Children of both genders are frequently victims of sexual abuse, and the long-term consequences are nearly identical in men and women, according to a broad-based new report in the June 2005 issue of American Journal of Preventive Medicine.
Among participants in the study of more than 17,000 California adults, 25 percent of females and 16 percent of males reported experiencing childhood sexual abuse. Moreover, say the authors, sexual abuse significantly increases the risk of developing health and social problems — such as drug and alcohol abuse, mental illness, and marital strife — in both men and women.
A history of suicide attempt was more than twice as likely among both male and female victims as among nonvictims. Similarly, sexually abused adults of both genders faced a 40 percent greater risk of marrying an alcoholic.
Until now, most research on the effects of child sexual abuse has focused on female survivors, and little information was available on male victims. The new study shows that being male offers little protection. “All children are vulnerable to this form of abuse, and the burden is similar for both men and women later in life,” says lead author Shanta Dube of the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
The findings are based on confidential questionnaires completed by more than 17,000 adult members of a health maintenance organization in California.
The respondents represent a fairly general population, says Dube, because each visited the clinic for a wellness assessment rather than for treatment of a health problem. In addition, statistical methods allowed the authors to isolate the effects of sexual abuse from those of other childhood stressors that may occur simultaneously, such as emotional or physical abuse.
The questionnaire asked participants if the sexual abuse involved intercourse or inappropriate touching only. The findings show that the risk of negative health outcomes was slightly higher for both genders if the abuse included attempted or completed intercourse.
The study also looked at the gender of perpetrators. Women reported that males committed the abuse 94 percent of the time. However, among men, abusers were divided more evenly between both genders with females accounting for up to 40 percent of the abuse.
Child sexual abuse had similar effects on males regardless of whether the perpetrator was a man or woman. “Thus, the vulnerability of boys to perpetration of [childhood sexual abuse] by both males and females deserves increased national attention,” notes the study.