The impact of child sexual abuse

Following the death of Linkin Park singer Chester Bennington, our CSE Adviser Will Sayer explores the stigma that is still attached to young male victims of sexual abuse and subsequent mental health impact that is preventing them from coming forward.

Most research into services that support both male and female victims of child sexual abuse and exploitation report significantly fewer male victims than female, and broader statistics suggest that boys are less likely to be sexually abused than girls (Radford et al, 2011). Additional Research suggests that girls are at a greater risk of being sexually abused by a family member and boys are at a higher risk of being abused by a stranger (Maikovich-Fong and Jafee, 2010).

However, do these statistics show the true picture? Or is there a stigma still attached to young male victims of sexual abuse and subsequent mental health impact that is preventing them from coming forward? Are there still preconceptions by professionals being made about young males who present with challenging behaviours that are ending up in the criminal justice system rather than receiving the support they need?

The research into adults who have suffered sexual abuse as children demonstrates how severely individuals are often affected throughout their lives; with adverse childhood experiences (ACEs) such as repeated sexual abuse often leading to complex trauma symptoms into adulthood, affecting the way they develop, think and the choices they make about the way they live and the future relationships they form.

Chester Bennington and Child Sexual Abuse

July 20th 2017 was a dark day for the music business. We lost a very talented artist in an alleged suicide by the name of Chester Bennington, lead singer of Linkin Park and aged just 41. As I grew up listening to Linkin Park’s music, starting with their multi-platinum album “Hybrid Theory”, I found myself looking into the death of the man I had come to admire and was shocked by what I found.

Chester had spoken out a number of times about the sexual abuse he suffered as a child from the age of 7 until he was 13. He has always mentioned how the lyrical content of his songs about paranoia, depression and fear were from first-hand experience.  It was a chilling realisation when I realised that many of the band’s song lyrics refer to his childhood experiences of sexual abuse, like these from “Crawling”:

“There’s something inside me that pulls beneath the surface
Consuming, confusing
This lack of self-control I fear is never ending
Controlling
I can’t seem
To find myself again
My walls are closing in
(Without a sense of confidence I’m convinced
That there’s just too much pressure to take)
I’ve felt this way before
So insecure

Crawling in my skin
These wounds, they will not heal
Fear is how I fall
Confusing what is real

In 2008 Chester spoke to Kerrang Magazine about the details and effects of his abuse “It escalated from a touchy, curious, ‘what does this thing do’ into full-on, crazy violations. I was getting beaten up and being forced to do things I didn’t want to do. It destroyed my self-confidence.” He suffered in silence for six years, fearing what would happen if he spoke about his trauma. “I didn’t want people to think I was gay or that I was lying,” he confessed. “It was a horrible experience.”

From my youth work experience, supporting many young people, a number of the young males I’ve worked with felt the same as Chester; scared to speak out for fear of what others would think of them, how it would affect their own or others’ views of what it is to be a man, or in case they weren’t believed. This is obviously very worrying, as it’s likely that perpetrators of sexual crimes against young males target them for these exact reasons – that they won’t say anything.

The impact of child sexual abuse

It’s widely believed that because of the lack of reporting from male victims, many likely live with the abuse in silence and either never speak out, or even when they do – as in Chester’s case – are continually affected by the abuse into adulthood; experiencing complex trauma, mental health issues and drug and alcohol problems later in life. It’s also likely that the anger presented by some young male victims, and being involved with drugs and alcohol and crime as an escape from their trauma, can stop professionals from looking at the root causes, meaning that young male victims are not always offered the support they need; instead treated as trouble-makers, and their cries for help overlooked. For these reasons, it’s unfortunately highly likely that the numbers of male victims of sexual abuse is much higher than recorded or anticipated by authorities.

Looking at U.S. statistics in the context of Chester Bennington, who lived in America, it has been reported that one in six males is sexually abused at some point during their childhood. Imagine knowing that it is possible that out of a group of six of your male friends, one of them may have been sexually abused.

Research shows that among boys aged 11 to 17; severe and ongoing maltreatment by a non-resident adult was associated with delinquent behaviour. Levels of both trauma-related symptoms and delinquent behaviour increased with the number of different abuse types that children, young people and young adults had experienced (Maikovich-Fong and Jafee, 2010). In contrast to a single incident, complex trauma can often occur following repeated traumatisation like prolonged and sustained child sexual abuse and can affect an individual’s identity, attachments and even cognitive development (Kezelman, 2013).

The after-effects of child sexual abuse therefore can be catastrophic and have long reaching impact far into adulthood. The complex trauma experienced as a result of abuse is linked to other psychiatric disorders, as well as substance abuse and dependence, anxiety, depression and suicidal ideation, many of which affected Chester. Speaking to Kerrang in 2016 he said: “I was a lot more confident when I was high, I felt like I had more control over my environment when I was on hallucinogens or drinking.”

At Safe and Sound, we work with victims of child sexual exploitation and abuse on a one-to-one basis supporting them to move to a place of safety. We also deliver workshops in primary and secondary schools, pupil referral units and secure units covering topics such as Healthy Relationships, Consent and Grooming.

It’s really important that we continue to get the message to young males that suffering from sexual abuse does not make you “less of a man” – it’s never your fault and you will not be judged. For those concerned about their friends finding out about what has happened to them – support services are confidential.

To talk to someone anonymously about what is happening, for support or advice, you can call Childline on 0800 1111 or chat to them online here.

I hope that Chester’s story helps to give other young victims, both male and female, the courage to come forward.

Don’t feel Numb to the world around you because In The End it does matter.

In memory of Chester Bennington.

Written by Will Sayer, CSE Adviser for Safe and Sound

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