At least 15% of girls and 5% of boys experience some form of sexual abuse before the age of 16, according to research. The actual figures are likely to be higher, because we know many children who experience abuse don’t tell anyone what has happened – and boys, in particular, are less likely to report it.
Sexual abuse of boys is as serious as that of girls
A survey by Barnardo’s found that one-in-five UK adults reacted more strongly to stories of children being groomed if the perpetrator was male and the teenage victim female. Nearly two-thirds of those who felt this said it was because they think teenage girls are more vulnerable than teenage boys.
Attitudes like these can make boys and men feel that they should be able to ‘protect themselves’ – and that, if they tell someone about abuse, they may not be believed. It’s important to recognise that sexual abuse of boys is just as serious as sexual abuse of girls.
Sexual abuse of boys online
Some offenders don’t pretend to be someone else. They target young men who they think are vulnerable.
Other offenders do what’s known as ‘catfishing’ – where they pretend to be a boy/girl of a similar age and seek an online ‘relationship’ with a boy (this can happen to females too). Victims may send images to the offender in the belief they are having a legitimate relationship. We often hear from young people that they were asked to share images in order to ‘prove’ that they liked someone, and were made to feel that this was normal and expected. If the offender receives images or videos, they can then blackmail the boys for more images.