“How do you think they would react if I said I had been raped?” said Vikram* sounding rather relaxed hiding the deep scars of abuse he had to face which changed the course of his life. “Nobody would ever believe me.” Vikram confided as he talked about his inertia to converse about the physical abuse he went through at a tender age.
Living in a society where ‘rape’ or ‘sexual assault’ are not words you associate with boys or men, the scars last longer and perhaps much deeper for men like Vikram. The view that sexual assault or physical abuse happens only to the feminine gender limits the responsiveness to the act. There is a strong bias and a perpetual stigma associated with the act and it becomes even more pronounced when dealing with the male child. But does that make the male child any less vulnerable to the perpetrator or the act less gruesome or perhaps the consequence diluted in any which way?
The perpetrator of the said act in such cases perhaps goes scot-free given the fact that such incidents go largely unreported.
Researchers have found that 1 in 6 men have experienced abusive sexual experiences before age 18. And this is probably a low estimate, since it doesn’t include non-contact experiences, which can also have lasting negative effects.
Also, as these cases go untreated the threat that the oppressed becomes the oppressor is far more likely. Despite the glaring disparity, the mere talk about the act is shunned under the proverbial carpet.
The fact is that a child (be a boy or a girl) is bound to have a traumatic effect which has the capability of shaping his future is unquestionable. But, what is surprising is the fact that despite looking, the data on male-child rapes is clearly non-existing. It is like the proof of the act of molestation on a male child is almost non-existent. Can it be possible then that the male child is safer than the female counterpart? Or is it that there is a greater taboo attached in reporting the incident and the pressure on a male child to ‘act brave’ and ‘be manly’ makes him not come out with the facts? Can the unavailability be taken as the consequence of the wider misconception that only the girl-child is at risk?
The Centuries old of idea of Masculinity
The cast of masculinity – the yardstick with which a ‘male child’ is judged is still the same – for a male child to be considered masculine and strong he should not concede to public display of emotions lest he be considered soft or weak or worse gay or effeminate.
The ‘boys don’t cry’ catchphrase has partly maimed the innocent psyches of the male child and does not make men equipped to address life’s challenges when they grow old.
Studies have shown that male babies tend to be held differently, treated differently, and given differing degrees of attention than their female counterparts. In ancient Greece, boys at the tender age of seven were supposed to be removed from their mothers and housed in a dormitory with other boys and trained as soldiers. The mother's softening influence was considered detrimental to a boy's education. The boys endured harsh physical discipline and deprivation and some of them even went through harsh abuse to make them strong.
Once men accept that they fail to meet the ‘standards of masculinity’ set by the norms of the society they carry a sense of inferiority into most areas of life.
Men often spend their lives trying to "prove" their masculinity or have succumbed to the feeling that because they aren't "all men," they aren't men at all. Any lapse into doubt, confusion, tenderness or emotionalism is perceived as weakness.
Restricting the range of permissible behaviour and emotions compromises a man's creativity and his ability to respond flexibly to life situations. Rigid adherence to a view of masculinity not only increases the incidence of victimization but severely inhibits prospects of recovery.
Our culture provides no room for a man as a victim. Men are simply not supposed to be victimized.
A "real" man is expected to be able to solve any problem and recover from any setback. When he experiences victimization, our cultural expects him to be able to "deal with like a man." The survivor's ongoing feelings of confusion, frustration, anger, and fear can be further evidence of his failing as a man. The victimized child wonders and worries about what the abuse has turned him into. Believing that he is no longer an adequate man, he may see himself as less than human.
The Trauma is not Less Pronounced
One notion is that males are less traumatized by the abuse experience than females are; this includes the belief that males are less negatively affected. Studies show that the long-term effects are damaging for either sex and males may especially be more damaged by social stigma and disbelief of their victimization. It is noted by Eogan and Richardson that male victims tend to feel more intense anger than female victims, while both go through similar feelings of distress after the rape. Frazier (1993) studied 74 male and 1,380 female rape victims. She found that the depression and hostility are more profound on male victims immediately post-rape than female victims.
A variety of adult psychiatric conditions has been clinically associated with child sexual abuse. These include the disorders of major depression, borderline personality disorder, somatization disorder, substance abuse disorders, post traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), dissociative identity disorder, and bulimia nervosa.
This apparent diversity can be explained in part by the heterogeneity of the experiences, the complexity of the confounds among abuse severity variables, and a host of moderating and mediating constitutional and environmental variables together with important individual differences in coping strategies that may come into play at different points in development in any given case. Some studies suggest that penetration, the duration and frequency of the abuse, force, the relationship of the perpetrator to the child, and maternal support affected the degree of symptomatology.
The Missing Help and Legislature
In 1992 FBI's Uniform Crime Report redefined rape as: "The penetration, no matter how slight, of the vagina or anus with any body part or object, or oral penetration by a sex organ of another person, without the consent of the victim." The prior definition hadn't been changed since 1927 as it gained the attention of sexual assault awareness groups and the alienation of the victims that didn't fit the definition.
The English law did not include rape of males as a criminal offence and it was recorded as non-consensual buggery until 1994. A convicted rapist (of a female) could be imprisoned for life, stated Henry Leak, the chairman of Survivors organization, while buggery only carried 10 years maximum as a sentence. This changed after the Criminal Justice and Public Order Act was modified in 1994 was the first to lead this development and recognize male-victim rape.
The Indian Penal Code, Section 377, is perhaps the only section that criminalizes all acts of nonconsensual carnal intercourse, including male-on-male rape.
"Unnatural offences: Whoever voluntarily has carnal intercourse against the order of nature with any man, woman or animal, shall be punished with imprisonment for life, or with imprisonment of either description for the term which may extend to ten years, and shall also be liable to a fine. Explanation: Penetration is sufficient to constitute the carnal intercourse necessary to the offence described in this section."
Need to remove the ‘Blind Spot’
Despite the existing laws present in some countries, there is a larger group of countries which do not recognize the act of ‘rape’ or ‘sexual assault’ as an offence that can be perpetuated on men. There exists a gulf between the stated law and its execution when it comes to real-life cases. The post-trauma centres are a far cry and help and distress centres are few and far between. The safety net which should be a part of the societal makeup is absent due to prejudices and misconceptions or for a lack of better word a ‘blind spot’ which exists in such cases.
In today world, where the support systems are largely diminishing and the safety net rather thin, there is a greater need to face the fact that abuse – especially child sexual abuse knows no gender.
The acknowledgement of the fact that children irrespective of gender are vulnerable should be highlighted to get the perpetrators of the act a feeling that they can no longer get away as the male child would not report it.
There is no respite for men like Vikram who face the world hiding their scars and trauma. A child needs protection – the only thing a paedophile looks for in his victim is a vulnerable child, the gender matters less. No child is born manly or delicate. It is just that – a child.
*name changed on request.
Picture Credit: op-edaily.com
Madhulika Ra Chauhan, is an Indian author, whose debut short-story collection “The One Night Affair and Other Stories” has been well received. She has contributed stories to various anthologies. She writes regular articles for the e-zine. When not busy working for the corporate, she spends time reading and writing to her heart’s content. She currently lives in China with her super-curious son and super-busy husband. The views expressed are author’s own.