Even as awareness about Child Sex Abuse grows, male child abuse is still seen as non-existent. It defies the patriarchal logic of Indian society.
[Editor’s Note] This article won the Laadli Media Awards 2011-2012 for gender sensitivity in reporting under “Best Feature article on the Web.” The Laadli Media South Awards will be given away on Oct 6th, 2012.
An 18-year-old boy, having been a victim of repeated abuse since childhood by his own mother, stands at the crossroads of life. Aman* is unable to articulate his sexuality or his sexual feelings. His mother is the only family he has had during most of his growing years, having lost his father and brother when young. A mother who bathed him, and some more, for as long as he can remember. Today, Aman is sexually drawn to his mother.
Aman’s case may be unconventional and exceptional, given that reported cases of women as abusers is a minority, and mothers even lesser, but the abuse he has undergone isn’t new. In the patriarchal setup we live in, male child sex abuse remains hidden and disbelieved. The reality is stark.
An extensive research survey spanning 13 states in India by The Ministry of Women and Child Development, Prayas and UNICEF, reported that of the 12,447 children who were part of the study, 53% reported sexual abuse – 52% boys and 47% girls. Dr. Shekhar Sheshadri, renowned child psychologist at NIMHANS, Bangalore, established the high incidence of male child sex abuse over a decade ago in a first of its kind CSA study. He says that the situation hasn’t changed much today.
The need to be a man at all times
Given how prevalent male child sex abuse is, one wonders why it’s hushed up. “The short and long term effects on both boys and girls is equally harmful, but gender bias and patriarchal nature of social structures gives huge importance to female CSA while ignoring male CSA,” offers Dr. Shaibya Saldanha, sex educator, who started Enfold Proactive Health Trust to work on CSA, HIV and other related issues.
A male victim of child sex abuse is burdened, not only by the abuse and everything that it brings, but also by being a ‘victim’ – a position traditionally reserved for women. Anuja Gupta, founder and executive director of the RAHI (Recovering and Healing from Incest) Foundation, New Delhi, explains it further. “Traditionally, in a society like ours, men are not supposed to be victims; men are supposed to be aggressors. When men are victimized, they get confused about their masculinity and that causes a lot of problems when they grow as adults in terms of self esteem and self-confidence.”
RAHI Foundation has been working with adult survivors of child sex abuse for the past fifteen years. Gupta explains that adult male survivors begin questioning both their masculinity and sexual orientation.
While abusers mostly turn out to be family or friends, the other misconception is that the abusers are always male.
Harish Iyer, a gay rights activist and survivor of CSA himself, points out that there have also been cases involving female abusers. “Forget about discriminating against boys when it comes to such offenses, there is also denial of the fact that even a woman could abuse a child. Aman* is a case in point. But you’ll never hear such stories,” he says.
Vidya, programme co-ordinator at Equations, a research organization in Bangalore that has done extensive study on CSA and child pornography, says that gathering data for such studies is not easy, especially when it involves male children. “The child does not know whom to tell or not because society will never believe him. He undergoes the same trauma and emotion that a girl child undergoes,” she says. Sometimes, a male victim is threatened into silence by the abuser. “If it’s a male victim, the abuser might threaten to abuse the sister(s) too. There is additional pressure of protecting the rest of the family. So the child never comes out to talk about what he went through,” she explains.
The power to take advantage
An abuser may commit CSA for various reasons. However, these causes, as commonly understood and perceived, are also burdened with assumptions. One of them is sexual experimentation, commonly seen as one of the causes, but has nothing to do with sexual abuse. Abuse, by its very definition, is non-consensual.
Iyer says sexual frustration could also be a possible cause. “It’s not about the sex; it’s more about power. They know they can disempower and exploit another being.”
Sometimes, abusers are victims themselves. “Most child abusers have suffered deep emotional neglect and trauma in their childhood, usually by abusive adult caretakers. They are very often heterosexual married men with children of their own,” says Dr. Saldanha.
Another possibility is that abusers could prefer male children over female as the former do not get pregnant in the process. “There have been cases of foreign tourists wanting to have sex with boys only because of that one reason”, says Vidya, quoting from research studies conducted by Equations.
A system ill-equipped to help survivors
India does not have a single comprehensive law that addresses CSA at present. B. T. Venkatesh, a Bangalore based child rights lawyer and advocate dismisses the current provisions for CSA redressal under the IPC as archaic. “The penal law that we have goes back to 1860. We adopted all the colonial laws post-independence, except a few, and the status continues to remain the same even today,” he says.
And then again, the affected person might not even want to take the legal route. Gupta notes, “More often than not, the abusers are people the victim has known, loved, or related to. In such a case, survivors of sexual abuse may not necessarily want legal action against them.”
Dr. Saldanha believes that India lacks adequate trained personnel to deal with a sensitive issue like CSA. “Not just counselors, there is a general lack of child protection services too. Most teachers, administrators, doctors and paramedical staff are completely at sea when it comes to prevention of abuse and rehabilitation of children who have suffered sexual abuse,” she says.
RAHI has consulted on the new comprehensive bill dealing with CSA which has been tabled at the Rajya Sabha. “The fact that work is happening in drafting a new law across the country is welcome. Sooner or later, we hope there is a law on CSA. The process has begun and it’s quite hopeful,” Gupta says.
Iyer believes that a new law on CSA which speaks more descriptively about male child sex abuse and sexuality education is the need of the hour. “As a matter of fact, there is no said age you can assign to sex education. Right from the time when the child starts pointing at his/her private parts, instead of calling them fictitious or funny names, one ought to call a penis a penis and a vagina a vagina. That’s where sex education starts,” he says firmly.
Both teachers and parents are equally responsible and competent enough to teach the child, says Gupta, emphasizing that they have to work together.
Iyer sums it up accurately with, “Sexuality education has to start; law restructuring has to begin; victim’s documentation has to be improved. All of this has to happen together. There is no structured process. There has to be a rounded approach and what is required is action.”
*Name changed to protect identity
This article is part of a The Alternative running series bringing focus to the issue of Child Sex Abuse in India, in tune with CSA Awareness Month initiative run by bloggers over April 2011.