Findings of research
It is important to remember that most studies do not distinguish between willing sexual experimentation or ongoing sexual relationships, and unwanted advances, coerced interactions, or violent assault. They also mix non-contact behavior (such as viewing of pornography, exhibitionism, and verbal propositioning) with touching or kissing and genital contact. Studies vary in the proportions of these different kinds of incidents they include, so their results vary widely.
- Clinical and legal studies tend to show more extensive and serious harm than do college, convenience, and probability studies.
- Some studies, especially clinical and legal studies, find that sexually abused boys suffer from a wide range of serious social, psychological, sexual, and school problems.
- Studies using broad definitions of abuse that include willing activity and non-contact incidents tend to show less harm.
- Findings depend on the extent to which researchers consider factors such as family environment, willingness of the boy, and reactions of adults.1
It is clear that some boys experience severe forms of sexual abuse, and exhibit serious symptoms as a result. Others who are harmed come from disadvantaged or dysfunctional family backgrounds (including other kinds of abuse), and researchers are uncertain about the extent to which their poor adjustment is due to sexual abuse in itself.2
Some studies have suggested that for boys, physical or emotional abuse may be more common and more damaging than sexual abuse.3 In fact, many studies of college and probability samples, and even some clinical studies, find the majority of boys are unharmed when sexual abuse is defined to include willing and non-contact activity.4 However, boys who seem willing, but in reality are uncertain or feel compelled to engage in sexual activity with an older person may be particularly harmed due to subsequent feelings that they could have prevented the abuse.
Researchers seem to agree that there is no set of reactions that is a single inevitable outcome of adult-minor sexual interaction. There is no particular syndrome or set of symptoms, such as multiple personality disorder or borderline personality disorder. Negative outcomes are associated with
- coercion (particularly if the boy seems willing but is in fact not)
- negative feelings about the interaction
- sex-negative attitudes
- emotional, unsupportive, or judgmental adult reactions.5
Because findings depend strongly on whether clinical and legal samples are used, the following bibliography is divided between those studies which use such samples and those which do not.
2. Beitchman et al., 1991; Beitchman et al., 1992; Fergusson & Mullen, 1999; Ney et al., 1994; Oellerich, 2001*; Rind & Tromovitch, 1997; Rind et al., 1998; West & Woodhouse, 1990.
3. Meston et al., 1999; Ney et al., 1994; Okami, 1990.
4. Constantine, 1981; Haugaard & Emery, 1989; Li, 1990a; Oellerich, 2001*; Rind et al., 1998; West & Woodhouse, 1990.
5. Beitchman et al., 1992; Constantine, 1981; Fergusson & Mullen, 1999; Ingram, 1981; Kilpatrick, 1987; West & Woodhouse, 1990.
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