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The Invisible Boy


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Chapter 2

Perpetrators of Male Victimization

Sexual Abuse

Most of the data that has shaped our view of sexual abuse perpetration has been drawn from case report studies, official crime statistics, police reports, and the records of child welfare agencies. Using case report studies, it is evident that the majority of sexual abusers of both girls, boys, women, and teen girls are heterosexual males (DeJong et al., 1982; Ellerstein and Canavan, 1980; Faller, 1987; Farber et al., 1984; Reinhart, 1987; Showers et al., 1983; Spencer and Dunklee, 1986). Ramsay-Klawsnik (1990a) found that boys were abused by adult males 33% of the time and by adolescent males 12% of the time. Rates of abuse of males by natural fathers has been reported in 20% of cases by (Pierce and Pierce, 1985), 7% by (Ellerstein and Canavan, 1980), 29% by (Faller, 1989), 14% by (Spencer and Dunklee, 1986) and 48% by (Friedrich et al., 1988). Stepfathers were found to be the abuser in 28% of cases (Pierce and Pierce, 1985). Though, there are no studies of same sex sexual assault or "date rape" among teen gay males, evidence from a study of adult gay males suggests that other gay or bisexual males may represent the majority of perpetrators (Mezey and King, 1989; Waterman, Dawson, and Bologna, 1989).

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Teen Perpetrators

Abuse of males by adolescent perpetrators is well documented in the literature. Rogers and Terry (1984) found that 56% of male victims were abused by teen males compared to 28% for females. Longo and Groth (1983) found that 19% of the sibling incest offenders were female. Others have also documented high rates of abuse of males by adolescents (Ellerstein and Canavan, 1980; Showers et al., 1983; Spencer and Dunklee, 1986). Longo and Groth (1983) found in their study that adolescent sex offenders (81% of whom were male, 19% female) abused brothers in 16% of cases and 5% of cases respectively. In most cases of sibling incest, the victim was younger than the perpetrator (Pierce and Pierce, 1987). Sibling incest perpetrators often have low self-esteem, deep-seated feelings of inadequacy and emptiness, and are isolated, immature, loners who prefer the company of younger children (Groth and Laredo, 1981; Shoor et al., 1966).

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Strangers vs. Acquaintances

Boys appear more likely than girls to be abused by multiple perpetrators (Faller, 1989; Finkelhor, 1984; Rogers and Terry, 1984). Some research reports that boys are more likely to be abused by strangers (Finkelhor, 1979; Rogers and Terry, 1984). Faller (1989) reports that teachers, daycare providers, boy scout leaders, and camp staff accounted for 24% of abuse of males. Risin and Koss (1987) report that family members were abusers in 22% of cases, strangers in 15% of cases, baby-sitters in 23% of cases, neighbours, teachers, or friends of the family in 25% of cases, friends of siblings in 9% of cases, and peers in just under 6% of cases. However, overall it appears that boys, like girls, are more likely to be abused by someone they know (Faller, 1989; Farber et al., 1984; Fromuth and Burkhart, 1987, 1989; Risin and Koss, 1987; Rogers and Terry, 1984; Showers et al., 1983; Spencer and Dunklee, 1986).

Findings from research on intrafamilial abuse of boys vary, with rates ranging from 20% to a high of almost 90% (Pierce and Pierce, 1985; Finkelhor et al., 1990). Some report that the majority of sexual abuse experiences for boys are extrafamilial (Farber et al., 1984; Risin and Koss, 11987; Showers et al., 1983). However, overall, it does appear that boys are more likely than girls to be abused outside the family and by non-family members.

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Female Perpetrators

As recently as 10 years ago it was a common assumption that females did not or could not sexually abuse children or youth. Even some professionals working in the field believed that women represented only about 1%-3% of sexual abusers at most. However, mounting research evidence about sexual abuse perpetration at the hands of teen and adult females has begun to challenge our assumptions, though these earlier and dated views still tend to predominate.

The percentage of women and teenage girl perpetrators recorded in case report studies is small and ranges from 3%-10% (Kendall-Tackett and Simon, 1987; McCarty, 1986; Schultz and Jones, 1983; Wasserman and Kappel, 1985). When the victim is male, female perpetrators account for 1%-24% of abusers. When the victim is female, female perpetrators account for 6%-17% of abusers (American Humane Association, 1981; Finkelhor and Russell, 1984; and Finkelhor et al., 1990). In the Ontario Incidence Study, 10% of sexual abuse investigations involved female perpetrators (Trocme, 1995). However, in six studies reviewed by Russell and Finkelhor, female perpetrators accounted for 25% or more of abusers. Ramsay-Klawsnik (1990a) found that adult females were abusers of males 37% of the time, female adolescents 19% of the time. Both of these rates are higher than the same study reported for adult and teen male abusers.

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Dynamics of Female Perpetrated Abuse

Some research has reported that female perpetrators commit fewer and less intrusive acts of sexual abuse compared to males. While male perpetrators are more likely to engage in anal intercourse and to have the victim engage in oral-genital contact, females tend to use more foreign objects as part of the abusive act (Kaufman, 1995). This study also reported that differences were not found in the frequency of vaginal intercourse, fondling by the victim or abuser, genital body contact without penetration, or oral contact by the abuser.

Females may be more likely to use verbal coercion than physical force. The most commonly reported types of abuse by female perpetrators include vaginal intercourse, oral sex, fondling, and group sex (Faller, 1987; Hunter et al., 1993). However, women also engage in mutual masturbation, oral, anal, and genital sex acts, show children pornography, and play sex games (Johnson, 1989; Knopp and Lackey, 1987). The research suggests that, overall, female and male perpetrators commit many of the same acts and follow many of the same patterns of abuse against their victims. They also do not tend to differ significantly in terms of their relationship to the victim (most are relatives) or the location of the abuse (Allen, 1991; Kaufman et al., 1995).

It is interesting to note in the study by Kaufman et al., (1995), that 8% of the female perpetrators were teachers and 23% were baby-sitters, compared to male perpetrators who were 0% and 8% respectively. Finkelhor et al., (1988) also report significantly higher rates of sexual abuse of children by females in daycare settings. Of course Finkelhor’s findings should not surprise us given that women represent the majority of daycare employees.

Research on teen and adult female sexual abuse perpetrators has found that many suffer from low self-esteem, antisocial behaviour, poor social and anger management skills, fear of rejection, passivity, promiscuity, mental health problems, posttraumatic stress disorder, and mood disorders (Hunter, Lexier, Goodwin, Browne, and Dennis, 1993; Mathews, Matthews, and Speltz, 1989). However, as in the case of male perpetrators, research does not substantiate that highly emotionally disturbed or psychotic individuals predominate among the larger population of female sexual abusers (Faller, 1987).

There is some evidence that females are more likely to be involved with co-abusers, typically a male, though studies report a range from 25% - 77% (Faller, 1987; Kaufman et al., 1995; McCarty, 1986). However, Mayer (1992), in a review of data on 17 adolescent female sex offenders, found that only 2 were involved with male co-perpetrators. She also found that the young women in this study knew their victims and that none experienced legal consequences for their actions.

Self-report studies provide a very different view of sexual abuse perpetration and increase the number of female perpetrators substantially. In a retrospective study of male victims, 60% reported being abused by females (Johnson and Shrier, 1987). The same rate was found in a sample of college students (Fritz et al., 1981). In other studies of male university and college students, rates of female perpetration were found at levels as high as 72% - 82% (Fromuth and Burkhart, 1987, 1989; Seidner and Calhoun, 1984). Bell et al., (1991) found that 27% of males were abused by females. In some of these types of studies females represent as much as 50% of sexual abusers (Risin and Koss, 1987). Knopp and Lackey (1987) found that 51% of victims of female sexual abusers were male. It is evident that case report and self-report studies yield very different types of data about prevalence. These extraordinary differences tell us we need to start questioning all of our assumptions about perpetrators and victims of child maltreatment.

Finally, there is an alarmingly high rate of sexual abuse by females in the backgrounds of rapists, sex offenders, and sexually aggressive men, 59% (Petrovich and Templer, 1984), 66% (Groth, 1979), and 80% (Briere and Smiljanich, 1993). A strong case for the need to identify female perpetrators can be found in Table 4, which presents the findings from a study of adolescent sex offenders by O’Brien (1989). Male adolescent sex offenders abused by ‘females only’ chose female victims almost exclusively.

Table 4. Victim Gender Based on Who Previously Abused the Perpetrator

Gender of Perpetrators’ Own Victimizer Gender of Victim
Male or Both

Female Only
Male only 67,5% 32,5%
Female only 6,7% 93,3%

Berkowitz (1993), in a Winnipeg based study of sexually abused males in treatment groups, found the following rates of perpetration.

Table 5. Gender of Abusers of Male Victims in Treatment Groups

Gender of Abusers N %
Intrafamilial Abuse (N=54)
Male perpetrated


100 %
Female perpetrated 39 72,2 %
Extrafamilial Abuse (N=55)
Male adult


90,9 %
Female adult 30 54,5 %
Male adolescent 39 70,9 %
Female adolescent 24 43,6 %

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Physical Abuse and Neglect

In the Ontario Incidence Study: 41% of investigations of child maltreatment were for physical abuse, compared to 24% for sexual abuse, 30% for neglect, 10% for emotional maltreatment, and 2% for other forms of maltreatment. There were two or more forms of suspected maltreatment in 12% of investigations. In 27% of the cases maltreatment was substantiated, 30% suspected, and 42% unsubstantiated. Forty-nine per cent of investigated children were male, and 35% of children investigated because of suspected sexual abuse were male (Trocme, 1995). In Ontario, 34% of investigated children lived with both biological parents, 19% with a biological parent and a step parent, 36% with a single mother, and 6% with a single father. Social assistance was the primary source of income for 38% of investigated children. At least 17% lived in subsidized housing.

In the U.S., figures provided by the American Association for the Protection of Children (1985) reveal that most physical abuse and most minor and major injuries of children are perpetrated by women. Other research evidence indicates that mothers represent the majority of physical abusers and neglecters of children (Johnson and Showers, 1985; Rosenthal, 1988). Archambault et al., (1989) found that mothers are the major perpetrators of physical abuse for both male and female runaways.

It is evident that much of the physical abuse and neglect of children occurs in single mother led families living in high stress environments. Stressed to the limit, these mothers take out their frustrations on their children. Some of these mothers are also victims of spousal violence, child abuse, or suffer from a number of current and chronic life stressors. Because mothers typically are the primary caregivers of children and spend more time with them, it makes sense that they would show up in larger numbers in the statistics on child physical abuse and neglect.

Though females account for more of the physical abuse and neglect of children, there is some evidence that males inflict more serious injuries on their victims, particularly male victims (Rosenthal, 1988). Fathers are also two times more likely by the perpetrator in cases involving child fatalities (Jason and Andrek, 1983). In other studies no sex differences, in terms of severity of abuse or child fatalities in two-parent families, were found (Gelles, 1989; Greenland, 1987). However, because women still tend to be the primary caregivers to children, the emotional impact of mother-perpetrated abuse, regardless of the form, may be greater on children than a fathers’ abuse.

The greater physical harm caused to children by fathers is likely attributable to the greater physical strength of males generally, but also to the disinhibiting effects of alcohol, and to a lesser extent drugs, which factor prominently in parental abuse of children and youth (Cavaiola and Schiff, 1988). For all forms of child maltreatment, parent risk factors such as alcohol abuse, drug abuse, mental health problems, and inter-parental violence show up as risk factors, but especially physical abuse and neglect (Trocme, 1995).

When the abuse starts is likely to have some impact on its course, duration, and consequences, though there is still insufficient research to map a predictable developmental path and sequelae. In general, abuse can follow one of three paths: abuse that begins in childhood and ends when the child reaches adolescence, begins in childhood and continues through adolescence, begins in adolescence (Lourie, 1979). The duration can range from 1 month to over 15 years. The average duration is approximately 5 years (Farber and Joseph, 1985).

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Corporal Punishment

Much of the use of corporal punishment by parents, teachers, daycare providers, or various institution-based professionals goes unnoticed, or is not labeled as being abusive, because it is viewed as an acceptable function for an adult in the role of parent, locus parentis, or caregiver. This is due, in part, to widespread cultural norms in North American society sanctioning the use of force in the correction and discipline of children and youth and a "just world" view that children who misbehave, are difficult to control, or anger adults deserve to get a spanking.

But it is also because much of this form of maltreatment does not come to the attention of authorities unless it is severe. As in the case of inter-spouse abuse, we have historically viewed incidents of violence within families as a "domestic" concern or a private family matter, though significant strides have been made to improve this situation in Canada. However, we have not yet begun to accord children the same type of compassion and concern we are beginning to give female spouses.

Almost all American parents endorse the use of corporal punishment and use it routinely on infants, older children, and teens alike, though usage tends to decrease the older the child gets. However, more corporal punishment appears to be directed at boys than girls. More males report being hit by parents and more parents report hitting sons than daughters (Straus, 1994). In this same study, sons recall being equally likely to be hit by both parents, whereas adolescent daughters are a third more likely to be hit by their mothers. The most chronic pattern of hitting, in terms of frequency, is mothers hitting adolescent sons, the lowest is for fathers hitting daughters. Two-thirds of mothers with toddlers hit them three or more times per week. Other studies have also found higher rates of mothers hitting adolescent children (Wauchope and Straus, 1990).

When an adolescent is hit, both parents usually do it, especially if the child is a boy. When a son is hit, fathers do it 23% of the time, mothers 23%, and both parents 53%. When a daughter is hit, fathers do it 20% of the time, mothers 39%, and both parents 41%. The highest rate of hitting teens occurs in middle class families (Straus, 1994).

Several theories summarized by Straus (1994) offer some explanation of why boys are hit and punished more often than girls: they misbehave more; boys are encouraged to be more active which may subtly encourage misbehaviour; it is part of training boys for anticipated adult male roles of provider/protector; and it is used to toughen boys up. The gender of the parent administering corporal punishment is also likely to influence our perceptions. Because of our stereotypes of women as nurturers or "natural" caregivers, we are less likely to attribute malicious intent to mothers or other females. Instead, we tend to view women’s use of physical abuse or corporal punishment as a sign of stress. We are also likely to overlook, or give only passing concern to, cases where a female caregiver uses physical force or corporal punishment toward an older male child or teen. However, theories that explain mothers’ use of violence toward children and teens solely in terms of stress, fail to acknowledge and factor in these gender-specific issues of particular consequence to male victims.

It is generally believed that parental stress owing to conditions of poverty or low socio-economic status (SES) contributes to children being "at risk". However, the research is inconclusive. Erlanger’s review of the literature on corporal punishment reported no remarkable relationship between use of corporal punishment and socio-economic status. Others have found higher rates for lower income families (Bryan and Freed, 1982; Stark and McEvoy, 1970). One study found that corporal punishment rates are highest for middle class families (Straus, 1994). This same study also found that while fewer lower SES adolescent parents may hit their children, those that do hit do it more often.

Personal beliefs, life experience, attribution, and social learning all appear to play a role in predicting the use of corporal punishment. Parents who believe hitting a child is not abuse and that it works to correct misbehaviour, attribute the child’s misbehaviour to premeditation or provocation, attribute the behaviour to internal characteristics of the child that are within their control, observe their partner administer force, or who feel powerless in the face of the misbehaviour are most likely to use corporal punishment or physically abuse their children (Bugental, Mantyla, and Lewis, 1989; Dibble and Straus, 1990; Dietrich et al., 1990; Dix and Grusec, 1985; Fry, 1993; Institute For the Prevention of Child Abuse, 1990; and Walters, 1991). The more parents believe in the use of corporal punishment, the more likely they are to use it, and the more likely they are to apply it harshly (Moore and Straus, 1987).

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1000 fold the child of perdition


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Modified Saturday, March 11, 2017

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