The Impact of Child Sexual Abuse: Gender Issues
Studies concerning gender differences amongst CSA girls and boys have reported somewhat mixed results. Some researchers have concluded that males react in more neutral, or even positive, ways to Child Sexual Abuse compared to girls (Bauserman & Rind, 1997). However many studies have found that children of both genders exhibit a range of negative effects resulting from CSA (Boney-McCoy & Finkelhor, 1998; Edwards et al., 2003; Flisher, Kramer, Hoven, Greenwald, Alegria, Bird, Canino, Connell, & Moore, 1997). The finding that boys tend to show more “externalising” symptoms (such as aggression and acting out) and girls show more “internalising” symptoms (such as depression and anxiety), has been favoured by some (Edwards et al., 2003; Watkins & Bentovim, 1992; Turner, 1993) and rebutted by others (Garnefski & Diekstra, 1997; Jumper, 1995). Further, some studies have shown that females also frequently report marital distress (Ingram, 1985), and often drug abuse and alcoholism (Pribor & Dinwiddie, 1992).
Although research consistently reports that the overwhelming majority of perpetrators are males (Edwards et al., 2003), it is believed that the number of female perpetrators may be underestimated (Banning, 1989). This underestimation may be due to female physical contact with children being seen as more acceptable, and therefore inappropriate touching is more likely to be “missed” by other adults and confused by victims. Female motivation to sexually abuse children is also little understood. Some authors (Matthews, 1990) have theorised that it may be due to serious emotional issues resulting from previous (and, frequently, current abuse) by males in these women’s lives.
It also seems that many of these women are manipulated into abusive acts by their current male partners (see Rathus et al., 2005). Whilst it seems that majority of the perpetrators are males, many studies have found that more females than males (at a ratio of 3-4 females to 1 male) are the victims of CSA (Webster, 2001; also, see Edwards et al., 2003, and Finkelhor, 1984). However these results may not be as accurate as they initially seem, due to an even higher likelihood of males not reporting their abuse. The reasons for this may lie in the even greater stigmatisation and shame of male victims, a higher expectancy that males should be able to look after themselves, and issues concerning homosexuality — as the perpetrator is most often male (Briggs, 1986; Etherington, 1995).