Boys and Men Suffer Sex Abuse, Too, But It Is Under Reported and Widely Ignored
My thesis here is that many more American males are victims of sexual abuse than most people know or care about.
How many people would guess that, according to a recent study, twenty percent of reported incidents of sexual abuse in the active duty military involve male victims? The report admits that counting the number of male victims is a problem because many male victims of sexual abuse either remain quiet about it or call it something else (e.g., “hazing”).
Does anyone think the recent event in Texas is unique? According to Associated Press reports a volunteer fire fighter in a small city south of Dallas was raped by five fellow volunteer fire fighters while a female volunteer fire fighter videotaped the rapes on her cell phone. The victim was held down and raped with physical objects by the men. An AP report said that the County District Attorney called the incident a “rite of initiation” for the victim. I seriously doubt this was a one-time, unique event that never happens elsewhere. This victim had the courage to report it to authorities. Most don’t (and I’m not blaming them because of the stigma that they know will attach to them for the event and for reporting it.) I suspect this type of incident is more common than most people suspect. And when it does happen, unless the victim is female, it rarely, if ever, gets national news coverage.
Over the years I have seen many statistics that, in my opinion, minimize the real frequency of sexual abuse of males.I cannot count the number of men of all ages who have shared their experiences of sexual abuse with me. These incidents usually happened when they were children or teens. The abusers were neighbors, older brothers or sisters, occasionally babysitters (and sometimes females), fathers or uncles, pastors, youth pastors, camp counselors, etc. In almost every case these men have told me they never told anyone about it and only opened up to me because I raised the subject in class and stated that I suspected sexual abuse of boys and young men is more common than society thinks. In almost every case these men did not report the abuses because of the shame, if not disbelief, they would have faced.
I believe sexual abuse of adolescent boys by older women is fairly common and society calls it something else (e.g., “She did him a favor”). Women who seduce boys rarely face severe legal penalties. Often the parents push for prosecution but the victim(s) won’t cooperate. In those cases the charges are often dropped (which would not necessarily be the case were the victim(s) female and the alleged abuser male). A recent television “news magazine” show featured an interview with a female teacher who seduced her thirteen year old male student. She spent a few months in prison and then married the young man when he turned eighteen. Society glorifies this as “young love” that turned out well. Really? Imagine the gender tables turned. What if the teacher were a man and the thirteen year old student a girl? Society would roundly condemn their later marriage and insist the male teacher spend years in prison.
Society practices a double standard with regard to sexual abuse. Look at movies and television shows. I have seen television shows where adolescent boys were “having affairs” with female teachers and that was portrayed as a positive thing for the boys. Many movies treat older women seducing boys as romantic. Think of “Summer of ‘42” and “The Reader.” IF the tables were turned and the seducer were an older man and the seduced a girl, the movie theme would have been totally different. Instead of soft focus and romantic music the seductions would have been treated as outrageous crimes. In “The Reader” a young-looking actor, barely eighteen, portrayed a fifteen year old boy being seduced by an older woman. The “boy” is shown in full frontal nudity being given a bath by the woman. What movie would portray (as romantic) in full nudity a fifteen year old girl (even if the actress was eighteen) being seduced by a thirty-something year old man? If it happened there would be an outcry. Why was there no similar reaction, outcry, to “The Reader?”
Think about all the sex talk that goes on among very under age (especially male) actors on television shows and in movies. I read about a major Hollywood movie that showed a twelve year old actor acting out a masturbation scene—showing only his face and upper body. How is this not disturbing? Why is society not outraged? What if under age, very young female actresses were being so sexualized in television shows and movies? Some will say they are, but not to the same degree.
To me the American double standards about underage sex and about sexual abuse are so obvious and blatant as to be shocking. And I wonder why others aren’t also shocked. I never see any of this discussed in the media. There seems to be a general acceptance of an attitude that males can’t be as seriously victimized by sexual exploitation and abuse as females. (I see a parallel and supporting pattern with regard to “bullying” among children and teens. Almost all the attention given to the problem focuses on girls. And yet anyone who went to an American junior high or high school knows that much bullying is aimed at boys. I suspect many people think it’s just a normal part of being a boy but are shocked and concerned when they hear about bullying of girls.)
So what’s my suggested solution? We need to start a conversation about the matter and urge researchers to dig deeper into the differences between male and female sexual abuse—recognizing and taking into account the fact that most male victims of sexual abuse never report it to authorities and often never tell anyone. We need to start protesting (e-mail is a good way to do it) television and movie sexploitation of boys and portrayals of male sex abuse as romantic—as we would tend to do in the case of similar “entertainment” victimizations of girls. We need to raise consciousness on university campuses about sexual humiliation in fraternity and other hazing rituals. Hazers need to be severely punished. We need to create a cultural environment where sexual abuse of males is taken more seriously and not shrugged off as “initiation” and “they must have wanted it.” We need to pressure government entities to change prison culture in America so that rape of young inmates is not so common; today it is virtually taken for granted that a young male convict will be subjected to rape in prison even if his crime was non-violent. For the most part people shrug it off as “just the way things are.” We need to include male victims in educational programs about date rape and other sexual abuse; if none can be found to participate the facilitators need at least to talk about the evils of sexual abuse of males as equally wrong and pernicious. In my experience (thirty-three years teaching in three universities and attending one before that) I have never heard of programs on campuses even mentioning sexual abuse of males and their need for recovery. In this area of prevention of and recovery from sexual abuse all the focus is always solely on females.