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Suffering in silence: The male incest victim

Nasjleti, M. (1980, May). Suffering in silence: The male incest victim. Child Welfare, 59(5).


Little information is available about male incest victims. Researchers have tended to ignore this issue because fewer male than female victims come to the attention of law enforcement agencies and professionals. There may be fewer male victims; it is quite clear that males are much more reluctant to report and discuss incest.

This article reports on the author’s own exploratory research conducted in a therapeutic small group. The article explores "reasons boys remain silent victims of incest."


A small group of referred and court-ordered male incest victims, ages 12 to 17, met with the author and her co-leader once a week for 90-minute sessions during a period of twenty-two months. In addition, information was gathered from a ten-item questionnaire and from the boy’s individual therapy. The smallness of this sample disclaims statistical significance, but the information gathered has exploratory and conjectural value from which further study can proceed.


As noted in the article

The writer found in the boys a consistent pattern of extreme resistance to discussing their molestation experiences. Most of the boys wanted ‘just to forget it ever happened’...When referred for individual therapy, the majority also refused to deal with their sexual abuse experiences. The sex of the therapist had no apparent effect on their attitude.

The author sees in American society a belief that passive response to physical aggression is a feminine trait, as is expression of feelings of hurt and request for help. On the contrary, the very act of being molested is considered "sissy" and "unmanly," as is the expression of hurt and request for help in dealing with feelings.

Molestation by a homosexual adds to this implied weakness. The further implication of being homosexual is a socially abhorrent or shameful stigma.

Society and its professionals tend to disbelieve sexual abuse of boys by adult females. Or as in the movie, "The Last Picture Show," such seduction is seen to be a "positive sexual experience for the boy." The author disputes these suppositions:

  • Rapists were found to have often had sexual or sexualized relationships with their mothers.
  • Incestuous fathers have often been found to have had sexualized relationships with their mothers.
  • Some homosexuals claim to have chosen homosexuality to defend their sexual feelings for a seductive mother.
  • Child molesters show reasons deeper than sexual fulfillment in their molesting behavior—reasons that point to power issues out of their own childhood seduction.

So, boys fear that nothing will be done to stop their sexual abuse. And, in many cases, they fear their own further victimization with which they may often have been threatened. According to the article, "Fear of injury is one of the major reasons boys wait until they are adolescents to report having been sexually abused. Their size and weight then allow them to feel less physically vulnerable."


The author suggests finding new ways of facilitating disclosure from boys who are victims. Further study and new information are needed. And finally, the socialization patterns that hurt both females and males need to be reexamined and changed: "boys need as much affection and nurturing as girls, and equal permission to express feelings of dependency, fear, vulnerability and helplessness."


Those working with kids need to be aware that this is a very real part of some boys’ experiences. It can not and should not be taken lightly. Opportunity must be given to the younger male adolescent to open up and share instead of suppressing and trying to forget it ever happened. However, one must be cautious not to read this problem into some common growth and adjustment situations common to early adolescent development.

Dean Borgman cCYS