitions and research methods, including how some result in lower estimates than 1 in 6 (e.g., large national surveys using telephone interviews with few questions).
Having such an experience does not mean a boy will definitely suffer significant long-term negative consequences. That depends on several 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.
What the research tells us:
A 2005 study conducted by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control, on San Diego Kaiser Permanente HMO members, reported that 16% of males were sexually abused by the age of 18.
A 2003 national study of U.S. adults reported that 14.2% of men were sexually abused before the age of 18.
A 1998 study reviewing research on male childhood sexual abuse concluded that the problems is “common, under-reported, under-recognized, and under-treated.”
A 1996 study of male university students in the Boston area reported that 18% of men were sexually abused before the age of 16.
A 1990 national study of U.S. adults reported that 16% of men were sexually abused before the age of 18.