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Monday 17 December 2012

Press review: When beasts eye boys

Manning up for all the wrong reasons: When child sexual abuse is reported, the victim is almost always a girl. But, as a recent study found out, more and more boys are suffering in silence

By TABITHA MWANGI tabsmwangi@gmail.com

Posted  Monday, December 17  2012 at  02:00 on Nation online Newspaper

The more familiar headline maker is about beastly men raping girls, some as young as two years old. Somehow, the sexual abuse of boys doesn’t generate enough gall, which creates the impression that few boys are abused, and that abuse, when it happens, does not affect boys as seriously as it does girls.

The recently published Kenya Violence Against Children Survey 2010 (KVACS) reports that over 17 per cent of men aged between 18 and 24 were sexually abused as children.

This translates to one out of every five boys experiencing sexual violence at least once in their lifetime. While under-reporting is a problem for girls, it is a far worse for boys.

One out of every five boys who is sexually abused will confide in someone about the abuse because the culprit is most likely to be a friend.

The KVACS report says that although over 34 per cent of abused boys knew where to go for help, about two per cent of boys aged between 13 and 17 years who had experienced sexual violence got professional help compared to about eight per cent of girls. Intolerably low figures for both genders, but worse for boys.

The report shows that the fear of consequences is the main reason why boys do not report sexual abuse. And these fears are myriad.

First, when boys, especially adolescents, are abused by men, they will not report the abuse for fear of being labelled homosexual. Studies across the world confirm this perception as the greatest hindrance to boys reporting sexual abuse propagated by men.

Dr Arnon Bentovim of the Great Ormond Children’s Hospital in London noted the difficulty of boys reporting such abuse.

“The boys often experience intense fears that abuse occurred because their abuser had perceived something ‘homosexual’ in their bearing, which led them to be picked out,” writes Dr Bentovim.

A review in the Journal of Child and Adolescent Psychiatric Nursing written by Dr Sharon Valente, assistant chief nurse at the Research and Education department of Veteran Affairs, LA in 2005, puts it well.

“Sexual abuse prompts the boys to question why the abuse happened to them. The boys felt that they must be flawed to be selected for abuse, [that] somehow their behaviour or characteristics signalled that they were less masculine, more vulnerable and inadequate,” Dr Valente writes.

Among teenage boys, there maybe a physiological reaction during the abuse (an erection or possible ejaculation) that may lead many to rationalise the abuse as something desired or invited, further adding to the confusion regarding their sexuality.

Second, paedophiles who target boys also tend to use more force and threats of violence than they would with a female victim. This intimidates the boys, leading to poor reporting rates.

Third, is a result of the fact that in four out of every 10 boys that are sexually assaulted, the perpetrator is a woman.

Reports of sexual assault perpetrated by women are extremely rare compared to those perpetrated by men.

This is because a boy will interpret the abuse as a culturally condoned sexual initiation experience for which he should feel ‘lucky’ rather than victimised.

Dr Valente reports that child minders are the typical perpetrators, which lends credence to anecdotal evidence linking house-maids with sexual abuse of boys locally.

And finally, because the society does not have in mind the issue of the sexual abuse of boys, they are afraid of reporting as they fear that no one will believe them. Reports of sexual abuses of boys are more likely to be believed if the boy is young, and less so for adolescent boys.

Where does this abuse happen?

The KVACS report, derived from a national survey involving 3,000 young people, indicated that most of the sexual violence directed towards boys occurred in schools.

As the report could not give much time to each issue, this article relied on information from a book titled Boy Child Sexual Abuse in Kenya: A Screaming Silence by the Koinonia Media Centre.

Information from the book was shared by William Omondi, the Programmes Officer at Koinonia Community—Kenya. Data for the book was collected over eight months in 2007 from 205 respondents, mainly secondary school students, children in rehabilitation centres and children living on the streets.

The book reports that for this study population, the most prevalent place for abuse was on the streets, and again older boys were the perpetrators. It also reports that a significant proportion of boys were sexually abused at school, mostly by older boys, many from backgrounds where sodomy was prevalent.

Boys in learning institutions and rehabilitation centres are forced into sexual acts against their will, especially in instances where the behaviour is deeply rooted in an institution, the study reports.

Out of every 20 boys that are sexually abused, only one is assaulted by a person they don’t know. This is a finding that is consistent across the globe—the most common perpetrators of child sexual abuse in both genders is a person known to the child.

Whereas the health outcomes of sexual abuse of boys do not involve a dreaded unwanted pregnancy, the victims are no better off than girls.

The attack may result in physical injuries and sexually transmitted diseases, but the boy will continue to suffer psychologically from the trauma of the abuse throughout his life in different measure, depending on the support he receives after the abuse.

It is a fact that a history of sexual abuse is associated with multiple psychiatric disorders, including a lifetime diagnosis of anxiety disorders, depression, drug abuse, eating and sleeping disorders.

Boys may also run away from home, perform poorly in school, be chronically ill, clinically depressed and, in worst cases, may decide that life is not worth living and plan suicide.

There is convincing evidence that boys suffer psychologically in the same way as girls as a result of the sexual abuse, yet services for boys are not talked about.

Although charitable children’s institutions do take in both genders of sexually assaulted children referred to them from government-run children’s officers, it is easier to find institutions that take girls than boys.

The availability of services for female victims has helped to reduce the stigma of being abused in the female population and has assisted girls to seek help, which is not the case with boys.

Because of the perceived lack of services for sexually abused boys and the absence of debate on this issue, sexually abused boys suffer the damaging and isolating effects of believing that they are the only ones to have ever been abused.

It must help that adult female survivors of child sexual abuse will speak about their experience, whereas it is a very rare occasion when an adult man who suffered sexual abuse as a child speaks about it.

Whereas women who were sexually abused as children find strength in disclosure, for men, disclosure is viewed as disempowering. Talking about the abuse threatens the whole male self-concept, they believe. This has got to change to enable the sexually abused boy to find strength to overcome the trauma.

Counselling sexually abused boys who remain in a violent, shaming, unsupporting environment where their abuse is not even acknowledged, will not be effective. If anything, it is such an environment that turns an abused child into an abuser.

Residential care of such boys needs to be organised and intensive work tailored for them provided.

From the KVACS report, it is clear that more innovative ways to provide services for sexually abused boys need to be invented and made accessible. These safe places also need to be publicised as a priority.

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