A Hidden Right of Men Worldwide
While the public focus on male sexual abuse has been mostly allocated to religious institutions, especially the Catholic Church, schools, the Boy Scouts of America, and athletic organizations, the true incidence of the sexual abuse of boys and men remains obscure and frequently circumvented at a time when the internet is now fostering an alarming rise in sexual crimes against children, especially boys.
For eons it appears that most countries have tended to ignore that males are victims of sexual abuse perhaps as much as females and certainly to a much greater extent than is reported or recognized. Females are defined by fundamental social mores as vulnerable, whereas men are categorized as invulnerable, females as lacking protection and males as inherently self-protective. This mythology operates to divert attention and subvert awareness that males suffer from sexual abuse as well as the lingering, pernicious effects of that trauma.
The basic right of humanity to grow up free of sexual abuse, sexual exploitation and sexual trafficking has not been equally extended to both females and males. This reticence arises from the persistent social tenet that boys don’t cry and that boys are equipped to fend off attacks. Deep in that tenet is a boy’s (or a man’s) need to retain and redeem his masculinity.
The #MeToo movement, while certainly justified, has not only tended to ignore the sexual abuse and exploitation of men, but focused on men as the preeminent predator. Men as victims of other men and women have been ignored partly out of their own masculine-preserving diffidence or because the social perspective persists in regarding men as the apex predator and women as the unwitting victim.
The right of men to be recognized as victims needing protection and amelioration is lagging to various degrees all over the world. In recent times, as the numbers of people migrating from difficult and endangered homelands, the trafficking of these vulnerable peoples has increased. And this is surely true for both female and male victims.
As the use of internet resources is exploding, there is a massive increase in the use of social media platforms used for sexual grooming. There is an increasing trend toward boys self-producing sexual context, which perpetrators access via subscription. Male predators use Grindr, as well as other platforms, to arrange for sex with young men and boys. And there has been an increase in boys also being groomed through gaming platforms. Perpetrators using the many sources may very well be praised individuals in their community, but in reality they have spent years focused on how to abuse children.
What factors mitigate against self-disclosure by boys and men? To begin: the grooming process evokes negative emotions of embarrassment, shame, fear, and guilt. The predator typically induces a bond based on these emotions that turns them against the victim as participant. Such tactics may include the use of threats and blame towards a child to create fear over the victim’s personal safety, or the safety of their close family members.
Male victims face challenges to their heteronormative masculinity, fearing that disclosure will label them as gay. Denial is a defense male victims may use to minimize the impact of the abuse — “it didn’t affect me or change me.” Male victims may experience a PTSD-related form of dissociation with complete loss of memory of the abuse, which can persist for decades.
Often when men do disclose their abuse they face being disregarded, not believed, shamed, emotionally abused, even physically harmed. Survivors often are disbelieved by frontline service providers when they seek help. This only reinforces the fear that law enforcement and hospital staff, and mental health professionals will cause re-traumatization. Survivors may also discover a lack of trauma-informed training and a gender bias when they disclose to law enforcement personnel. Support services tailored to male survivors that provide follow-up support are so sparse that they prevent disclosure. Finally, men fear disclosure because it may redound upon them as themselves being viewed as abusers.
Perhaps an ultimate limit to social recognition of males as possible victims of sexual abuse is the existence of female perpetrators. Among the various grounds of such victimization, the home and its environs count as loci where female perpetrators abuse boys. This includes mothers, baby-sitters, female relatives, even siblings, as well as female teachers, coaches, clerics, etc.
The rights of male victims of sexual abuse is a need, a recognition, an awareness, a route toward rectification that presents as a universal, extremely timely challenge. Everyone is on that same front line. Now is the time to act.