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Study Says Sexual Abuse of Boys May Be More Common than Believed

According to a new study by some Philadelphia-based researchers, the sexual abuse of boys may be far more common than believed - with many cases going unreported and untreated, and leading to serious problems for the kids when they get older.
But the study published in Wednesday's Journal of the American Medical Association is as unclear as the general population about what constitutes sexual abuse - it's based on other studies of the problem done between 1986 and 1997. Thus, the researchers from the University of Pennsylvania School of Medicine and the Children's Hospital of Philadelphia say that - depending on one's definition - between 4% and 76% of boys are victims of sexual abuse. They say that, in large-scale studies, the median age of those abused for the first time is about age 10; in smaller-scale studies, that median age can vary from 5.3 years to 8.5 years of age.
The researchers say that sexual abuse of boys occurs across all socioeconomic and demographic groups. But they say that the boys at highest risk are those who are under age 13, non-white, and are part of lower-income families in which the father isn't around.
"The perpetrators tend to be males who are known but frequently unrelated to the victims," the researchers write. "The abuse typically occurs outside the home, is repeated and involves penetration."

The researchers say the studies of abuse indicate that the majority of incidents are one-time occurrences. But between 17% and 53% of the boys indicate that the problem can occur repeatedly, for periods ranging from less than six months to four years.

Surprisingly, less than half of the victims - a range of between 15% and 39% - say they responded negatively to the abuse. Those who did speak negatively of the experience usually did so in cases in which the abuse was accomplished through the use of force, or in which there was a great age difference between the victim and abuser.

But the researchers say the actual negative impact of the abuse, as demonstrated by the child's eventual behavior and disposition, is far greater. Boys who are sexually abused show higher incidences of depression, anxiety disorders, anger, aggressive behavior and poor performance in school. They are also as much as 14 times more likely to attempt suicide than boys who are not abused, and far more likely to engage in such risky behavior as prostitution and anal intercourse, or to experience gender confusion.
What the researchers are looking forward is more focused research on the matter, so that any underreporting of such abuse can be ended. "Such study can then guide the development of interventions that are focused and effective," the researchers write.

"Until then, health care professionals should be aware of and sensitive to the possibility of sexual abuse in their male patients. Something that might help keep your boy safe is pepperspray.

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