Reporting childhood sexual abuse of boys to police: does perpetrator sex matter?

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Fehr, Alexandra
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In Canada, the lifetime prevalence of the sexual abuse of boys is estimated at one in six (Dorais, 2009; Dube, Anda, Whitfield, Brown, Felitti, Dong, & Giles, 2005; Hopper, 2010; Briere & Elliot, 2003). Despite growing awareness of male victims of childhood sexual abuse, it is estimated that police reports are made in only 4.4% of cases (Priebe & Svedin, 2008). There continues to be little understanding as to why the reporting rate is so low. A sample of 155 male survivors of childhood sexual abuse was obtained through a community agency that provides support to this population. Data were gathered from participants’ intake forms on four variables that were expected to influence police reporting: 1) the survivors' age at the time of the first incident 2) the duration of the abuse; 3) the relationship between the survivor and the perpetrator; and 4) the sex of the perpetrator. It was predicted that the perpetrator's sex would be the most powerful predictor of a male's decision to report sexual abuse because of the ‘feminization of victimization’ phenomenon. This is the culturally based assumption that victims are female and perpetrators are male that leads male victims’ to question their own experiences and to a tendency by others to not take their victimization seriously. The findings revealed that perpetrator sex was not a significant predictor of police reporting. Only abuse duration was associated with whether a police report had been made. Other important findings were: 1) the mean age of this sample seeking support for childhood abuse was 50 years; 2) in almost 30% of cases, abuse began before the participant was six years old; 3) 49% of participants had been abused by family members; 4) 20% of participants had been abused by female perpetrators; and 5) in 75% of cases, a police report had not been made. Further research is needed to identify the factors influencing whether sexual abuse of boys is reported to police in order to enhance support services and police response.
Disclosure, Childhood sexual abuse, Male survivors, Police reporting