“How do you think they would react if I said I had been raped?” said Vikram* sounding rather relaxed hiding the deep scars of abuse he had to face which changed the course of his life. “Nobody would ever believe me.” Vikram confided as he talked about his inertia to converse about the physical abuse he went through at a tender age.
Living in a society where ‘rape’ or ‘sexual assault’ are not words you associate with boys or men, the scars last longer and perhaps much deeper for men like Vikram. The view that sexual assault or physical abuse happens only to the feminine gender limits the responsiveness to the act. There is a strong bias and a perpetual stigma associated with the act and it becomes even more pronounced when dealing with the male child. But does that make the male child any less vulnerable to the perpetrator or the act less gruesome or perhaps the consequence diluted in any which way?
The perpetrator of the said act in such cases perhaps goes scot-free given the fact that such incidents go largely unreported.
Researchers have found that 1 in 6 men have experienced abusive sexual experiences before age 18. And this is probably a low estimate, since it doesn’t include non-contact experiences, which can also have lasting negative effects.
The fact is that a child (be a boy or a girl) is bound to have a traumatic effect which has the capability of shaping his future is unquestionable. But, what is surprising is the fact that despite looking, the data on male-child rapes is clearly non-existing. It is like the proof of the act of molestation on a male child is almost non-existent. Can it be possible then that the male child is safer than the female counterpart? Or is it that there is a greater taboo attached in reporting the incident and the pressure on a male child to ‘act brave’ and ‘be manly’ makes him not come out with the facts? Can the unavailability be taken as the consequence of the wider misconception that only the girl-child is at risk?
The cast of masculinity – the yardstick with which a ‘male child’ is judged is still the same – for a male child to be considered masculine and strong he should not concede to public display of emotions lest he be considered soft or weak or worse gay or effeminate.
Studies have shown that male babies tend to be held differently, treated differently, and given differing degrees of attention than their female counterparts. In ancient Greece, boys at the tender age of seven were supposed to be removed from their mothers and housed in a dormitory with other boys and trained as soldiers. The mother’s softening influence was considered detrimental to a boy’s education. The boys endured harsh physical discipline and deprivation and some of them even went through harsh abuse to make them strong.
Men often spend their lives trying to “prove” their masculinity or have succumbed to the feeling that because they aren’t “all men,” they aren’t men at all. Any lapse into doubt, confusion, tenderness or emotionalism is perceived as weakness.
Restricting the range of permissible behavior and emotions compromises a man’s creativity and his ability to respond flexibly to life situations. Rigid adherence to a view of masculinity not only increases the incidence of victimization but severely inhibits prospects of recovery.
A “real” man is expected to be able to solve any problem and recover from any setback. When he experiences victimization, our cultural expects him to be able to “deal with like a man.” The survivor’s ongoing feelings of confusion, frustration, anger, and fear can be further evidence of his failing as a man. The victimized child wonders and worries about what the abuse has turned him into. Believing that he is no longer an adequate man, he may see himself as less than human.
One notion is that males are less traumatized by the abuse experience than females are; this includes the belief that males are less negatively affected. Studies show that the long-term effects are damaging for either sex and males may especially be more damaged by social stigma and disbelief of their victimization. It is noted by Eogan and Richardson that male victims tend to feel more intense anger than female victims, while both go through similar feelings of distress after the rape. Frazier (1993) studied 74 male and 1,380 female rape victims. She found that the depression and hostility are more profound on male victims immediately post-rape than female victims.
This apparent diversity can be explained in part by the heterogeneity of the experiences, the complexity of the confounds among abuse severity variables, and a host of moderating and mediating constitutional and environmental variables together with important individual differences in coping strategies that may come into play at different points in development in any given case. Some studies suggest that penetration, the duration and frequency of the abuse, force, the relationship of the perpetrator to the child, and maternal support affected the degree of symptomatology.
In 1992 FBI’s Uniform Crime Report redefined rape as: “The penetration, no matter how slight, of the vagina or anus with any body part or object, or oral penetration by a sex organ of another person, without the consent of the victim.” The prior definition hadn’t been changed since 1927 as it gained the attention of sexual assault awareness groups and the alienation of the victims that didn’t fit the definition.
The English law did not include rape of males as a criminal offence and it was recorded as non-consensual buggery until 1994. A convicted rapist (of a female) could be imprisoned for life, stated Henry Leak, the chairman of Survivors organization, while buggery only carried 10 years maximum as a sentence. This changed after the Criminal Justice and Public Order Act was modified in 1994 was the first to lead this development and recognize male-victim rape.
“Unnatural offenses: Whoever voluntarily has carnal intercourse against the order of nature with any man, woman or animal, shall be punished with imprisonment for life, or with imprisonment of either description for the term which may extend to ten years, and shall also be liable to a fine. Explanation: Penetration is sufficient to constitute the carnal intercourse necessary to the offense described in this section.”
Despite the existing laws present in some countries, there is a larger group of countries which do not recognize the act of ‘rape’ or ‘sexual assault’ as an offense that can be perpetuated on men. There exists a gulf between the stated law and its execution when it comes to real-life cases. The post-trauma centers are a far cry and help and distress centers are few and far between. The safety net which should be a part of the societal makeup is absent due to prejudices and misconceptions or for a lack of better word a ‘blind spot’ which exists in such cases.
In today world, where the support systems are largely diminishing and the safety net rather thin, there is a greater need to face the fact that abuse – especially child sexual abuse knows no gender.
There is no respite for men like Vikram who face the world hiding their scars and trauma. A child needs protection – the only thing a pedophile looks for in his victim is a vulnerable child, the gender matters less. No child is born manly or delicate. It is just that – a child.