We hear in the mass media every day about the epidemics of AIDS, drug abuse, gang violence, domestic violence, poverty, and the death and human misery that these problems cause. There is one social ill of equally damaging proportions that society has so far refused to acknowledge: The sexual abuse of boys. It is well documented that as many as 1 of 3 girls is sexually abused before she reaches 16 ; what is still not widely known by the public and much of the psychiatric community is that as many as 1 in 5 boys are sexually abused before he reaches 16. This statistic was quoted from Matthew Parynik Mendel's book "The Male Survivor: The Impact of Sexual Abuse." The sexual abuse of boys, and of children in general, knows no economic, social, cultural or geographic boundaries. A major contributor to the problem is the prevailing shroud of myths that muddy the issue and allow perpetrators to continue their actions unabated. Some common myths include: "only men are sexual predators," "boys are not harmed by sexual contact if it is by a woman," "boys want such contact if it is by a woman," and "if a boy is sexually abused, it is because he wanted it or asked for it." As long as society clings to these and other commonly held mistaken beliefs, boys, men, their families, and society as a whole will continue to suffer.
Let's look at some real facts:
1) If a boy under 18 is approached by an adult of either gender for sex, it is considered to be sexual abuse because of the age, and, therefore, perceived power differential between child and adult.
2) Sexual assault of boys by females - whether they be mothers, sisters, grandmothers, or other women - is grossly underreported. In his book "Abused Boys: The Neglected Victims of Sexual Abuse," psychologist and therapist Mic Hunter stated that "women account for 20% of the [sexual] abuse of boys."
3) Boys are harmed by having sexual contact with an adult of either gender. It causes psychological trauma and pain, as does any other form of assault. Loss of self-esteem, shame, guilt and Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) are but a few of the consequences, according to Hunter, who deals with many male victims of childhood sexual abuse.
4) A little-known fact is that the sexual arousal that results from fondling or stroking a prepubescent boy's genitals rapidly produces extreme pain, since he is incapable at that age of reaching an orgasm. Thus "fondling a boy's genitals is in itself sexual torture," said one pastoral counselor who wished to remain unnamed.
5) Children do not ask for or want sexual contact under normal circumstances. Even in the unlikely event that they were to invite such contact, it is the adult's responsibility and obligation to refuse - as it is the adult who has the power in the relationship and is supposed to have mature judgment.
6) Sexual assaults on boys tend to be more violent and are more likely to result in serious physical injury or death than those perpetrated on females, according to N. Ellerstein and J. Canavan in their March 1980 article featured in "The American Journal of Diseases of Children."
7) Men who were sexually abused as children are twice as likely to become substance abusers, commit suicide, be prone to illness, have problems in school, be antisocial or overly aggressive, and be verbally or physically abusive to their mates.
8) Ironically, only a small percentage of men abused as boys become pedophiles, said Hunter. However, an overwhelming percentage of pedophiles of either gender were sexually abused as children.
9) Because adults generally occupy positions of trust with children, any breach of that boundary is a breach of trust and an emotional abandonment, as well as an act of sexual assault.
10) Incest can occur on either emotional or physical levels, or both. Incest is defined as inappropriate sexualization of the relationship between a child and an adult entrusted with his care. Under this definition, sexual misconduct by teachers, ministers, or day care workers is also considered as incest.
11) Hunter also debunks the myth that all men who sexually abuse boys are homosexuals, commenting that many are heterosexuals who are not at all interested in sexual contact with other grown men, and that many pedophiles who abuse boys also abuse girls. Likewise most homosexuals are not pedophiles.
Because of the culture that exists in much of the world, men have additional constraints that impede their ability to cope with the aftermath of sexual abuse. Men are expected to be "macho," to not feel sadness, to "always be in control," to not under any circumstances be vulnerable. Males are also expected to be dominant in any sexual situation; to be otherwise is an affront to the idea of the male as the "stronger vessel," the protector of women". Thus, to be male and a victim of rape or molestation poses issues that most people refuse to deal with.
With these circumstances, men and boys who have been in any way sexually abused do not get the support and help that women have come to take for granted in the last two decades. Without the proper emotional support and validation to help them work through their feelings, many boys and men find less healthy ways of coping.
Older abused boys and men are more likely to act out violently, abuse alcohol or drugs, become sexually promiscuous, perhaps even commit rape or murder, in order to regain a feeling of control or power over their bodies and their lives. These factors are exacerbated by fears of being thought of as effeminate or homosexual because of the experience. "I didn't want to talk about it [the abuse], because I was afraid that people would think I'm gay or that I molest kids" said Charles, an incest survivor.
Younger boys will often become bullies at school or on the playground, perform poorly at school, be socially withdrawn, lose their appetite, perhaps revert to earlier behaviors such as bedwetting. In some, the perce
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, the perceived loss of personal power is so complete that they themselves become the targets of bullies and/or further sexual predation. The tremendous loss of self-esteem, as well as the violation of trust, can and does cause an inability for the person to form intimate bonds with others from that point forward. This causes innumerable problems with work, social, and romantic relationships, as Hunter and many other therapists have commented.
One only needs to look in the hospitals, women's shelters, courts, and the prison system to see the human toll that sexual abuse of boys has taken on society. The good news is that there are steps that we as a society can take to deal with these problems and lessen their impact on all parties involved.
There are several factors that contribute to the epidemic of sexual abuse of boys and of children in general. Perhaps the single largest contributor is secrecy - secrecy within families, schools, daycare facilities, churches, and other organizations, as well as secrecy maintained by witnesses of the abuse and by the victims themselves. Perpetrators will not tell others of their actions for obvious reasons. They often resort to threatening victims with violence, warning them that if they ever tell, they or their families and pets will be hurt or killed. Other normally responsible people who witness such abuse often don't tell because they're worried about the stigma that such a scandal will bring to the family or organization involved, or are afraid that authorities won't properly handle the situation. Witnesses who tell and don't get the needed assistance are themselves subject to harassment, violence, or ostracism. They will usually have to live with a situation long after police and other authorities have dropped the matter. Statistics published in 1992 and 1994 by the U.S. Department of Justice show that only 52% of rapes are reported, that one of two rape victims is under 18, and that one in six is under 12 years of age. Victims don't talk for any number of reasons:
1) A deep sense of shame over what has happened. One survivor said "I felt non-human, like trash. I felt like I was somehow responsible, and that I didn't deserve to go on living."
2) Fears of revenge by the perpetrator and of ostracism by friends and family. "Some families are so sick and codependent that they will actually blame the child for the actions of an adult who molested him," according to Sandy Poupenei, a marriage and family therapist.
3) Dissociation. This is a process that the mind uses to escape an unavoidable and intolerably painful situation. According to Rachel Downing, M.S.W., L.C.S.W., of the Sidran Traumatic Stress Foundation, "Dissociation is a complex mental process during which there is a change in a person's consciousness which disturbs the normally connected functions of identity, memory, thoughts, feelings and experiences..." In other words, when a person dissociates during abuse, he may not consciously remember what happened. Obviously, one cannot report abuse that one does not remember clearly, or at all. It should be noted that just because a person has dissociated and cannot consciously remember part or all of an event, it does not mean that he is unaffected by the abuse. Indeed, this scenario is worse than a nondissociative case, because the victim's lack of conscious awareness impedes recovery, according to experts on dissociative disorders.
On reading the report entitled "What are traumatic memories?" by Rachel Downing of the Sidran Traumatic Stress Foundation, one can justifiably conclude that if the person dissociated during the experience, then that shows that what happened was extremely traumatic. Until all the secrecy and cover-up is removed, sexual abuse of boys and the resulting consequences will continue unabated.
There are several actions that if taken may help to mitigate this problem. They are as follows:
1) Educate the public and dispel the myths that continue to interfere with the appropriate handling of this issue. Until people understand the true nature and scope of the problem, they will not be motivated or able to help.
2) Provide counseling support services specifically for men and boys who have been abused or assaulted. Early intervention of the right kind speeds recovery and lessens the damaging effects of abuse. Hunter stressed that those with strong support networks fare much better in their recovery than ones who are isolated emotionally.
3) Enact legislation that would provide the same legal consequences for rape of males and females. Some jurisdictions don't recognize sexual assault of a male as rape.
4) Train law enforcement officers, counselors, teachers and clergy to recognize male victims of sexual abuse and how to handle such cases.
5) Parents should educate themselves about the signs and symptoms of abuse. This will help to alert them if their child is being harmed in a school, daycare, church, friends' or neighbors' homes, or in any other setting where they may not be able to accompany him.
6) Male victims need to become more vocal, and, when possible, form advocacy groups for mutual support and to educate others about sexual abuse and recovery issues.
Clearly, we as a society cannot afford to ignore this issue any longer. The costs of not dealing effectively with the recovery needs of victims and of not taking steps to prevent more abuse are too high to bear. Many people want to avoid any discussion regarding the sexual abuse of boys, finding it too uncomfortable, possibly because it shatters too many cherished beliefs. Regardless of whether people want to hear it, this is one secret that begs to be told.
Controversial Report Explores Male Victims of Violence
The abuse of boys and male teenagers is the subject of a report issued by Health Canada. Entitled "The Invisible Boy: Revisioning the Victimization of Male Children and Teens," the report summarizes studies showing that 14-32% of N
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of North American adult males have been sexually abused at least once in their lives.
The report, written by Frederick Mathews, PhD, is controversial because it highlights the problem of the gender double standard, which it describes as "the invisibility and normalization of violence and abuse toward boys and young men in our society."
The document advocates a "male-inclusive" perspective on violence and victimization which overcomes the current tendency to minimize or render invisible the existence of male victims. The report notes, "Male victims report great pain, frustration, and some anger at not seeing their stories reflected in the public discourse on violence and abuse....They feel many writers and thinkers in the field have delineated the boundaries of the discourse on violence and abuse -- boundaries that leave males out."
The report goes on to explain the reasons for the invisibility of the male victim: "Much of the current thinking and discourse, both public and professional, about abuse and interpersonal violence is based on a woman-centered point of view....Because of this image of perpetrators as having a male face, violence in our society has become 'masculinized' and is blamed exclusively on 'men' and 'male socialization.' Although there is without question a male gender dimension to many forms of violence, especially sexual violence, simple theories of male socialization are inadequate to explain why the vast majority of males are not violent."
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