Caring for boys affected by sexual violence

A desk based study designed to inform primary research, practice and policy


This study explores both sexual abuse experienced by boys, including sexual exploitation, and harmful sexual behaviour of boys; these are referred to collectively in the report as sexual violence.
Why consider both?

By considering both in this study the aim is not to imply that one leads to the other.
Boys who have experienced sexual abuse and boys who have been actors in harmful sexual behaviour share a number of indicators, such as sexualised behaviour and using sexual language, as well as risk and resilience factors.
Many of the interventions to address child sexual abuse and harmful sexual behaviour of children are delivered by the same service providers, although requiring different approaches.


Problematic sexual behaviour

Harmful Sexual Behaviour

Harmful sexual behaviour of children is sexual activity where one individual has not consented, or where their relationship includes an imbalance of power, for example due to age, intellectual ability, physical ability or impairment (disability), or physical strength.

Problematic sexual behaviour is behaviour that is a cause for concern in terms of the child’s age or developmental stage, according to the context; for instance, knowledge of sexual acts, or use of sexually explicit words or acts. Children’s sexual behaviour may be problematic, even if it is not yet causing harm to others. Children’s behaviour may be seen as problematic if the behaviour is recurrent.

About the Research


Research Questions


To understand the drivers of sexual violence affecting boys

To know existing interventions in this area

To inform policy and practice

What global, regional or country-specific knowledge exists on the drivers of sexual violence affecting boys?

Sub-questions focussed on culture, context, social norms around gender and the role of parents and caregivers

What promising interventions exist?

Review of over 100 documents in English, Spanish and French

20 semi-structured key informant interviews


Sexual violence affecting boys remains largely unknown, unacknowledged and not responded to.

Addressing gendered social norms is critical as they influence perceptions of boys’ vulnerability and obstruct disclosure, identification and recognition of harm caused and support needed.

Some groups of boys are at heightened risk, including those with inadequate care.

There is value in interventions addressing risk factors in boys’ identity and environment, including the family.

Sexual violence can be a cause or consequence of family separation.

A focus on prevention of family separation and reintegration within interventions to address sexual violence is required.

Child protection systems need to better meet the needs of boys affected by sexual violence.

Response services appear to be lacking for boys and their modality may not be appealing to them, but it is unclear whether separate interventions are needed.

Given the extent of the problem, any intervention needs to be scalable and involve children in design.


The apparent lack of interventions for boys affected by sexual violence is likely influenced by the lack of evidence on the issue.

Harmful social norms related to childhood, gender and sexuality need to be identified.

Local child protection and care systems, families and the media need to be equipped to understand and address the issue.

Next Steps

Participatory action research with children and adults in India, Nepal, Cambodia and the Philippines will be completed in 2019.

It has been designed to explore the same issues as the desk study but in more depth, and situating them in context.

It will explore the following research questions:
1) gender, masculinity and sexuality
2) sexual abuse of boys and its links with masculinity and sexuality and harmful sexual behaviour and its links with masculinity and sexuality
3) promising interventions and gaps.

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