COLUMBUS, Ohio (WCMH) — Much of the focus on sexual assault is around girls and women, but predators also choose boys as targets. Boys can also assault other boys, creating guilt and shame and a questioning of their sexuality.

NBC4 examined Columbus police records for the first six months of 2022 and found that 218 people reported they had been raped or sexually assaulted: 172 were girls and 46 boys when the rape happened.

About half of boys (24) reported it on the same day the assault occurred. But those who help children through these situations say assaults are underreported.

“Boys don’t tell as often as girls,” Dr. Christie Jenkins of the Ohio Network of Children’s Advocacy Centers said. “If I’m a boy being sexually abused and I’m supposed to be a man’s man, and I’m supposed to be tough, I’m never going to tell anybody, so I don’t believe those numbers are actually accurate.”

Jenkins answered the following questions on behalf of boys:

NBC4: When it it my fault?

Jenkins: It is never your fault. It is never a child’s fault, never ever ever a child’s fault — ever. There is nothing that you could have done. There is no “I stayed too late.” There is no “I wore this outfit.” There’s no “I gave that person a hug.”

Nothing that you could have done says it’s OK for someone to rape another person. It is absolutely never, ever, ever your fault, and anybody who tells you that is a liar and is just wanting to perpetrate against you.

That’s why it’s so incredibly important to tell a trusted adult. If you don’t trust your parents, they’re not being protective, tell somebody at school. Tell a coach, tell a counselor, tell a nurse. Tell someone who can get you help. Because it is never, ever, ever your fault.

NBC4: What if the perpetrator is a boy?

Jenkins: That can be confusing on a lot of levels, because often when boys are assaulted by other boys, they can start to question their sexuality. “Does this make me gay?” They don’t know if this changes who they are on the inside.

Much like heterosexual rape, where they might feel broken or violated or something’s wrong with them, this is an extra layer, the sexuality piece, where they really don’t know if this has changed them forever.

I believe that you’re either gay or you’re not. It’s something that you’re born with. It’s something that’s inside of you. Not that sexuality is not fluid but just because someone has been raped by someone of the same [sex] does not make them gay.

NBC4: What if they say they were just joking, or playing around?

Jenkins: “Oh, we’re just gonna wrestle. Oh, sorry, I touched your butt.” And then the next time: “Oh, we were just playin’ and then I touched your penis.” It happens over time.

Often, some of the kids, especially boys … maybe they don’t have two parents in the picture or they are from a lower socioeconomic background or they have a single parent who has to work all the time, [and] they’re home alone. These kind of things put them at an increased risk, because perpetrators see that and [invite them] over after school.

Oftentimes children, especially boys, would not see this coming, because I think people have a false sense of security, that a boy is going to be more protective of himself.

NBC4: Is it normal for me to question my sexuality after a sexual assault?

Jenkins: Regardless of who the perpetrator is, it can make one fearful of that sexual orientation. If it’s the same sex, they can question, “Am I now gay?” If it’s an opposite sex, they might think to themselves, “Wow, I don’t want any part of that,” and may actually be asexual after that, just like, “I don’t want to be with anybody,” because what happened was so painful and traumatic that I just would rather not at all.

NBC4: Can I be gay and still be sexually assaulted by another boy or a man?

Jenkins: Any person from birth to death can be sexually assaulted, and it does not matter if you are straight, gay, bi, asexual, whatever. Any single person can be raped.

NBC4: What kinds of lies are told to boys to keep a sexual assault a secret?

Jenkins: They might say, “I will hurt your parents or your loved ones, or your pets, or your friends.” They may, if they had taken pictures or videos during any of it, say, “I’ll put that on the internet. Everybody will know. I’ll send it out to the school, put it out to all of your friends, to your family members.”

Lots of fear and shame is used against, [particularly] boys.

NBC4: What are the physical consequences of not getting help? What are the mental and emotional consequences?

Jenkins: We like for everyone to have a medical exam, not to retraumatize them. It’s quite the opposite. Oftentimes, we won’t have findings, because with children and the way that their bodies work, there’s a lot of healing properties within their genitals and so we don’t always have findings.

But it’s really nice for a doctor to tell a child who has been sexually abused, “You know what? I don’t see anything.” Because they often feel like, “I’m broken. Everybody will know. You can take one look at me and know that I have been sexually assaulted.” And so for a medical doctor to to say, “Everything looks good,” it’s helpful for [the boy] to know that they are not forever at least physically scarred.

Often we don’t have findings. But it’s really important to have that medical exam, because we’ve had lots and lots of children who have picked up a sexually transmitted disease from other folks. Some of that we can clear up right away with antibiotics. And then for some of them it will be a lifetime [condition] that they’re going to have to deal with that, so the sooner that they know about that, it’s really important.

NBC4: Are brothers sometimes assaulted together? Or brothers and sisters? Or a boy and his friend?

Jenkins: Sometimes perpetrators will say, “If you do this with me, then I won’t molest your sister,” or, “I won’t molest your brother,” and they’re saying the same thing to all of them.

They’re not making an outcry because they’re trying to save their siblings, not knowing that they’re all being molested. It is actually quite common that either the majority of the siblings or all the siblings would be molested.

Alyssa Todd of the National Children’s Alliance answered these questions:

NBC4: Can boys be sexually assaulted by women or girls?

Todd: If a boy is being abused by a woman, they may feel that, culturally, we see that as more acceptable, so they may feel they don’t have a right to report what happened to them, or that what happened wasn’t abuse because they should have liked it, or it’s something that would be looked at as being a positive thing.

Sexual assault on a boy is going to look a little bit different than for a girl. 

NBC4: How does a boy know they’ve been sexually assaulted or raped?

Todd: If a boy is reflecting on contact they had with somebody and they’re curious as to whether that meets the definition of sexual assault, if they think that what they experienced made them feel uncomfortable or bad, then whether or not it meets the legal definition of sexual assault, it’s still worth addressing for them emotionally.

I always recommend that if kids are feeling something that was not a good experience, then they talk to a trusted adult about it, whether that’s a parent, a teacher, a guidance counselor or a mental health provider, just so that they can talk through those feelings. And the adult can determine whether that’s something that could rise to the level of being reported as a possible abuse incident that needs to be investigated further.

If you think you might have been sexually assaulted or raped, tell a trusted adult like a teacher, coach, the school nurse, parent, or guardian. Call the Ohio Sexual Violence Helpline 844-644-6435 to talk it over with someone. Don’t like to call? You can text privately instead to RAINN, the Rape, Abuse and Incest National Network.

Helplines for victims of sexual violence
Report Child Abuse is an Ohio hotline, with calls routed to law enforcement or children’s services in your county. Columbus Division of Police goes directly to Columbus law enforcement. The Ohio Sexual Violence Helpline gives support and crisis counselling.

About this series

NBC4 is doing a series of stories the week of Aug. 29, 2022, on children, rape and sexual assault.