Male sexual abuse: A myth or fact?

Published: November 27, 2013
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Our society's denials and self-satisfying beliefs that males cannot be abused, cannot change the truth. PHOTO: FILE

There is a common myth about sexual abuse. Many people believe that boys cannot be abused and even if they are, they argue that sexual abuse is less harmful to boys than to girls.

This myth also implies that boys and men cannot be sexually abused because they are better able to protect themselves. Men are not considered vulnerable – psychically or emotionally. However, one must understand that boys are not men; they are mere children who are as defenceless as girls and can too be weak whence trying to protect themselves against predators.

According to the Rozan Annual Report 2011-12 2,303 children were abused in Pakistan in 2011. However, crime is grossly under reported and both, boys and girls are equally vulnerable to child sexual abuse. Aangan’s analysis of 200 client letters published in 2006 revealed that 49% of the abused children were girls while 51% were boys. Moreover, the percentage of children abused by their own relatives was the highest, followed by acquaintances and then strangers.

A major cause behind the rapid increase in the number of child abuse cases in Pakistan has been the denial of family and other members of the society towards the issue.

After I shared Humera’s story, five other friends found the courage to share the ordeal and years of suffering that they had gone through – and four out of these five, happened to be boys.

Haider* who is 23-years-old now, is one such boy who wanted to share his story in the hope that it would help him and others break their silence and speak up for themselves.

Haider was adopted by his aunt right after he was born due to certain family issues. His abuse started when he was four-years-old. His abuser was a close relative and a trust worthy person. He was very affectionate towards Haider, at times more than he was to his own children. Haider’s aunt had to leave town for a week due to some emergency when he was four-years-old and she left little Haider in the supervision of this uncle and his family.

The uncle treated the boy nicely and gave him toys, candies and everything that he asked for. However, after a few days the uncle’s family also left for two days, leaving Haider alone with him. This was when the uncle started molesting him. Being a four-year-old child, Haider did not understand what was happening, he was unable to stop it and he did not tell anyone about the incident.

Following this incident, the uncle started to visit Haider’s aunt quite often and brought chocolates and gifts for the boy every time. Whenever he got the chance to be alone with the boy, he molested him. It was only when Haider turned seven that he realised that his uncle’s behaviour seemed odd and inappropriate. Then, he began to avoid talking to him or being alone with him.

One day when he was coming home from school, his uncle stopped by and asked him if he needed a ride. Haider refused to go with him but his uncle pulled a knife and threatened to hurt him if he refused to go along. He then took Haider to a secluded place and abused him, after which he warned him not to tell anyone about it.

As a mere seven-year-old, Haider began to hate himself for a sin that someone else was committing. He tried telling his friends about what was happening but they made fun of him, called him funny names and taunted him because of his disturbed personality.

Haider’s uncle continued to frequently abuse him and this went on until Haider turned 16. His aunt went away for some work again and his uncle took advantage of the situation. He took Haider to his house where he, along with four of his friends, abused the 16-year-old all night. This continued for several months and his ordeal came to an end only when his aunt moved to another place.

However, his uncle continued to haunt him by calling and messaging him regularly.

As time passed, no one listened to or believed Haider’s story and eventually he became quiet and withdrawn. He started to channel his depression and low self-esteem by cutting himself with a blade.

Although years have passed, Haider still resorts to self-injury when the emotional and psychological trauma of living with his insecurities becomes unbearable. He has tried to end his life twice because people refused to believe him. This rejection from family members and the fact that his abuser holds a strong image in the family keeps him from sharing his issues with his family.

One instance of his family’s insensitive reaction was when one of his siblings who holds a bachelors degree in Psychology told him and other family members that Haider was ‘not-normal’. He went on to claim that Haider had personality disorders due to his disturbed nature, depression, habit of talking to himself and keeping himself isolated from others. Ironically, he listed the symptoms of Haider’s problems as the problem itself, rather than trying to find the reasons behind his suicidal behaviour.

In spite of the mental agony that he continues to go through, Haider still struggles with his nightmares in the hope that one day his miseries will come to an end. He has not sought psychological help because he fears talking to new people and the memories that he will have to re-live due to the questions that they will put him through.

We all have friends who probably try to live normal lives but carry dark and painful secrets that they refuse to share with their friends and loved ones, simply because they fear facing denial and being judged. Whether one is male or female, sexual abuse may occur for a few seconds but its psychological impact lasts for years and male victims go through the same emotional trauma that females go through and hence, deserve equal support.

Our society’s denials and self-satisfying beliefs that males cannot be abused, and adopting a ‘brush-it-under-the-carpet’ attitude cannot change the truth. It is imperative to let go of such myths and embrace reality so that male victims feel inspired and empowered enough to break the silence and seek help.

Only then can we hope to bring an end to this horrendous crime.

This article was written and shared with full consent of the victim and the name has been changed to protect the victim’s identity.

Tehniat Waheed

Tehniat Waheed

A student pursuing an MBA degree, Tehniat likes to write about child abuse and topics of social awareness. She likes to read and tweets as @Tehniat08 twitter.com/Tehniat08

The views expressed by the writer and the reader comments do not necessarily reflect the views and policies of The Express Tribune.

  • Sultan Mehmood Khan

    Tehniat has told the truth. Male or boy sexual abuse is more common in our society because it is easier for a molester man or boy to get closer to a boy than a girl in our society. A number of boys in our neighbourhood had experienced sexual contacts with other boys, some older some younger. Almost all of them were trapped into this practice. Some were abused when young, and they in turn abused other younger kids when they grew up. A few of them were really ridiculed and made fun of all the time. Their lives were miserable.Recommend

  • Custard_Pie_In_Your_Face

    I just had to comment in appreciation of the blogger. Unfortunately men for whatever reason simply don’t seem to be able to bring this issue up and women predominately feminists, who write or are activists on issues of sexual abuse just see their own sex as victims. Paradoxically, the sexual abuse of young boys at the hands of female predators is a growing phenomenon in the West so it’s about time that we recognise that the issue of sexual abuse is not one sex against the other and that all victims need help, understanding and protection.Recommend

  • commom man

    A fact which can not be denied. This problem is ever increasing in Pakistan. Until and unless not discussed openly, this virus will keep growing.. Male sexual abuse has become very common in rural areas. It is one of the biggest SIN one can think of. ILLITERACY, the root cause of this problem.Recommend

  • Necromancer

    Nicely written…….but you could have presented more cases rather than writing about only one and giving every detail of it…..Parents need to be more vigilant and should not compromise on their child’s safety.Recommend

  • Amna

    Thanks for sharing your views on such a serious matter! Being a mother, I am firmly of the opinion that if at all the parents or the guardian have to leave the child with someone else, be it a close paternal or maternal relative, they should teach their child that it is very inappropriate of that relative to touch him or treat him in in decent ways. They should also be told that if someone attempts to do such an indecent act they should not be afraid to scream above their lungs, run away and come to the parents to tell them everything without the fear whether the parents would believe it or not. Practically, Parents or guardians cannot protect the children 24/7 but they can teach children to learn to protect themselves.Recommend

  • Syed

    There are number of insane actions that has been implying since an ages ago.. No difference between animals and human beings.Recommend

  • Hashim

    Wouch thats an eye opener!!!! Nicely written and surely does take the veil of big problem in the country!! I agree with Necromancer….the parents should be the guardians of the last resort and should remain vigilant when it comes to their kids!!Recommend

  • raqsesharar

    Well written. The cases of sexual abuse of men and boys are grossly under-reported.Recommend

  • Supriya Arcot

    As a first step, when some one comes to us with a complaint / issue , lets at least hear him/her out and give him/ her the benefit of doubt ( if we are not ready to fully believe at first ) .Recommend

  • anon

    I think parents need to take better care of what’s happening to their children. At the time I didnt understand what my mom was telling but I get it now. For as long as I remember, amongst my first memories, my mother used to tell me that noone is allowed to touch me apart from her and the doctor and that to under her supervision. and she used to repeat this often to the point where my mom was once called to my shcool when i was in KG because I wouldn’t let one of “ayas” into the bathroom with me.
    all kids should be made aware of this, regardless of their age. It’s about time we get rid of the taboo surrounding sexual abuse and name it the crime it is!Recommend

  • V

    I can relate to this very well. I am 26, have never cut myself probably because what I went through was not as bad as what Haider went through.
    However, I still have times where I entertain thoughts about how easy it would be to go the kitchen and just stick the big knife in my chest and end it all. The pain would feel so good, so freeing! But my onset of depression is not solely because of the abuse, I had some other very rough times as well, unfortunately.

    Its really nice that these themes are being discussed openly, hopefully children in the future would not have to contend with such burdens…Recommend

  • Shah (Berlin)

    Well written…Recommend

  • Maham Hayat

    that’s the dark side of the picture..you presented it very well. I feel so sorry for Haider. It is impossible to just have an idea of his sufferings! the generation gap is one of the major factors responsible for these cases! parents should be friendly to an extent that the kids could share their problems with them…kids should be taught and trained to tell any such odd instance happening to them!Recommend

  • Kapt Slim

    The biggest victims are kids living in boys hostel …. kids are threatened and molested by elder boys and even teachers … and they can complain to anyone because discussing this with anyone is taboo and they are very very far from their homes …. talk to their parents once a week …Recommend

  • Faraz Talat

    Horrifying. Society should encourage males to dress modestly and not go out in public alone. They should stay safe, and try not to provoke the abusers.

    (My apologies for that dark, insensitive sarcasm, but a point had to be made here).Recommend

  • Victim

    Without any exaggeration I can remember 6 persons who tried to abuse me when I Was a kid. God saved me most of the time but one time one person succeeded in abusing me. At that time I was 11 years old and and our country was enjoying Ramdan. I live in Islamabad and this is the 1st time I am telling because I could not stop myself by reading this article.Recommend

  • Also a victim

    Definitely not a myth. I was abused by my father when I was a kid, and a neighbour tried to abuse me as well.Recommend

  • 123xyz

    thats why i hate feminists. for them its all about their gender.Recommend

  • Activist

    Very well written but u could use more incentives that can be spread instead of the story, iam not saying It wasn’t important but a bold issue to be raised. This is the bitter truth, now a days even youngs boys are more prone to sexual abuse, not to forget the older teen bullies at schools and madarssass, ragging seems harmless and a part of formal education but when things go out of hand victim suffers entire life.
    Only solution is awarenessamong parents and discussing such matters with the child, boy or girl at an early age, but in ways they can understand. I have nephew aged 10 and a neece 6, my sister was troubled how to explain them, but she eventually got around and told them if anyone touches them in improper way or that hurts runaway and find a parent or trusting elder. there are many NGO’s like http://www.sparcpk.org/PA-VAC.html also publish story books for children.Recommend

  • Vikram

    V: “I entertain thoughts about how easy it would be to go the kitchen and just stick the big knife in my chest”

    Right now it is your thoughts that are depressing you. For you to feel depressed seems to be the only way to live. You think about going to kitchen and sticking that big knife.

    Are you in good health physically ? Go “jog” in the morning for a week. You can change. Share you experience here. Find a girl who can accept you and help you. Go watch a movie. Go volunteer.Recommend

  • Vikram

    In the blog there is no mention of taking that uncle and his friends to court. Uncle and his friends may still be molesting more boys even now.

    How can a 16 year old boy be gang raped and get no support from family/friends or police?Recommend

  • Vikram

    Looks like sex abuse of young people is very common in Pakistan. Many times abusers end up abusing little kids. Abused boys end up liking and abusing boys.

    I hope you are doing well.Recommend

  • Vikram

    Boys can’t loose honor.Recommend

  • Turbo Lover

    But violence and abuse is possible against everybody regardless of caste, race, gender and religion. Recommend

  • bob

    You are not alone. I fell in the same trap when I was your age and was blackmailed in doing it several times. i have never discussed it either but evertime someone said what good looks I have , i got very upset and even to this day I blame my good looks for what happened to me.Recommend

  • bob

    No,its not only illeteracy or rural areas. Karachi is not a rural area. My abuser was a succesful doctor,married, educated and very charming in public.Recommend

  • bob

    Yes you are right. In most neigbourhood and schools this goes on silently.Recommend

  • Necromancer

    Why are you apologising :P Paki are supposed to behave like this and sadly that includes me as well.Recommend

  • amin kahn

    Children sexual abuse in Pakistan is often reported in medial. It is considered appropriate that the Government should make it mandatory for school management to teach children about sexual abuse.Recommend

  • pkdesigns

    Worst! fact our completely “civilized society”……… i must sayRecommend

  • Custard_Pie_In_Your_Face

    The only way to combat this evil is for the victims to eventually start speaking out. Maybe those who have suffered abuse in their childhood and have now grown up should communicate with each other and form some kind of action/support group. In the UK there have been a number of cases recently brought against celebrities who carried out abuse in the 60’s because at the time the victims were too afraid to speak out. As difficult as it may be in Pakistani society, eventually the abusers have to be exposed and brought to justice.Recommend

  • Anas

    i strongly support the idea of spreading this knowledge about child abuse, irrespectively of the gender ! my best wishes for the victim !Recommend

  • Nobody

    There’s a difference between a feminist and a feminazi. For feminazi’s it’s all about gender. For feminists, it’s simply about getting the same treatment, not special princess treatment, not anti-male treatment, equal treatment. That’s it.Recommend

  • Syed Owais Mukhtar

    Appreciate if some boy write this blog, true picture can be seen only then…Recommend

  • usman

    very well written.Child abuse is certainly spreading all over the world and boys are equal victims.your blog also reminds me of a movie named “Mystic river”Recommend

  • Vikram

    A big part of the problem is, many times abuser is a close relative or very religious person like an imam or a quran teacher. In such cases people are reluctant to report them to police or even pressured by others.Recommend

  • Vikram

    I blame my good looks for what happened to me…………

    Do you really think men molest little kids for their look? Good looks can also draw women’s attention to you.Recommend

  • bob

    I have often thought of writing my story but am embarssed. and also many will nevr beleive it!Recommend

  • Wingless Angel

    @bob: You can share your story directly with ET being anon. And don’t think about how many will not believe it. Focus on how many will and it will encourage others too ..Recommend

  • Wingless Angel

    It really doesn’t matter who narrates it. One must feel the agony one goes through. It never cease to amaze me how people focus so much on gender.Recommend