WARNING: Some of the issues discussed in this article relate to sexual abuse and may be distressing to some readers.
26 August 2015: Putting an exact figure on the number of instances of mother-son sexual abuse may be near impossible but a University of Canberra PhD student is determined to bring this issue into the light.
The taboo-nature of the offence means there is very little research on it, but Lucetta Thomas is examining what she's termed a "gendered no-go area for society" and coming up with some surprising results that suggest we need to move away from the mythos and deal with the facts.
Ms Thomas said we shouldn't think of mother-son abuse as rare, because there is a lack of data around occurrence and even about the treatment for victims, making it difficult to make such a claim.
"Sexual abuse is very gendered into 'male perpetrator–female victims', and this needs to be seriously challenged at all levels of society if child abuse is to be prevented."
"It has resulted in few resources available to male victims to overcome or manage the trauma caused by the abuse," she said.
"Following news coverage of my research on the ABC, over 80 males accessed the online survey for male victims in two days and a substantial number requested to be interviewed about their experiences,"
"I am also pleased that coverage has resulted in more practitioners completing my online survey, after the initial participation was disappointingly low.
References to this kind of abuse seldom appear in sexual abuse literature and Ms Thomas believes the stereotype of the 'mother-nurturer' contributes to this.
"With society putting mothers into this nurturer category, it becomes hard to conceptualise that a woman would harm her offspring," Ms Thomas said
Ms Thomas also said the persistent myths around male victims of sexual abuse remain a strong, but invisible force in these instances.
Some of these myths, identified by Ms Thomas, include:
Boys and men can't be victims – they must have consented.
A mother would never do this; she was just being overly affectionate.
If a boy experiences sexual arousal or orgasm from abuse, this means he was a willing participant or enjoyed it.
Boys are less traumatized by the abuse experience than girls; boys are sex-focussed anyway.
The mother or son must have mental health issues.
"Men who have been sexually abused by their mother rarely see their reality reflected in policies, services, and research on sexual abuse victims," Ms Thomas said.
"Many male victims live in isolation, fear, shame, anger, and silence precisely because they know the taboos in our culture about talking about this form of abuse."
"I want to assist the people who work in the field of sexual assault to become more informed and therefore provide more effective support to male victims. The objective is for these experiences to be raised in the sexual assault literature to highlight the occurrence and specific impact on survivors," Ms Thomas said.
"We as a society need to recognise that this form of abuse is often hidden or kept secret, but it should be included in sexual abuse policy, programs, and service provision."
As part of her research, Ms Thomas has developed two surveys which remain open to respondents: one for male victims of mother-son sexual abuse and a practitioner survey for sexual abuse counsellors and therapists.
Ms Thomas aims to conclude her study next year.
If you have been a victim of sexual assault, help is available. Lifeline provides a free 24-hour telephone counselling service on 13 11 14.
The National Sexual Assault, Family & Domestic Violence Counselling Service is available on 1800 RESPECT (1800 737 732).
Living Well, Survivors & Mates Support Network, and Mensline also provide support services and advice.