Sexual abuse among boys: Patriarchal norms trigger the situation
Compared to adults, children are more vulnerable to sexual abuse. Their very little or no power of self-protection, less understanding about the forms of sexual abuse and less safety and security measures from families make them an easy prey to perpetrators. Globally, there is not much difference in terms of region, socio-economic status, faith, color, caste or any other identities in the prevalence of child sexual abuse.
Patriarchal base of our social, economic, legal, political and philosophical structures make the boy and girl children equally vulnerable to sexual abuse. Different studies show that one out of six boys have experienced sexual abuse before they were eighteen years old . This statistics might not reflect the real scenario since boys are less likely to share their experience of being sexually abused than girls due to patriarchal social norms. Research shows that among the men who had experience of being sexually abused in any form in their early age, 16% of them considered the incidents as sexual abuse compared to the 64% women who considered the incidents as sexual abuse. Our patriarchal norms and mindset teach boys to be ‘masculine’, therefore boys apparently do not consider some sexually abusive behavior as sexual abuse. For example, genital touching, being hugged and kissed in sexual manners, penetrated and attempted to be penetrated and so on.
Underlying reasons for not taking these issues in concern could be related to the idea of ‘virginity’, which is a serious issue in case of girls. Boys do not have the ‘precious’ hymen, vulva and vagina that must be ‘untouched’ and ‘intact’ till marriage. History of being sexually abused do not affect boys’ social life like girls who simply face ostracism immediately after the news of being sexually abused is spread around. So, there is a strong negligence in boys’ issues. The idea and practice of masculinity make the boys vulnerable in many ways. Our perception of sexual abuse is mostly girl and women-centric, though the trauma and pain of sexual abuse equally harms the boys and girls physically and psychologically.
In statutory structure, the ‘ghost of patriarchy’ tries to ‘protect’ women and girls from some forms of sexual abuse and punish the perpetrators. However, there is barely any special legislation for boys and men since they are ‘men’- the superiors! But boys are not men rather children who need special protection arrangements.
On 27 August 2019, BBC Bangla presented some information collected from Bangladesh Shishu Odhikar Forum (Bangladesh Child Rights Forum) in a news on sexual abuse to boys. It says that during first half of 2019, 11 boys were raped while 9 boys were raped in 2018 and 15 in 2017. This number never reflects the real picture. Very few cases after those incidents were filed under Bangladesh Penal Code 1860, Section 377. A careful look onto section 377 reveals that the sexual intercourse should be ‘voluntary’ to be brought under this section, sexual abuse to the boys is not necessarily voluntary. Those cases should be filed under Prevention of Women and Children Repression Act, 2000, which, in section 9 (1) explains about rape of woman and child by man. Here child is not defined as only girl child rather any individual of 16 years old or younger. Our patriarchal mindset voluntarily define ‘child’ as girl children since they need protection.
Another strong factor that triggers the situation is the tendency to normalize and explain the incidents of abusing as ‘consensual sex’ while the boy child seemingly responded to the perpetrator’s abusive actions or the boy also had erection and orgasm even if it was painful and traumatic. Sometimes, the perpetrators intentionally give the survivors a sense that they were also liking the sexual acts since their body parts were stimulated and responded. However, the truth is male brain and body functions that way, not necessarily it was spontaneous response. A feeling of shame and guilt restrain the boys from sharing the incidents with caregiver adults. In addition, potential threat, blackmailing, gifts and others sorts of humiliation by perpetrators make the survivor boys keep the incidents secret. Boys having such experiences must show some sudden behavioral, emotional and physical reactions reflecting the sexual abuse, but parents, in case of boy child, mostly are reluctant to dig deep to find the actual facts.
Multiple researches conducted in Bangladesh shows serious facts and figures of sexual abuse to boys. A study conducted by INCIDIN Bangladesh and Red Barnet in 1997 on children living on street and engaged in sex work depict that 36% of them migrated from rural areas had history of sexual abuse that happened when they were 7 to 10 years old. Another study on similar issues conducted by ECPAT International and INCIDIN Bangladesh in 2007 also confirmed that 68% of boys engaged in sex work had experience of sexual abuse that occurred between the age of 7 to 10 years. A study conducted on sexual and reproductive health of transgender women in Bangladesh in 2019 shows that 100% of the transgender women who were technically living like boys in their early age before transition had previous history of sexual abuse in around 10 years of age. All the study identified the family members, relatives, neighbors and other known people as the perpetrators. A number of news articles published in national dailies reported sexual abuse and violence by teachers in faith-based educational institutes and prayer places indicate that sometimes, the boy children are not safe even with the most trustworthy persons.
Surprisingly, Bangladesh’s laws includes non consensual peno-vaginal penetration while describing ‘rape’ but do not include ‘peno-anal’ or ‘peno-oral’ penetration and/or penetration of any objects which are the forms of sexual abuse to boys. These unaddressed limitations in explaining sexual abuse reflects the broader society’s narrow understanding of the dimensions of sexual abuse and violence to any individual.
For ensuring safety and security of children, our existing legislative structure, policies and advocacy initiatives should include the boys’ issues with importance. At the same time, parents, care-givers, teachers and other stakeholders related to child development should realize the vulnerability of boys and make sure that every single second of the boy children’s life is safe and cheerful.
1. https://nomore.org/learn/resources/; https://1in6.org/get-information/the-1-in-6-statistic/
2. Widom, C.S. & Morris, S. (1997). Accuracy of adult recollections of childhood victimization part 2. Childhood sexual abuse. Psychological Assessment, 9, 34-46. Available at https://pdfs.semanticscholar.org/bef8/86828da82e06fb4f41aeacaef44dd2dcc420.pdf
8. INCIDIN Bangladesh and Red Barnet, 1997, ‘Misplaced childhood: A short study on the street child
prostitutes in Dhaka City’
9. ECPAT International and INCIDIN Bangladesh, 2006, ‘The boys and the bullies: A situational analysis
report on prostitution of boys in Bangladesh’
10. Nabakumar Dutta, 2019, ‘SRHR needs and challenges of transgender women in Bangladesh’