December 5, 2016 – How CSA Affects Boys

Teresa HuizarGood morning and happy Monday.  I hope this finds you well.  By now, I’m sure that all of you are quite familiar with studies and statistics showing the long-term detrimental effects childhood sexual abuse can have on both the physical and mental health of victims. But very few of these studies focus specifically on sexually abused males, and fewer still on sexually abused adolescent males. However, a new study out of Canada looks precisely at this population.

The researchers published their findings in the Journal of Child & Adolescent Trauma, in an article titled “Physical and Mental Health of Sexually Abused Boys:  A 5 Year Matched-Control and Cohort Study.” [1] The main objective of the study was to “determine if, in the 5 years following a first substantiated report, sexually abused boys present more mental and physical health problems when compared to those of the general population.” Id., p. 2. To do so, the researchers drew from a pool of “[a]ll boys under 18 years of age who had a substantiated report of sexual abuse at the Quebec City CPA (Child Protection Agency) between January 1, 2001 and December 31, 2010….” Id., p. 3. Out of the initial pool, the researchers ended up with a cohort of 222 cases, each of which was then matched with a male from the public health insurance agency for whom no substantiated report of sexual abuse was made during the same time period. Id.

As you might expect, the researchers hypothesized that “sexually abused boys will present more mental and physical health problems, as indicated by an elevated annual incidence rate of medical consultations and hospitalizations.”  Id., p. 2.  And not surprisingly, their hypothesis was confirmed, at least in part:  “Sexually abused boys were 3 to 5 times more likely than those from the general population to consult a physician at least once for mental health problems during the 5 years of the study.”  Id., p. 4. 

However, when looking at physical health, the researchers found that “[s]exually abused boys were as likely as those from the general population to consult a physician for physical health problems over the 5 years after the first substantiated sexual abuse report.” Id. This seems surprising, particularly when taken in combination with the fact that “[s]exually abused boys were up to 10 times more likely than those from the general population to be hospitalized at least once for physical health problems.” Id. Moreover, they found that “all significant differences between sexually abused and non-abused boys were maintained over the 5 years that followed the first substantiated sexual abuse report.” Id., p. 5. 

The researchers puzzled over the seeming contradiction between increased likelihood of hospitalizations but not of medical consultations for the boys who were victims of sexual abuse. They state that “[t]he fact that men and adolescents tend to delay in help-seeking in regard to health problems could in turn explain why childhood sexual abuse is significantly associated with hospitalizations but not with medical consultations.” Id., p. 6. Additionally, the findings may indicate that “for boys, childhood sexual abuse is more importantly associated with severe physical health problems requiring hospitalizations than to less severe problems requiring outpatient services.” Id

Finally, the researchers note that the results indicate that “the elevated risk for physical health-related hospitalizations and mental health-related medical consultations remain high even 5 years after the abuse has been substantiated. Presenting problems were thus chronic and not likely to be short-lived for boys sexually abused in childhood.” Id. These findings underline “the fact that once sexual abuse consequences appear in childhood they tend to continue into adulthood, and that it is crucial to intervene promptly to prevent chronic health problems.” Id.

The findings also underscore the importance of the work that CACs and MDTs do. From disclosure, to interview, to specialized medical and mental health treatments, to ongoing victim advocacy and case management, the work that we do is critical in managing the short-term effects of sexual abuse to help prevent them from becoming long-term detriments. I strongly encourage you to download this article and read it in full, and share it with your colleagues and team members.

As always, I thank you for all your hard work and dedication and for all that you do on behalf of children and families.

Warm regards,  
[1] Full text of this publication may be found in the National Children's Advocacy Center's Child Abuse Library Online (CALiO ™) or by contacting the NCAC Research Digital Information Librarian. CALiO ™ is a service of the National Children's Advocacy Center (NCAC). | 516 C Street, NE, Washington, DC 20002 US

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