Yesterday I spoke to a group of therapists at a residential treatment center for teenagers with substance abuse issues, the Phoenix House.
One of the teenagers who was doing really well in the program gave me a tour of the facilities. She told me, among other things, that most of the people were there voluntarily, but some were court ordered.
After my presentation about adolescent sexual development, the treatment providers and I talked about sexual abuse, and it’s prevalence among their young clientele. One treatment provider suggested that sexual abuse might be as high as 70% among teenagers who end up there. Others thought it was probably lower – maybe 45%. Either way, these are very high percentages.
One of the reasons there seemed to be disagreement among the staff was because they said most boys do not want to admit to sexual abuse. One therapist suggested that sexual abuse was “take it to your grave kind of stuff.” Another suggested boys tended to gloss over any memory of sexual abuse – say it didn’t affect them, and so decide it’s not even worth talking about.
There were many intense topics discussed in our meeting. (There were also lots of jokes – it’s hard not to laugh at the many unintended puns when you’re talking about sex.) But this thing about boys glossing over sexual abuse has stayed with me through the night. I’m glad to know there are good people at the Phoenix House and other places, trying to reach these boys and help them through the pain they have experienced. So much of sexual abuse public awareness and counseling is focused on girls – we need to be sure and not forget about the boys.