Male Child Sexual Abuse Is Real And It’s High Time Our Society Talks About It

A 13-year-old boy from Mumbai succumbed to an unfortunate suicide attempt after being raped by four men. 

In a country where rapes are an everyday headline, it is not a daunting task to start a discussion on child sexual abuse around you and find an unusually ‘usual’ experience in almost everyone’s childhood experience around you.

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There are endless of them. An elder cousin creating a ‘big boy’out of you, an uncle asking favors in lieu of some candies, a teacher blackmailing you for underperformance, an old woman feeling you in the middle of hustling bus or a servant using your innocence for satiating his own shameful hunger. But while the cases amongst girls are more openly discussed and sympathetically dealt with, we are yet to achieve the same when it comes to the ‘equal gender’, the boys.

Two days back, a 13-year-old boy from Mumbai succumbed to an unfortunate suicide attempt that later revealed to be a case of sexual abuse.

Upon further investigations, a 10-year-old friend of his who had died of dehydration was exhumed from his grave, to find out if he too had died due to the sexual abuse. The family of this boy denied filing any reports with the police, also considering it unnecessary to have a post mortem done. It isn’t surprising that the death of a 13-year-old boy linked with sexual abuse did not make it to candle marches or even the top of the headlines.

According to the only study done in 2007 on sexual abuse amongst children in India, it was found that one in every two children were sexually abused at one time or the other. Amongst the 12, 447 children studies across 13 states on India, 52% were boys. Also, fewer male survivors reported sexual assault as a result of sex stereotyping.

Although sexual abuse in boys was as common as it is amongst girls, the cases in boys were “under-recognised, underreported and undertreated”, according to Dr. Girish H Banwari, in his medical paper.

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The legal structure of India somewhere creates an unequal focus. Sexual crimes against children are also reported under sections that have more inclination towards female survivors. In many legal laws, cases of rape, sexual harassment, assault, voyeurism, stalking, and other sections that deal with outraging a child’s modesty, the victim in the case have to be a girl. Article 375 of the Indian Penal Code states that,

“Rape. A man is said to commit “rape” who, except case hereinafter excepted, has sexual intercourse[15] with a woman in circumstances falling under any of the six following descriptions:-“

The act of ‘rape’ is naturally the one performed by a man, and if the roles are reversed there are endless complexities to seek for justice. Sexual assault in boys is more complex when it comes to reporting. Unlike that in girls, there are comparatively lesser ‘visible’ signs of an abuse and even lesser ways to prove it.

Socially too, boys are expected to be stronger and there is no ’emotional damage’ connected to their abuse most of the times. In many cases where they spoke about it, “Be a man, get over it” or a mere, “It happens” was all they got in return. Many times boys who reported, expressed feeling guilty for being ‘aroused’ during the abuse, considering it their fault that they were indeed ‘enjoying’ the act. Also, our society expects them to be the stronger sex, not the one who ‘screams’ or ‘cries’. When such a strong stereotype backs up our gender division, there is so little hope that boys would actually come up and ask for justice.

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Though many Bollywood movies have tried to break through the stigma of child sexual abuse, they have somewhere spoken only through a girl’s perspective. Be it Alia Bhatt’s role in Highway to Kahaani 2 open headedly dealing with child abuse, the protagonists going through child sexual abuse on screens have till date been girls only. The one time that Bollywood did try to induce a man getting assaulted in ‘Badrinath Ki Dulhania’ was shamelessly wrapped in a comic scene, rather than understanding the gravity of such a situation. “I Am Abhimanyu” tried to dig on the topic of male child sexual abuse but for many, the movie still remains unknown to a larger section of the society.

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Thankfully, Protection Of Children From Sexual Offences (POCSO) Act, introduced in 2012 looks at the situation with gender neutrality. However, accepting and reporting by boys is still a huge barrier between achieving the true benefits of POCSO. As a society, we need to move through the taboos revolving around sex and make it a more familial conversation.

Parents need to be very vigilant when it comes to child sex abuse which clearly doesn’t see gender, income or even insurance before it hits the child. In most of the cases, the abuser is very much close to the family and we need to put aside the ‘Stranger Danger’ theory. Our kids need to know the ‘wrong touch’ and that the house too isn’t safe.

Most of all, we need to let the boys grow up in a society where they are free to cry when they need help and that in no way harms their ‘masculinity’. We need to create a space that doesn’t look at them as mere ‘rapists’ but considers them as the victim too.

In the wake of equality, we are somewhere creating the world that automatically passes a judgment when a rape or a dowry case is filed.

And once they open up about their experience, our legal system needs to be strong enough to take these cases in EQUAL gravity as they take when a sexually abused girl is brought in. Children need to be saved, irrespective of their gender, and it is high time we keep putting the pressure of their safety on their innocent shoulders. It’s time we make this space as safe for our sons as we are struggling to make for our daughters.

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