Any unwanted sexual activity is classified as sexual abuse. Although it can happen at any age, children are the most vulnerable. And when we say children, we mean both boys and girls.
1 in 3 girls is sexually abused before the age of 18.
Whereas 1 in 6 boys is sexually abused before the age of 18.
We emphasize on the healing of the trauma that girls go through, but what about boys?
Are we talking enough about the trauma that boys go through? Or do we expect our boys not to cry because they’re boys
There is a sense of social stigma and silence attached to the issue of male sexual abuse. And this has resulted in a lack of awareness and understanding of the experiences of boys and men.
Sexual Abuse happens to boys in broadly three forms:
- When a boy is forced to take part in sexual acts. Often these are very humiliating acts.
- When a boy is Inflicted with pain or damage to their genitals.
- When a boy is Inflicted with damage to the genitals in order to prevent any future reproduction.
Where boys are concerned, figures on sexual violence and abuse against children in displacement are tough to obtain. However, to give a general idea of the scale of childhood sexual abuse, the World Health Organization has estimated that in a single year (2002), 73 million boys, as well as 150 million girls, experienced sexual abuse (WHO 2006: 12).
To begin understanding how boys experience sexual abuse, first, we need to talk about the factors that affect them as a gender.
In our societies, boys are groomed right from the beginning to be dominant, independent, powerful, aggressive and authoritarian. So much so, that boys are pushed to compete and achieve difficult tasks whether it’s outdoors or indoors on a gaming screen. And girls, on the other hand, are discouraged from any of the above. This begins to create a defining personality in the boys. Everyone encourages them to control their feelings, especially fear, helplessness, sadness or vulnerability.
The societal expectations of masculinity dictate that boys should always be strong, self-reliant, aggressive, sexually potent and able to protect themselves. Anything that deviates from this norm is considered a loss of masculinity. Displaying emotions and gentleness automatically becomes traits associated with girls. In fact, even gay men suffer through it. The phrase ‘You’re so gay’ is related to a lack of masculinity instead of homosexual orientation.
The social construction of gender difference is primarily based on these two factors. Hence cases of male abuse go unreported more than those of women. It is the social construct of society that limits boys from sharing anything. But whether it happens in childhood, or it happens to adults, survivors display a wide range of consequences.
Boys experience severe injuries in their private parts. Often abuse leads to HIV/AIDS, other sexually transmitted infections or genital infections. A lot of survivors also complain of chronic pain in the head, back, stomach, joints, pelvis or heart, problems urinating or defecating, high blood pressure, loss of appetite and weight, weakness etc.
Male survivors may experience feelings of overwhelming shame, humiliation, anger, fear or powerlessness; destruction of gender identity; or confusion over sexual orientation. These feelings can lead to withdrawal; depression; sleep disorders; loss of concentration; outbursts of anger and aggression; compulsive sexual behaviour; anxiety disorders and phobias; alcohol or drug abuse; fantasy and withdrawal; self-harm; and suicide attempts.
As a result of the physical and psychological consequences outlined above, male survivors may experience marital and family problems, social withdrawal, delinquency, or losing their job. For example, wives sometimes request to be divorced from men experiencing impotence as a consequence of sexual violence. Where the abuse is known to others, male survivors face being shunned by their community—a result well understood by perpetrators, who will sometimes spread the word of assaults unofficially to ensure social ostracism.
Sexual Abuse and assault affects all genders.
It affects all orientations. It affects all ages.
It affects all races, ethnicities, cultures, classes, faiths and abilities. It affects all of us the same way.
The next time you see someone tell a little boy that ‘boys don’t cry’, kindly check them because each and everyone feels pain.