We often forget that boys are not safe from sexual predators | columns | Hindustan Times
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We often forget that boys are not safe from sexual predators

According to a survey done in Delhi , sexual abuse of young boys is almost equal to that of girl children but is far less reported or talked about.

columns Updated: May 21, 2017 11:10 IST
Lalita Panicker
In a society where manliness and bravery are valued, the boy child is conditioned not to complain, he is not considered as fragile as the girl. From an early age, he is told to be strong, be dominant, be assertive, not to be a sissy and a whiner.
In a society where manliness and bravery are valued, the boy child is conditioned not to complain, he is not considered as fragile as the girl. From an early age, he is told to be strong, be dominant, be assertive, not to be a sissy and a whiner.(© Bill Binzen/CORBIS)

I cannot remember when I last turned on the television, opened the newspapers or went through social media without learning of some horrific rape. And to my dismay, what used to shock the living daylights out of people is slowly ceasing to do so. The barbarity of some of the rapes in recent times rival if not exceed that of Jyoti Singh in 2012 but it makes headlines far less and preys on the collective consciousness for a shorter time. While talking about this to a friend of mine, I was struck and unsettled by a remark she made. “I know I should not say this and it will upset you, but at least, we should in a way be thankful that we don’t have girls. I would have died a thousand deaths if I had to worry about her safety every time she went out,” she said of our non-existent female offspring.

But, I wondered, are boys all that safe from sexual predators? According to a survey done in Delhi a couple of years ago, sexual abuse of young boys is almost equal to that of girl children but is far less reported or talked about. Somehow, many people believe that boys are not as much at risk as girls. I am not saying that the girl child is less vulnerable than a boy but social circumstances place the boy in danger in different ways. In the first place, there is no societal restriction to boys being in the company of male adults, whether relatives or friends. And it is invariably the known friendly uncle, cousin or family friend rather than a stranger who sexually abuses the little boy.

In a society where manliness and bravery are valued, the boy child is conditioned not to complain, he is not considered as fragile as the girl. From an early age, he is told to be strong, be dominant, be assertive, not to be a sissy and a whiner. In her disturbing film Anatomy of Violence, Deepa Mehta pieces together an account of the lives of the rapists in the Jyoti Singh case. Even accounting for some amount of fiction, at least two of the rapists encountered brutal sexual violence in their youth. Could this have led to their savagery towards the young girl they attacked? It could well be that the bestiality they suffered left them with little notion of right and wrong as evident from some of the remarks made by them during the course of the trial.

Several studies have shown that boys who are sexually traumatised grow up often to be perpetrators of violence. They mask their sufferings in extra aggression, violence towards others, especially those considered weaker and in trying to be dominant. The root cause of their behaviour is rarely addressed in a society like India where vulnerability or admission of sexual assault would be seen as a sign of weakness in a man.

If a boy were to come forward and complain of being raped, chances are that he will not be believed, he will be thought to be a wimp or effeminate and become an object of ridicule. Even when it comes to counselling, the priority is the girl child. But, if we are to protect boys from sexual violence we have to change this mindset. In an advertisement on the theme boys don’t cry, the young man whose tears are considered a sign of weakness in childhood and his teenage years, grows up to be a wife beater. Now this may be a generalisation, but the message given to an abused boy is that the violence directed against him is normal and that he too can do the same. Or maybe he feels that this is the only way he can hit back for what he suffered. I am not saying that all young boys who are abused grow up to be violent, but that they need help to overcome the trauma. They need a supportive environment, they should not feel the pressure to be manly and tough. They too should be shielded from the danger of predators as much as the girl child.

A blogger who had been raped by an uncle for years when he was a child wrote that when he finally told his mother, she was shocked. “I did not know such things could happen to boys,” she said.