Current events

Sexual abuse among men: a stigmatized phenomenon in Latin America

  Sexual abuse among men

Photo: Freepik - jeswin

Laura Villate
"Machismo" cultural attitudes often stop boys and their families from reporting cases of sexual assault to the authorities

On average, children who are allegedly sexually assaulted are 8 to 9 years old

According to UNICEF's statistics, in Latin American countries child sexual abuse is a real threat. Proof of the latter is the fact that 228 children are sexually abused every hour. However, few studies focus on male-on-male child sexual abuse, in other words sexual abuse perpetrated by men against boys under the age of 18. According to Sergi Fbregues, professor in the Faculty of Psychology and Education Sciences at the Universitat Oberta de Catalunya (UOC), "In the Latin American context, an important problem that should be highlighted is that there is very little information on this issue: the studies that have been carried out to date focus on abuse against girls, since there is a certain degree of animosity towards sexual activity with members of the same sex. It is a little known phenomenon about which there is quite marked social rejection, because it is associated with the cultural ideals of machismo and hegemonic masculinity".

Fbregues, researcher in the GenTIC group at the UOC – along with Colombia's Institute of Education Studies-IESE of the University of the North and the country's National Institute of Legal Medicine and Forensic Science – developed the study Characterization of child sexual abuse in the Departments of the North Region of Colombia: Foundations for Prevention, which analysed 680 cases of alleged male-on-male sexual abuse reported to Legal Medicine between 2017 and 2018 in the country's Caribbean region. Elsa Luca Escalante, the study's lead researcher and professor and coordinator of the Master's Degree in Education at the University of the North in Colombia, said: "The research arose from an interest in analysing and interpreting the data obtained from reports of sexual assaults perpetrated by adult men against boys. This is a study carried out with scientific, sociological and methodological rigour, which sought to characterize these alleged practices carried out by the perpetrator against boys in a society where machismo is marked and progress in respect for diversity is still taboo".

The cases studied involved the accounts of sexual acts that children were subjected to or had been forced to carry out, and described the characteristics of the alleged victims, details about the assaults and the relation between the types of sexual acts. "The types of assault that we observed contained a strong component of physical violence, which could be more marked than in assaults experienced by girls who are victims of abuse, as indicated by other studies of abuse against men and boys," said Fbregues.

Based on the reports, it can be seen that on average the children who are allegedly assaulted are 8 to 9 years old. The perpetrators tend to be people the victims know or live with, or members of their family, and a high percentage of the reported cases belong to the municipalities in which basic needs are met. The UOC researcher said: "Although as researchers we would expect that these cases of abuse would occur in the poorest municipalities, our data indicated that most of the reports were from municipalities where the highest percentage of basic needs were met. This could partly be due to the fact that in the poorest municipalities people are less likely to report cases of abuse to the authorities, so the assaults are not recorded."

On the other hand, it could be concluded that there is a wide variety of types of abuse, which can occur in both directions – from the assailant against the minor or vice versa, with the victim being forced to do things. Such abuse can lead to injuries and sexually transmitted infections, anxiety and depression, post-traumatic stress, confusion, tendency to hyperactivity disorders, and internalization or externalization of behavioural problems in the abused children. Fbreques added: "Most of these cases occur in early childhood, which means that it mainly affects the child's development, because this is the primary socialization stage. It can generate confusion, especially if the assailant is a family member, because the child is unable to distinguish right from wrong in what is happening and, if a family member assaults him or her, he or she might think that this situation is normal, when it clearly isn't." 

According to Escalante, "Cases of violence that last for up to five years were also observed, from assailants who touched and manipulated the child before raping them. In the reports, we find cases of young people who even reported incidents from their early childhood; this, from an emotional point of view is very hard and generates a series of mental health disorders in a child, because another person is invading the child's body and privacy for a long time."

According to the experts, interventions should be developed to help the victims and to implement preventative actions in which parents and teachers are trained to recognize the symptoms and the risk factors in cases of sexual abuse. Likewise, schools and the community should provide adequate information on children's rights and gender equality to help children to avoid sexual abuse and to report any incident to the authorities.

This research supports Sustainable Development Goal (ODS) 3, Good health and well-being.


Reference paper

Escalante-Barrios, E-L., Fbregues, S., Meneses, J., Garca-Vita, M., Jabba, D., Ricardo-Barreto, C., Ferreira Prez., S. P. Male-on-male child and adolescent sexual abuse in the Caribbean region of Colombia: A secondary analysis of medico-legal reports. International Journal of Environmental Research and Public Health, 17(21). ISSN: 1660-4601. DOI:  



The UOC's research and innovation (R&I) are helping 21st-century global societies to overcome pressing challenges by studying the interactions between ICT and human activity, with a specific focus on e-learning and e-health. Over 400 researchers and 50 research groups work among the University's seven faculties and two research centres: the Internet Interdisciplinary Institute (IN3) and the eHealth Center (eHC).

The United Nations' 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development and open knowledge serve as strategic pillars for the UOC's teaching, research and innovation. More


Photograph of Sergi Fbregues Feijo

Sergi Fbregues Feijo

Expert in: Qualitative and mixed research methods; research quality assurance; use of ICT in primary and secondary education; gender inequalities.

Knowledge area: Research methods in the social sciences.

View file