Under-reporting of child sexual abuse or sexual assault

One of the difficulties in establishing a picture of the extent and circumstances of childhood sexual abuse and male sexual assault is under-reporting. Males are particularly reluctant to report childhood sexual abuse as both a child and adult.

Evidence suggests that:

  • Boys are less likely than girls to disclose at the time the sexual abuse occurs.  
  • Between 70-90% of males who have been sexually abused report not telling anyone at the time. 
  • Males disclose being sexually abused in childhood on average 22 years after the assault – 10 years later than females.  
  • Men report first in depth discussion 28 years after the sexual abuse, and first helpful in-depth discussion 30 years after the abuse.  
  • Men are more likely than women to make selective disclosure, to a limited number of people.  
  • Men are one and a half times less likely than women to report rape to police. 

Barriers to disclosure

  • Stigma associated with being sexually abused. 
  • Power exercised by those perpetrating abuse through threats, coercion, apportion of blame.
  • Silencing effects of fear, confusion and shame.  
  • Dominant masculine stereotypes.
    • Ideas that men should be powerful, strong, able to protect themselves against overwhelming odds, be self reliant, not acknowledge weakness, or be unable to cope.
  • Homophobia, questioning of sexuality
    • Concern that he will be considered ‘homosexual’ or ‘gay’ and treated negatively.
  • Uncritical acceptance of the idea that males who have been sexually victimised ‘automatically’ go on to perpetrate abuse.
    • Research indicates that most males (95%) who have been sexually abused in childhood do not commit offences. 
  • Concern they will be treated differently as males and may receive a limited or inadequate response.  
  • Sexual abuse remains in some cultures a taboo or something shameful that should be hushed up.