Sexual Abuse Affects Boys Too (w Lawrence Cohen)



ashamed boy on stool
Photo by Lee Carson via Flickr

 1 in 5 boys experience sexual abuse before their 18th birthday. 

More than one-quarter of male victims of a completed rape (27.8%) experienced their first rape when they were 10 years of age or younger.

And 43% of men report experiencing some form of sexual harassment and/or assault in their lifetime.  

Today’s guest, psychologist Lawrence Cohen, founded one of the first therapy groups for male survivors of sexual abuse. As recently as the 1980s and ’90s, there was little public awareness that males could be victims of sexual abuse. Indeed, even today, parents and teachers spend much more time talking to girls than boys about the possibility of sexual abuse or harassment. Girls are taught how to stay safe & how to call for help; boys are mostly told to not sexually abuse or harass females.

“The lack of awareness, education and understanding leaves boys very vulnerable,” Dr. Cohen says. Societal expectations also contribute to boys’ vulnerability to sexual abuse. Consider:

  • Boys are socialized to believe that males should want sex at any time, anywhere, with anybody
  • Boys aren’t encouraged to feel or express their emotions
  • Boys are not cuddled, loved and nurtured in the same way girls are

“Boys walk around hungry for that kind of nurturing, touch and gentleness, and unfortunately, there are people who will exploit that and take advantage of that,” Dr. Cohen says.

The #MeToo movement has brought the issue of sexual assault and harassment into public conversation, but the “dominant [public] view is that men are the perpetrators and women are the victims,” Dr. Cohen says. Which means that it is absolutely essential for parents and teachers of boys to counter that prevailing narrative. Boys need to know that they (or their friends) can be victims of sexual assault or harassment. They need to be taught red flags that indicate questionable behavior, and they need to know how to safely reach out for help.

NOTE: We know our sound quality is less-than-ideal on this episode. Jen’s desktop computer AND laptop crashed right before we were scheduled to record, which meant she had to use her phone to join the conversation. Please forgive the poor sound quality; we had Larry on the line and thought his message was important enough to power through our technical challenges.

In this episode, Jen, Janet & Lawrence discuss:
  • Why so many men & boys don’t disclose sexual abuse
  • How sexist stereotypes and unhealthy expectations of masculinity increase boys’ vulnerability to abuse
  • Why you must teach young boys about emotions
  • Educating boys about consent and boundaries
  • The importance of acknowledging sexual pleasure — & the fact that bodies may respond, whether or not the touch was wanted or welcome
  • Violent vs seductive sexual abuse
  • Grooming leading to sexual abuse
  • The emotional impact of abuse
  • How to support a boy or man who discloses abuse
  • What to do if you have a “gut feeling” that something is wrong
  • How roughhousing teaches boys about healthy touch
Links we mentioned (or should have) in this episode:

PlayfulParenting.com — Lawrence’s website

Stop Sexual Abuse with These 6 Steps — classic BuildingBoys post

Pay attention to Stop Sexual Abuse — another BuildingBoys post

Sexual Abuse & Penn State — 2011 BuildingBoys post

Managing Emotions – ON BOYS episode

Consent with Mike Domitrz – ON BOYS episode

How to Teach Consent to Boys — Without Shaming Them — award-winning Your Teen article by Jen

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