An astonishing 44 percent of South African school-aged boys have been forced to have sex. And even more shocking: most of the perpetrators were women.
These findings were made by Prof Neil Andersson and Ari Ho-Foster from the Centre for Tropical Disease Research (CIET) in Johannesburg and published in the International Journal for Equity in Health.
"We are very concerned at the findings and statistics of this research," comments Ricki Fransman, Senior Manager for Childline Western Cape. "This research once again highlights the reality that boys are as vulnerable to sexual abuse and rape as girls are."
Study results show that 14 percent of 10-year-old boys were forced to have sex in the last year (prior to when the survey was carried out). And the results were not much better for older boys: between the ages of 11 and 19, an average of 11.1 percent of boys were reported to have been sexually assaulted during the previous year.
"There was a marked association between schoolboys who had been beaten and those forced to have sex in the last year," said Andersson and Ho-Foster in their report.
"We believe the statistics to be realistic," Fransman said when asked whether the statistics may be exaggerated. "It does tie in closely with international trends where it is indicated that one in five boys are sexually assaulted by the time they reach young adulthood."
According to the report, perpetrators were most frequently an adult not from their own family, followed closely in frequency by other schoolchildren.
Contrary to expectations, the study results show that most of the sexual assaults on boys were carried out by females (41 percent), compared to 32 percent of male perpetrators. The remaining 27 percent of the abused boys had been forced to have sex by both females and males.
Another alarming finding is that 28 percent of the study participants reported to have been sexually abused by a fellow learner, while 11 percent of participants admitted to having forced sex on someone else.
One in five boys also reported that they had been sexually assaulted by a teacher, while 20 percent of schoolboys said they had been asked to have sex by a teacher.
"There was also an important association between victim age and sex of the perpetrator," reads Andersson and Ho-Foster's report. "Younger victims (aged 10 to 14) were more likely to report a male perpetrator than those aged 15 to 19 years."
"Boys don't cry"
"Perpetrators prey on vulnerable children," comments Fransman. "The crime also seems to be assisted by the myth that boys are not victims of sexual abuse or rape, and this discourages young men from making disclosures.
"Unfortunately young men are often still getting the message from their families, friends or communities that they should not cry or express their emotional distress at negative, traumatic experiences that they may have."
Where the crimes take place
Andersson and Ho-Foster found that there were "notable differences between provinces, with Limpopo (the least economically developed and most rural province) suffering the highest rates of this type of abuse (16.1 percent) and the Western Cape the lowest."
Mpumalanga was in second place with 11.9 percent, followed by the Northwest Province (10.6 percent), the Freestate (10.3 percent) and the Northern Cape (10 percent).
More behavioural differences between urban and rural areas:
- Rural schoolboys were more likely to have been forced to have sex in the last year (prior to the study) than their urban or metro counterparts.
- In urban areas the association between beating and forced sex was slightly stronger than in rural areas.
- Rural boys were significantly more sexually abused at school by a fellow student and/or teacher than urban boys.
- Male abuse of schoolboys was much more common in rural areas while female perpetration was more an urban phenomenon.
- Boys admitting to having forced sex on someone else were marginally more common in poorly resourced schools.
"It [the study] dispels the myth that it is only girls that are sexually abused or raped," said Fransman. "It is also an indication that more needs to be done in the way of education and empowering children, caregivers and communities, as well as professionals who work with children, around the issue of sexual abuse and rape."
South Africa already has one of the highest rape rates in the world, and other studies have shown that people who sexually abuse children were often the target of such violence when young, the authors said.
Another problem is that the prevalence of rape is hampering efforts to combat Aids in a country at the epicenter of the global pandemic.
"There is increasing recognition of links between sexual abuse and high-risk attitudes to sexual violence and HIV risk," the researchers wrote. "Sexually abused children are also more likely to engage in HIV high-risk behaviour."
About the study
The study set out to find out how common male sexual abuse is in South Africa, and to identify some of the relationships between male child rape and behaviours of schoolboys.
They compiled the report from information gathered during a 2002 study among 269 705 learners from 1 191 schools countrywide - 126 696 boys between the ages of 10 and 19 took part in the study.
This type of study based entirely on the response of participants has limitations because there are no ways to verify whether people exaggerate or withhold information, the researchers acknowledged.
Even so, the researchers say they constructed their anonymous survey to cut down on these pitfalls and the findings may actually underestimate the sexual violence.
Anderson and Ho-Foster concludes that "this study uncovers endemic sexual abuse of male children that was hitherto only poorly documented."
- (Wilma Stassen, Health24, July 2008)
2 in 5 SA boys raped: study