Shocking new findings released by the Centre for Justice and Crime Prevention reveal that young boys are at greater risk of sexual violence than girls. The Sexual Victimisation of Children in South Africa Final Reportof the Optimus Foundation Study found that boys reported higher lifetime prevalence rates of sexual abuse (36,8%) than girls (33,9%).
Dumisile Nala, National Executive Officer for Child Line, says there is a serious need to include boys in preventative interventions that provide support for abused children.
“The study showed that young boys and young girls are almost equal. What we have noticed is that we focus a lot on girls and keeping girls safe, and forget about boys, despite the fact that they are just as vulnerable as girls. Our programmes, in terms of implementing programmes and support, should involve boys just as much as girls,” she says.
The study, carried out over a period of three years, found that one in three young people in South Africa experienced child sexual violence. According to the report, 18,6 million of the country’s population of 55 million are under the age of 18. Of this number 784 967 (aged between 15 and 17) have experienced some form of sexual abuse. To put this in perspective, that number of children would fill Johannesburg’s Soccer City Stadium eight times or the Cape Town Stadium 14 times, and is almost equal to the population of Port Elizabeth.
Nola says these numbers are shocking, but not surprising. “We feel that the study confirms what we see in practice. We have not really had the data to back us up in terms of what we are experiencing and seeing in practice,” she explains.
A lot of the abuse happens in homes and is perpetrated by those who are close to the children rather than strangers.
“For many years we used to talk to children about ‘stranger danger’, warning them to be careful of the old man lurking in the bushes,” she says, adding that the reality is very different.
Even if the child does not know the person, Nala says the abuse is most likely to happen in their community and close to their home. This makes it more difficult for children to report abuse because they’re fearful of the repercussions.
The study found that children who experience sexual abuse develop life-long problems.
“Psychologically you find that they struggle with school. The study compared children who had been victims of sexual abuse and those hadn’t, and you could see that the mental health challenges are high. Engaging in risky sexual behaviour and substance abuse are common,” Nala explained.
The study also found that when a young person shares a bedroom with more than one teen or adult, there is a 10% higher risk of sexual abuse.