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

Sexual exploitation of children: Barriers for boys in accessing social supports for victimization

Posted on Apr 3, 2023
By Mark Kavenagh, Nicholas Hua, and Christine Wekerle

[extract from the freely accessible Child Abuse & Neglect journal volume 140— Click here to read more]


This academic article, co-authored by Mark Kavenagh, Director of Evident Consulting, and Nicholas Hua and Christine Wekerle from McMaster University in Canada, provides a gender norms analysis of the data presented in the ten ground-breaking Global Boys Initiative country reports. It synthesises analysis of legal frameworks with finding from the frontline social support worker surveys and the global literature review to identify themes, challenges and solutions. 

Gender norms play a significant role in dictating social behaviour and frequently shape access to resources and freedoms by maintaining hierarchies of power and patriarchy. Although gender norms for boys differ across contexts, they typically hold that boys are strong and invulnerable, even if they are targeted sexually.  The primary and persistent problematic gender norm impacting boys’ access to support for sexual exploitation is a reluctance to accept that boys can be victims of sexual violence. This goes against gender norms, revealing that boys can be vulnerable and targets of exploitation and abuse.  

Supporting safe access to trauma-informed support services for all children

While there may be a stereotypical expectation that survivors of sexual abuse and exploitation are socially withdrawn, some boy survivors may present instead as angry and aggressive in reaction to sexual violence and exhibit complex traumatic responses. Others may display unremarkable emotional affect. Cole and Sprang (2015) concluded that there is an ongoing need for training for professionals to recognise and respond to boys’ sexual exploitation experiences. 

Trauma-informed care is crucial in recognising indicators of sexual exploitation and triggering further examination of child wellbeing. Approaches should focus on physical and psychological safety, the provision of basic needs, a non-judgmental stance, and building upon strengths and support networks. 


Overarching policy implications 

Gender norms frequently lead to the assumption that boys are less vulnerable, less impacted, and less deserving of support. Challenging the influence of gender norms is integral to improving access to support. Specific services that cater to boys and gender-diverse young people are necessary. Helping professionals need information and training about working with all genders to assist with their support regarding the sexual exploitation of children. 

Services should not require disclosure of sexual abuse or exploitation for support to be provided. Awareness among professionals that individual responses and associated trauma do not always follow patterns is crucial.  

Trauma-informed responses that prioritise physical and psychological safety, support the recovery and integration processes, and boy-friendly interventions should be promoted, and programming, and funding should be prioritised.

In conclusion, explicit disclosure should not be a prerequisite for obtaining support. There is an urgent need to provide safe and supportive spaces for all survivors, including boys and gender-diverse young people. 


Click here to read the full article