Keep the boys safe

Debarati Palit Singh
Saturday, 7 April 2018

Sexual assault on men is not a myth. With April being observed internationally as Sexual Assault Awareness month, Debarati Palit Singh finds the bitter truth about it

Nihar Kumar (name changed) always travelled by bus to school. Both his parents worked and the best way to commute was the local bus. The conductor and driver of the bus he took knew him. One day, because of sports practice, he missed his regular bus and took another one. The first 10 minutes went fine. Then an elderly uncle came and sat next to him. The uncle suddenly started touching his thighs and private parts. Kumar, who was then 14 years old, didn’t know how to react, so he kept quiet.

But the incident left a deep impact on his mind for years. He couldn’t trust ‘elderly uncles’ and today, even 15 years later, he can’t forget the disturbing bus ride.

And there are boys who have suffered worse, some have gone through painful sexual assaults by men and women too.

According to the Government of India-published ‘Study on Child Abuse: India 2007’, 53.22 per cent of children reported having faced sexual abuse. The sample survey was of 12,447 children across 13 states of India. And among them, 52.94 per cent were boys. The study suggested that generalising these findings, every second child in the country faces some form of sexual abuse and it is equally prevalent in both genders. Sadly, sexual abuse of boys is under-reported, under-recognised and under-treated (Source: The National Center for Biotechnology Information).

Social Stigma 
Parents usually fear about girls getting sexually abused; no one really believes that young and teenaged boys are equally at risk. In fact, for many, it’s a myth that boys get sexually abused in our country. As a result, many youngsters do not come forward to talk about the trauma when they go through such situations.

Mukund Kirdat, co-founder, Purush Uvach, a men’s group in Pune, believes that just like women, men too have a certain sort of fear about abuse. “But because of the burden of patriarchy, they try to hide such incidents. The definition of manhood is challenged when such an incident happens and sadly there are set definitions of how men should behave and being assaulted is not part of that.”

He adds that when such abuse takes place during childhood, both the boy and girl are considered victims. But as they grow older, the assault on a man by another man is made to look like a homosexual act.

Advocate Anjali Pawar, director, NGO Sakhee, who was part of the ‘Study on Child Abuse: India 2007’ further adds, “For a man, it is difficult to break stereotypes about his gender. He is not supposed to share his weakness or else society perceives him as weak or ‘womanly’.”

She adds that several times, young boys do not realise that they are being sexually abused. “Only when some complications happen do they realise that they were assaulted. Also, they perceive assaults by men and women differently. Most teenage boys, when assaulted by an elderly woman, take it positively. They think, ‘I got to have sex’. But when they are sodomised by men, they find it unnatural.”

Pawar says that several figures show that number of men assaulting teenagers and young boys is much higher than women assaulters.

The Consequences
It’s hard to imagine the trauma that young boys go through when being sodomised. Not being able to share their plight makes it even more tragic.

Psychiatrist Dr Avinash Waghmare admits that the number of male patients coming to him for help in sexual assault cases is not high because often the family members do not believe them or the men feel guilty about being abused. Many go through physical pain. “The child complains of pain in privates parts.” But more seriously, such victims face emotional turmoil, he says, adding, “They have mood swings, irritability, sleep disturbances and lack of hunger. Their academic performance is affected too.”

He, however, observes that children and teenage boys handle the situations differently. “As our brains keep developing, the social maturity of the children keeps on developing. We have noticed that some children are not aware about what happened to them. They don’t know the names of their private parts so they don’t know how to express it. But older children understand it and feel guilty.”

He says that often, adult men who have gone through abuse during childhood approach him. “They have many psychological issues including leading a normal sexual relationship, developing relationship, phobia of other gender, depression, substance abuse,” he says, adding, “Though I haven’t personally met such patients, study or literature says that those who are assaulted during childhood not only lead a disturbing life but they can themselves turn assaulters later in their life. 
Sharing a case study, he says that a boy who was abused as a child refused to marry and have children because he thought that his semen belonged to the one who abused him. “He believed that it was his assaulter who will give birth to children. He was distressed and led a traumatic time,” says Waghmare.
Sensitising Children
All this is scary and there is an urgent need to sensitise children about how to keep themselves safe and differentiate between an appropriate and inappropriate touch. The government is making efforts to make sex education compulsory in schools but it’s far from reaching every child. So the onus now falls on parents to educate their children. However, considering that in Indian society, there is an awkwardness to talk about private parts or sex education with children, the task at hand is humongous.

“But we have to take the initiative,” says Semanti Das, a mother of three-year-old son. “We live in government quarters and my son is hanging around with someone or the other all the time. So in whatever manner we can, my husband and I tell our son that he should not let anyone open his clothes or touch him. We have to take that kind of precaution for his safety.”

Pawar says that once children start speaking, parents should start sensitising them. “Sadly, in today’s society, no one is safe. Parents needs to be sensitised first, they should know what kind of words to use. I would advise them to use their mother tongue while explaining sex organs or use the words that are commonly used among their friends. The right kind of word usage is very important. Plus, we have to listen to our children patiently,” she says.

Waghmare says that parents needs to discuss what’s good and bad touch with their children. “Tell them someone touching them to a certain limit or someone coming closer to them is normal but after that it’s not. Parents need to adopt a similar approach towards their sons and daughters while teaching them about abuse,” he says.

Legal Aid
The government of India introduced the POSCO Act (Protection of Children from Sexual Offenses) Act, in 2012. The act is applicable to the entire country except for Jammu and Kashmir.

According to the act, “child” means any person below the age of 18 years. The Act defines different forms of sexual abuse, including penetrative and non-penetrative assault, as well as sexual harassment and pornography, etc. It further states that a sexual assault is to be considered “aggravated” under certain specific circumstances. It makes it the legal duty of a person who has knowledge that a child has been sexually abused to report the offence; if he/she fails to do so, he/she may be punished with six months’ imprisonment and/or a fine.

According to the act, the evidence of the child should be recorded within a period of 30 days of the Special Court taking cognizance of the offence and the Special Court shall complete the trial, as far as possible, within a period of one year from the date of taking cognizance of the offence.

Pune Stats
Pune Police registered 330 sexual offence cases in 2016. Out of which 20 offenders were women and 350 men. In 2017, 374 cases were registered, out of which 37 offenders were women and 415 men. In 2018, so far, 64 cases have been registered.  

Initiatives are being taken not just to sensitise children and families but the police too. Several workshops are being conducted by the Pune police to sensitise them on how to deal with victims (both men and women). Pankaj Dahane, DCP (crime) says, “Sensitising programmes are constantly going on at the Commissioner’s office regarding child abuse, POCSO (Protection of Children from Sexual Offences Act) and women harassment. Recently the crime branch organised similar workshops for policemen who are handling such cases. It’s a year-long process.”  

Gender-neutral Laws 
Our law system is not gender-neutral. In some cases, it’s too tilted towards women and in many cases it’s inclined towards men. This puts a hindrance in bringing justice to victims.

Mumbai-based gender-activist Harish Sadani believes that there is a dire need of gender neutral laws. “We have to be fair to both the genders and transgenders too. We see women as the weaker section of society and accordingly the laws have been made. Having said that, because of the sheer number and diversity in our country, we cannot have separate laws for men. When we say we are on equal footing, we have to change the Constitution.”

He says that several educational institutions and corporates have changed their laws which are now more gender-neutral. “Now University Grant Commission has also given a guideline that laws have to be gender-neutral which means they have to consider that it’s quite possible that even a man can be sexually harassed.” 

He adds that an important factor that matters is that whoever is making the laws should have empathy. “There are newer dimensions coming in genders. Abroad, it’s believed that there are six types of genders, not just men and women.”

Barack Obama was the first United States president to proclaim April as Sexual Assault Awareness Month (SAAM) in 2009. Since then, SAAM has become an annual campaign to raise public awareness about sexual assault and educate communities and individuals on how to prevent it.

Understanding Sexual Violence 
According to the official website of SAAM, there are points through which one has to understand sexual assault. 
What is sexual violence? 
• Sexual violence is any type of unwanted sexual contact — including sexual assault and rape.
• This can include words and actions like sexual harassment, catcalling, and nonconsensual sharing of private images such as “revenge porn.”
• They may use coercion, manipulation, threats, or force to commit sexual violence.

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