Where is the society moving towards! Is childhood at stake? Are children free to breathe? Is it a female child who alone has to face sexual abuse? Shocking results came out in a study done by the government in 2007, study on child abuse found that 52 percent of those who reported having been sexually abused were boys. Abuse against boys is more common than we think and a recent seminar aimed to create awareness to protect the boy child. The seminar was conducted by the West Bengal Commission for protection of child rights (WBCPCR) and the New Town-based All India Boys and Men’s Forum (AIBMF) at the Ultadanga office of the commission. It was held to observe World Boy Child Day a few weeks ago.
In the seminar, it was brought forward by the adult males who were abused sometime in their childhood, that their common perpetrators were their teachers. “If we failed to get our lesson right, our lady tutor would strip the boys to a semi-nude state and molest us,” said a man who was trembling while recounting the experiences. “I eventually told my parents about it but this was in the early 2000s when there was no awareness about such things. All my parents could do was change my tutor.” Another man said he was molested by his art teacher in school. “I was too young to understand that I was being violated. Then again, when I was a little older, I was molested by the ticket checker on a train. This time I fought back but only because I now had the awareness,” he said.
Even women can be vicious perpetrators! Sreemoyee Sen Ram, the founder of RACSHA (Rise Against Child Sexual Harm & Abuse), recounted the case of a physically challenged boy — one of his hands was not operational — who would get violated by his aunt and domestic help. “They would insist on bathing him despite the boy’s protests and fondle him,” she said. “In our experience, as much as 20 percent of offenders against boys involve female perpetrators. They tend to be either adult women who have sexual relationships with teenage boys, teenage girls who take advantage of younger boys, and women who are cajoled to participate in the recruitment and abuse (trafficking) of children by their boyfriends, husbands, or family members,” said Sen Ram.
Deep Purkayastha, founder-director of Praajak, an NGO that works for child protection, said there was but a thin line between bullying and sexual abuse. “This becomes pronounced in all-boy schools and environments. “They’ll harass a boy till he breaks down and declare that he cries like a girl. They’ll then pull down his pants to verify if he’s really a boy,” he said. Such things are rampant in society and boys as young as 13 could be doing this to 10-year-olds. “The harassment of effeminate boys often leads to assault too. It is we who lack the lens to see this as sexual abuse and pass it off as harmless ragging,” said Purkayastha.
Ananya Chakraborti, the chairperson, of WBCPCR, said gender roles are assigned to children from birth and it is baggage they have to carry their whole lives. “Who has decided that ‘boys don’t cry? That ‘mard ko dard nahin hota’?” These stereotypes are the reason why boys who are violated are uncomfortable about speaking up.”
Being a mental health professional, Mukherji sensed her son was traumatized and eventually managed to extract the truth from him. The incidents were reported in school and action was taken against the perpetrators.
Bhattacharya shared that many people actually held the misconception that Pocso (Protection of Children from Sexual Offences Act) was applicable only to girls. “So all the abused boys suffer in silence. This repression can manifest itself in unnatural ways later in their sexual lives,” she said.
Purkayastha observed that sexual violence against boys only gets reported in case of serious medical problems. “A 2007 study on child abuse by the ministry of women and child development found that 52 percent of those who reported the abuse were boys but also that most of these were ‘milder’ forms of abuse. Many boys have come to believe that such mild abuse happens to everyone and that they have to accept it,” he said.
“Parents won’t leave a girl child alone in a room with a tutor but it never occurs to them that the boy child can be vulnerable too,” noted Mukherji, asking parents to be alert. “If you see your young son touching himself or displaying sexually inappropriate behavior, don’t scold him. Rather, investigate if he may have been touched by an adult. Could he have been shown pornography by a perpetrator?”