In the United States, conventional thinking has been that females are more likely to be molested than males. However, nothing could be further from the truth. Studies show that boys are just as vulnerable, much more reluctant to admit or report the crime, and likely to behave aggressively in the future with peers and other women. The Specialized Treatment and Rehabilitation Services Program (STARS) provides mental health treatment and social service support uniquely tailored to meet the needs of young boys who were reported to have been molested.
A sexual abuse treatment program for pre-adolescent male victims of sexual abuse, STARS was developed and implemented collaboratively by California's Merced County Department of Mental Health (MCDMH) and the Merced County Human Services Agency (HSA). Since its inception, STARS has served 139 young boys by providing mental health treatment, social support and legal advocacy. A small, focused program targeting young victims of abuse, it addresses one of the most important, often overlooked, subgroups of sexual violence and helps them reconnect with society.
Each STARS client and his family first enter a four-week family orientation group; a psycho-educational program that addresses the causes and effects of molestation and which includes a component specifically on the differences in the impact of molestation on males and females. During this time, the victim and his family undergo assessment for mental health treatment and social services needs. At the end of the four-week period, STARS families are referred for individual, family, and/or group therapy from MCDMH. These specialized therapy sessions are designed to help alleviate the pain of sexual abuse and provide family members with the appropriate level of social service support. As a direct result of STARS, the number of young boys referred to MCDMH for sexual abuse treatment has grown from 12 in 1986 to 139 in January 1990. The real achievement has been twofold: the program has not only reached a previously underserved population but also has created a model for use by other jurisdictions.
Under STARS, the service community, including law enforcement and medical providers, has come together in a unique interagency collaborative effort. Mental health and social service agencies have jointly worked to break down traditional barriers and reach out to these troubled young victims. STARS is both a primary and secondary abuse prevention program. Its staff works to break the cycle of violence through mental health treatment and social service support and to stop the violence before it happens to others through education and information outreach. Various outreach materials (e.g., brochures, workshops, lectures) have been created and disseminated and there has been increased media coverage about the Program and the problem in general.
The low cost of the STARS project, its collaborative approach, and its focused treatment of victims make it an attractive program to replicate across services agencies within the United States. However, successful adaptation will depend on whether these agencies are first willing to acknowledge the gravity of pre-adolescent male sexual abuse. Only after this recognition can there be the possibility of resolution.