Public Opinion is Clear: Urgent Legislation Required to Protect Children from Sexual Exploitation! Read the story

“The ethical red flags are waving a lot more furiously than with girls and women”: The participation of boys and young men in research on child sexual abuse and exploitation”

Posted on Jul 27, 2022
By Claire Cody and Claire Soares with inputs from discussants Alastair Hilton, Mark Kavenagh, Glenn Miles and Trudy Nyakambangwe.

[extract from the Our Voices blog— Click here to read more]


In May 2022, The Our Voices team hosted a small online group discussion with four members of the Our Voices University Network (OVUN) to explore the participation of boys and young men in research on child sexual abuse and exploitation. This discussion was part of the OVUN’s ‘participation is protection’ strand of work which aims to promote international dialogue around the value and complexities of supporting children and young people impacted by child sexual abuse and exploitation to take an active role in decision-making.

Researchers know that boys and young men who have been subjected to sexual abuse and exploitation are less visible to support services. Given that opportunities to participate in research on the topic of sexual abuse and exploitation frequently come through services, this means boys and young men are less likely to be represented in such activities. This makes them an important group to focus on as part of this strand of work.

All four discussants have expertise in researching sexual abuse and exploitation with boys and while one and a half hours was simply not long enough to fully explore this topic (!), which as one OVUN member reflected, ‘could have gone off in 15 different trails!’, this blog shares some of the key messages from the discussion, concluding with reflections about how the OVUN can support others interested in working with boys and young men.

Accessing boys and young men to take part in research

There was agreement in the group that accessing research participants through existing services was the safest and most ethical approach to working with children and young people affected by sexual abuse and exploitation. It allows researchers to screen young people for participation and ensures the provision of wrap-around support during and after their engagement in the research process. However, when it comes to accessing boys and young men, a number of limitations with this approach were voiced, including:

Service provision for boys: the group affirmed that there are far fewer specialist services for boys and far fewer boys engaged in support services for a range of reasons that do not reconcile with the prevalence of the problem. This skews the sampling picture and requires different approaches.

Where there are no existing services for boys or no boys engaged in services – researchers may need to access boys and young men affected by sexual abuse and exploitation through other means. This is necessary for generating evidence to demonstrate the need for gender-specific services, but can present ethical dilemmas for the research process and wellbeing of participants (and researchers).

Finding the ‘right’ services: even when specialist support services did exist, and did work with a small number of boys, it was felt that it was important for researchers to spend the time to carefully select service partners from which to identify participants – and not make assumptions about the skills, capabilities and ways of working of the service:

“Never make any assumptions that because somebody has a 20 or 30 year history in child protection that they understand the dynamics around working with boys and people who have diverse SOGIE [Sexual Orientation, Gender Identity and Expression] and others – because quite often they don’t. You scratch below the surface and they don’t and it can actually result in putting boys in, in a more difficult situation.”

Click to read the full blog post