Society thinks only girls are victims of abuse
Rakesh Sharma (name changed), now 49, was 18 years old when he was first sexually abused. Rakesh forgot to take his quilt on a train journey to Ludhiana with his brother. An old man, in an army uniform, offered Rakesh his quilt as he was feeling cold. Rakesh agreed. A few minutes later, Rakesh felt the man push one of his legs between his legs. This continued for a minute. He stood up, understanding the intentions of the older man.
“I was aghast. I told him I’m not like that. He didn’t utter a word,” Rakesh said.
According to a report in Deccan Herald, a study conducted in India, Nepal, Cambodia and Philippines has revealed that 1 in 6 boys experienced sexual abuse. But the abuse of boys largely remains unacknowledged and unaddressed due to the perception that they cannot be abused.
The study was conducted by partner NGOs in the four countries, which are part of the UK-based Family for Every Child. In India, the study was conducted by the NGO Butterflies. The study revealed the dominant perception in society that sexual abuse happens to girls; if boys are abused, it’s an aberration.
Ranjani K. Murthy, a researcher and consultant on gender, poverty and development, said the number of sexual abuse cases are the same among girls and boys in India, but sexual abuse of boys isn’t talked about. “Some think girls are more vulnerable…. However, homosexuality is prevalent. Sexual abuse can be seen in large, non-nuclear families where even the mother can be the perpetrator in rare instances. In army areas and hostels too, this is prevalent.
“Protection is required in juvenile homes where boys are kept. They are often abused and later grow up to be abusers.… There are schemes, but they’re mostly for adolescent girls. For boys, there are sessions in schools, but they only talk about what boys can do to girls, but not what they can do to their own kind,” Murthy added.
Surupa Gupta, director, women and gender studies at University of Mary Washington, explained that the lack of acknowledgement has to do with patriarchy, which is about power and domination. Boys and men are taught not to cry as it’s considered “wimpy and feminine under patriarchal norms”, she said.
Asked about complaints of sexual abuse against boys, IPS officer Prashant Anand, who has handled such cases, said: “The police do get such complaints, but not frequently. Generally, such crime gets reported at schools, juvenile homes etc. Sexual abuse of girls is more frequent, and even that doesn’t get reported every time.”
Psychologists say that patriarchy and lack of acknowledgement are the reasons behind prevalent sexual abuse among boys.
Grishma Mehta, a counselling psychologist at Mindfully Sorted, said: “Sexual abuse of boys is not acknowledged because of societal stigma. How can a boy get sexually abused? Most people believe sexual abuse can happen only to girls, not boys.… Until cases get registered or come into the limelight, no one would know whether boys are abused or not.
“Furthermore, for parents, it’s hard to believe, support and understand when their son is sexually abused. And thus (they) fail to understand and take steps to protect them.”
Anushtha Mishra, a psychologist at 1to1help.net, said this is something that is very alarming and should be talked about. “It has deep roots in patriarchy because we have this image that boys are strong, boys cannot be weak, they are the ones who are very sexually active and they’re supposed to be that. I think that notion prevents us from acknowledging that boys can be abused as well, can be vulnerable, especially younger boys. If you look at research, a lot of sexual abuse happens towards younger boys, and most of it is incest.”
She added: “The other side of this is that though boys are abused, women are abused more. However, even if statistics show that girls are abused more, the abuse of boys should be taken into account.”
Raunak Sharma, 21, revealed: “I haven’t experienced sexual abuse, but my friend has. His tutor, a man, often touched him inappropriately. He ended up leaving the tuition, but didn’t tell his parents about it.”
Shruti Sharma, a parent, said lack of acknowledgement has to do with people’s mindset. “I as a mother have always been protective towards my daughter. I never thought my son could experience something like this,” she said.
According to a report in Aarambh India, titled ‘Sexual Abuse of Boys in India: The Story in Numbers’, among children reported as victims of sexual abuse, more than half (52.94%) were boys. Of the children who reported being subjected to severe forms of sexual abuse — assaulted, made to fondle private parts, made to exhibit private body parts, and photographed in the nude — 57.3% were boys.
Children were also subjected to other forms of sexual abuse that included forcible kissing, sexual advances during travel and marriages, and exposure to pornographic materials. Of all the children who reported sexual assault (penetration of the anus or vagina, or oral sex), 54.4% were boys, the report said.