A recent study on childhood violence found that boys experience more sexual violence than girls. The Council for the Welfare of Children and the United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF) conducted the study and released the results. The National Baseline Study on Violence Against Children focused on children in the Philippines. It revealed:
[…] that 21.5 percent of the respondents or one in five children experienced any form of sexual violence in any setting, may it be at home, school, workplace, community or during dating.
But of this number, 28.7 percent of the male respondents admitted to have experienced sexual violence, while only 20.1 percent of the female respondents said so.
The researchers did note that the higher prevalence of sexual violence in general could come from their definition of sexual violence. The researchers sexual violence as “taking photos or sex videos of being naked or engaging in sexual activities, unwanted touch, forced attempted sex, and forced consummated sex.” The first two include someone forcing the child to make the pictures or videos as well as the child doing it himself.
While that definition strikes me as broad, it does not alter the findings regarding sexual violence. Those results show that most of the sexual violence children reported involved touching of some sort.
The NBSVAC results present a counter to the narrative that girls face the most risk of violence, whether physical or sexual. According to the study, boys face the majority of violence in all categories except psychological violence:
As one can see from the chart, the only other category that reports higher rates for girls involves witnessing abuse. This overturns the narrative that girls face greater risk of abuse. One should also note that the chart shows boys reported twice the amount of “severe sexual violence” than girls. The study defines that act as “forced sex or forced sexual intercourse or forced penetrative sex used in other studies but to distinguish it from other forms of sexual activities, ‘consummated’ was included to emphasize that there was penetration. It includes oral, anal and vaginal sex.”
In short: rape.
Some may consider this study an outlier, however, a study conducted in India found similar results. It would appear, based on this information, that our assumption that girls represent the majority of victims of sexual violence needs revision.
That may not sit well with some people. Many people peddle the notion that females face greater risk as part of their ideological agenda. Any challenge to it, no matter how credible, gets dismissed, usually without any consideration. Let us, however, look at what the study found before anyone ignores the results. According to the study:
Lifetime prevalence of overall sexual violence in the home was 13.7 percent. Among children aged 13-<18 years, 13.7 percent experienced sexual abuse in the home. Of these, three percent experienced unwanted touching (males=3.6%, females=2.5%), 1.3 percent have had their sex videos or photos taken without their consent (males=1.5%, females=1.0%), 1.9 percent reported forced attempted sex (males=1.6%, females=2.4%) and 1.6 percent experienced forced consummated sex, whether oral, anal or vaginal males=1.6, females=1.6). The commonly cited perpetrators of overall sexual violence in the home were: brothers and cousins. Among boys, mentioned most frequently were cousins, father and brother, while among girls, the brother, stepbrother, sister/stepsister and stepmother were mostly reported to be the perpetrators of overall sexual violence.
[…] The prevalence of overall sexual violence in the community was 7.8 percent. Unwanted sexual touching was the most common form of sexual violence in the community. Perpetrators of overall sexual violence in the community were neighbors, strangers, gangsters/addicts and others (adult men, chatmate/text mate, female friend, and brother’s friends).
One should note that the study does not provide a sex breakdown of the perpetrators, although as one can see, girls did mention female abusers.
As for the severe sexual violence, the study found:
About 3.2 percent of children and youth experienced forced consummated sex (anal, oral, and/or vaginal) during childhood. The prevalence for males was 4.1 percent, significantly higher than the 2.3 percent among females who experienced forced consummated sex. However, the lifetime prevalence estimate of forced consummated sex among males was double the prevalence of females in the school setting (2.1% compared with 1.1%, respectively). A current prevalence of 1.2 percent was noted. More males in the 13-<18 years group (1.5%) claimed to have such experience in the past 12 months compared with females (1%). More males had experienced forced consummated sex in almost all settings except in the home.
Again, this completely runs counter to the narrative that girls face greater risk. Given the cultural norms of the Philippines, boys possess little reason to reveal their experiences more than girls, so the potential argument that girls under-reported their experiences more than boys does not work. The findings suggest boys experience twice the rate of rape than girls, showing that focusing only on violence against women does nothing to help male victims.
Yet the narrative of “women as victims” holds so much sway that even the researchers fell to repeating. After noting in their conclusion that boys face a higher rate of sexual and physical violence than people assumed and that more attention should go to those cases, the researchers stated this:
The prevailing social norms including the acceptance and justification of violence against women and children contribute significantly to the current prevalence of violence against children and increases the likelihood of continued violence against children. […] Overall, 55.5% of males and 51.6% of females aged X agree that that a man can hit his wife if she does not take care of their children. The SLR on VAC shows that “adults who experienced family violence justify the use of intimate partner violence more than those who have not grown up in violent family environments.” […] In addition, “witnessing parental violence is a driver of subsequent violence in a variety of relationships for both males and females… Parental gender roles are also significant in the use and experience of family violence in that witnessing their father perpetrate violence was significant for males and witnessing their mother perpetrate was significant for females for both their own use and experience of subsequent family violence.
Let us try to parse this logic: boys face a greater risk of physical and sexual violence. People specifically target boys for abuse more than they do girls. Therefore, we should focus on preventing violence against women to change people’s perceptions about women’s roles within the family.
What would focusing on women do to prevent violence against boys? Unless the researchers argue that women abuse boys because the women experienced abuse themselves, the two acts bear no relation. This simply illustrates the pervasiveness of the “women as victim” narrative. Even when males clearly experience more abuse, the focus still must shift to females.
Yet we cannot ignore that as we talk to men and boys, we find that a larger number of them experienced abuse than we previously assumed. I, along with many others, stated such over the years. When one looks at studies on violence, males represent the majority of victims, particularly of severe violence, in every type of violence except for sexual violence. That makes no logical sense. Why would someone commit all kinds of horrendous physical acts against — from beating to murder — but stop at sexual violence?
Logic suggests that males would face a similar rate of sexual and simply do not report it, partly because of fear of disbelief and partly because no one bothers to ask. Perhaps we should start asking considering how often studies reveal a higher rate of sexual violence against males when we do.