Image Credit: Boys Without Borders/Ire Ajewole.
Primarily, sexual abuse revolves around the use of force, threats, and lack of consent. It is the subjection of an individual to sexual activity to which they did not agree. It can also be referred to as molestation. The Cambridge English Dictionary defines sexual abuse as the act of making a person take part in sexual activities, against their wishes, or without their agreement. Legally, sexual abuse is punishable by severe penal sentences.
Unfortunately, while many are frequently exposed to sexual abuse, few are able to identify it for what it truly is. Abusive actions could even be normalized in some cases, making it difficult to reprehend it socially. Below are some examples of sexual abuse.
- Sex trafficking
- Unwanted kissing or touching
- Rape or attempted rape
- Knowingly touching an ignorant person
- Making sexual jokes and catcalling
- Stalking and taking unwarranted pictures for the sake of sexual satisfaction
- Exposure of the parent’s body to the child
Types of Sexual Abuse
Sexual abuse is further categorized into five major types, depending on its nature. They are the following:
Verbal sexual abuse:
This is the use of words to express sexual content. For instance, joking about physical characteristics in a sexual manner.
Covert sexual abuse:
The perpetrator tries to get sexual satisfaction from the victim without their knowledge. An example of this is a photograph of a person, taken with or without their knowledge, but used for the fulfillment of sexual desire.
Visual sexual abuse:
This happens when someone is visually exposed to unwanted sexual content.
Physical sexual abuse:
Everything sexual that has to do with physical contact, like kissing, that is done without consent falls under this category.
Ritualistic sexual abuse:
This is sexual abuse blended with some form of spirituality or ritual. The perpetrators encourage or justify their actions as acts of penitence or reverence. For instance, a pastor may propose intercourse with a member of their congregation under the guise of divinity.
The Gendered Nature of Sexual Abuse
Traditionally, females are seen as the only gender that can be abused. They are tagged as natural victims and are, as such, offered the heaviest security. But while it is necessary to prevent attacks on the bodily autonomy of the opposite sex, it is equally important to guarantee the same for the boy-child. The perception of males as biologically better at fending for themselves makes it difficult to imagine them as vulnerable ones.
To complicate matters, men are seen as sexually driven creatures, incapable of resisting intercourse. These imply that drawing attention to male sexual abuse is a multi-pronged battle. On the one hand, males are strong and on the other, they love sex anyway.
It is therefore unsurprising to witness doubts on the possibility of male rape. The consequences are damaging. Men who have been abused may develop an unusual compulsion to seek sexual pleasure, even through unhealthy methods. The trauma may also prevent them from expressing themselves sexually, harming their psychological well-being as a result. These narratives are often muted as, when told, society dismisses them as farcical. Males who decide to call out their abusers are perceived as weak and unmanly.
In social circles, they are deemed as exceptions to the norm and will likely suffer ridicule for despising an early break into copulation. Therefore, to shield abused males from the injustices visited on them, we must ensure that they are provided the safety nets afforded their female counterparts.
Boy Child Sexual Abuse: Delving In
In deciding whether male sexual abuse is a fact or a myth, it is crucial to consider available data. According to 1in6.org, a national study of U.S. adults in 1990 revealed that 16% of men had been sexually abused before the age of 18. Another study of male university students in 1996 in the Boston area showed that 18% of men were sexually abused before 16. These data suggest that male sexual abuse is not a new phenomenon and has in fact existed for a long period.
This is corroborated by a 1998 review of existing research on sexual abuse against young males. It concluded that the problems are “common, under-reported, under-recognized, and under-treated.” The data trail continues with a study of U.S. adults in 2003 reporting that 14.2% of men had been sexually abused before 18, and a 2005 study by the U.S. Centre for Disease Control stating that 16% of males had been abused by the same age.
Interestingly, a survey by the Indian government in 2007 suggests a mix in the gender of perpetrators and a seeming prevalence of male victims. Its results showed that of the children who had experienced severe sexual abuse, including sodomy, 57.3% were boys. More recently, the Delhi-based Centre for Civil Society found that approximately 18% of Indian adult men surveyed reported being coerced or forced to engage in conjugal relations. Of that number, 16% claimed a female perpetrator while the remaining 2% claimed a male perpetrator.
Similarly, data from the US Centre for Disease Control showed that 13.5 percent of abused males claimed that the perpetrators were female. It would also seem that males are often targeted at very young ages. Reports by The Centre for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) states that 1 in 4 male rape victims experienced it for the first time between 11-17 years. For other victims, it occurred before age 10.
Boy Child Sexual Abuse: What Are the Effects on Mental Health?
Sexual abuse breeds negative effects on the mental health of victims. According to RAINN, male victims may experience effects such as anxiety, depression, post-traumatic stress disorder, flashbacks, and eating disorders.
They may also develop the habit of avoiding people or places that remind them of the assault or abuse. They develop a fear of the worst and carry a sense of a shortened future. The victims may feel less masculine or that they no longer have control over their own body. Their experience of an erection or ejaculation may also result in self-blame as they feel they did little to stop the assault. Furthermore, there is a tendency to isolate and withdraw from friendships. They are haunted by the fear of disbelief should their encounter be disclosed to friends or family members.
How Males Can Protect Themselves from Sexual Abuse
Awareness is critical to protection. The boy-child should remain constantly aware of his environment and should be knowledgeable of places he needs to avoid. When suspicious, he should politely reject invites to suspicious events and locations. Necessary information should be passed by the boy-child on his whereabouts and future locations.
If possible, he should also find trusted friends or guardians to which he can open up. This eases the process of disclosure. When confronted by generous strangers, he should be careful to decline their gifts and notify parents or guardians of their advances. An enabling environment must exist for this to happen.
The Roles of Individuals, Family, Organisations, and Government Agencies
Individuals, families, organisations, and government agencies should be ready to listen to victims, suggest solutions and provide assistance. Also, sensitisation should be done at various levels to ensure appropriate knowledge is passed to the boy-child regarding sexual abuse, its effects, and prevention mechanisms.
Sexual abuse of the male child shouldn’t be treated lightly. As a society, we must ensure that the needs of one are not attended to at the expense of the other. Both must be taken seriously.