What is male sexual abuse?

Sexual abuse is a descriptor for a number of sexual behaviours that are engaged in without consent and involve elements of force, coercion and/or power by one person over another for the purpose of sexual gratification and/or control. This can include both contact and non-contact behaviour, including ‘online’ computer-assisted sexual harm.

While the term sexual abuse is used throughout these Guidelines, it is acknowledged that many male survivors experience sexual harm that may not be perceived as violent or abusive.


Sexual abuse, although significantly under-reported, is prevalent. Internationally, it has
long been estimated that up to 1 in 3 women and up to 1 in 6 men experience some form of sexual victimisation in their lifetime, often before the age of 16. In the United States, 2011 statistics report that 23.4 percent of men had experienced sexual violence in their lifetime, including unwanted contact.

In New Zealand, about 1 in 16 men and 1 in 6 boys will report experiencing at least one episode of sexual victimisation in their life. This figure is based on what is reported only and it is recognised that men under-report and have longer periods of non-disclosure.

Dynamics and impact

Men who have been sexually abused in childhood are overrepresented in mental health and other clinical populations. Long-term effects include anxiety, depression, increased feelings of anger and vulnerability, loss of self-image, emotional distancing, self-blame and self-harming behaviours. The reality of disclosing child sexual abuse is a complex one for male survivors; research shows that the majority of the men wait until adulthood to disclose their abuse, with negative stereotypes contributing to their delayed disclosures.

Men, unlike women, are almost as likely to be sexually abused by women as by men. And, once abused, men are only half as likely as women to report incidents to the police or other authorities. This is often due to feelings of embarrassment and shame.6 Men often feel embarrassed by their experiences and ashamed to report their incidents to the authorities.