Originally posted on April 26, 2015
According to a recent study, one in three boys who experience sexual abuse attempt suicide. Laura Anderson conducted the study to see what impact weight and sexual violence had on children attempting suicide. While she found no correlation between the two, she did discover that abused children are more likely to attempt suicide than their non-abused peers:
The study analyzed data from a Youth and Risk Behavior Survey that sampled more than 31,000 teenagers in 2009 and 2011. The research continued a preliminary study from 2011 that found similar results using a smaller sample of teens.
The poll surveyed students ages 14 to 18 and examined whether the two variables influenced suicide attempts within a year of the survey.
For boys, the study found:
3.5 percent of healthy-weight males with no sexual assault history attempted suicide. That percentage climbed to 33.2 percent for healthy-weight males with sexual assault history, which Anderson attributes to stigma, shame, possible gender role conflict if the attacker was male and the lack of an open support system. Weight alone was not a significant factor in suicide attempts for males. Only 3.9 percent of overweight males with no sexual assault history attempted suicide. For males who were both overweight and had a history of sexual assault, the percentage who attempted suicide was 33 percent.
For girls, the results were:
5.8 percent of healthy-weight females with no sexual assault history attempted suicide. The percentage rose to 27.1 percent for healthy-weight girls with a history of sexual assault. Weight influenced the suicide rate among women: 8.2 percent of overweight girls with no sexual assault history attempt suicide. However, both factors did not increase suicide rate: 26.6 percent of overweight girls with sexual assault histories attempted suicide.
These rates demonstrate the issues abused boys face. One of the reasons the rate is higher for boys than girls is the lack of prevention and support services available to male victims. Most services are geared toward girls, and even services that accept boys do a poor job of it. If there were more outreach to male victims, perhaps the rate would go down.
However, it does not appear that it would go down enough. Sexually abused children are still significantly more likely to attempt suicide. That speaks to the inadequate support we offer to them, particularly to boys. We need to do a much better job of reaching out to abused children and letting them know support is available.
The study has some limits. Nearly 20% of minority students did not answer suicide-related questions. That alone speaks to how different communities regard sexual violence and suicide and their willingness to address them.
The study also cannot factor in the number of children who succeeded in taking their lives. I suspect the rate of successful suicides among abuse victims is likely higher for male victims than female victims as well.
The more we gender this issue, the more harm we cause. The boys and men who need help do not get it, and they will turn to other means to address their pain. Some of them will attempt and succeed in killing themselves. This does no one any good.
While it is politically beneficial for some people to paint sexual violence as something only men can do to only women, the ultimate cost is too great. It does us no harm to acknowledge male suffering, nor does it detract from female suffering to offer boys and men the same services given to girls and women.