In the backdrop of shocking news from Uri, where a 9-year-old girl was brutally raped, killed and eyes gouged out, a debate on underreported sexual abuse cases in the society resonated on the public platforms. Here, Kashmir’s well-known woman psychologist talks about the difficulties in reporting child sexual abuse of males in the Valley and the healing methods.
Due to the stigma and taboo related to the male sexual abuse on account of the rules dictated by the society for men (just as it has for women), it’s not just difficult reporting these cases but also painful for men to talk openly about them.
Over the years, we’ve understood and internalized that sexual abuse happens with women only because they are perceived as the objects of sex, desire, weakness, emotions, pain and vulnerability. People are yet to fully accept and acknowledge that sexual abuse can happen to men as well.
From a young age, gender rules pertaining to masculinity expect men to be independent, strong, always in-control, resilient, aggressive, unemotional. Hence, seeing a male as a victim is not the norm and thus, society labels male victims as ‘unmanly’, questioning their masculinity.
In many cases, where the perpetrator is a known person, or a family member, victims end up internalizing the blame, thinking there was something wrong with them that led them to being abused, causing feelings of guilt and shame.
They also fear that they might be seen as future predators or that people might question their sexual orientation, if they disclose their stories because of the conventional societal myths.
In some cases, males can be sexually abused by women as well. But again, because of the societal norms, we doubt its possibility and usually brush it off immediately when a male talks about it.
These are some of the reasons that restrict men to report or even talk about their abuse. But the question is, how does this impact the male sexual abuse victims?
Society doesn’t allow men to be emotional and vulnerable; we still equate being emotional to weakness and unintelligence when in reality we all are emotional and it’s important to be so for survival. How we express emotions in healthier ways is what we need to learn, develop and teach our young ones, too.
Additionally, due to the lack of platforms for expression and support, male sexual abuse victims keep the pain to themselves, letting it shatter them inside. They pretend to be strong and keep telling themselves that they are not suffering, forcing themselves to live in denial, when internally they don’t know what to do with their pain, feelings and emotional trauma as the abuse is as much an emotional-psychological trauma as it is anything physical.
They become alienated, depressed, develop low self-esteem, anxiety, and addictions as adults; and it adversely impacts their relationships, studies, interests and their general perspective on life. They end up with trust issues, bad decision-making skills, and confused understanding of love and care. That’s why sometimes it can even take male child sexual abuse victims 15-20 years to disclose and report their abuse.
So, what are some of the ways that can help us solve this huge issue?
A lot of good awareness at grass roots level is important through which we can send messages to families to make it normal for boys to express themselves, be vulnerable and ask for help.
We need to stop using common slangs and phrases such as “why are you crying, are you a girl?” with boys. We need to make it normal for them from a young age to know that feeling and talking about pain is normal; and that abuse can happen with anyone regardless of the gender.
And it’s important to groom them in a way that empowers them from a young age, making them aware of these critical issues.
We need to create safe spaces at homes and in our circles where anyone, not just boys, feel comfortable enough to share in case anything bad has happened to them.
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Words like ‘emotional’, ‘courage’, ‘intelligence’, ‘strong’ need to be thought critically about before using them loosely, considering the negative impact their usage can have on people’s lives.
With an increased use of social media where everyone wants to portray they are living happy, beautiful lives all the time, we need to start using social media positively to share pain and emotions in constructive ways. It’s crucial for people to understand that pain and sadness are as much part of a normal life experience as are happiness and joy, and that it takes courage to be vulnerable; but yes, anything that seems to affect the functionality of a person on a daily basis needs to be addressed critically.
Healing can only begin once these victims are given the safe space to accept, express, and share their traumatic experience in words, creating their own constructive narratives out of pain.
This can be an excruciating process as healing involves pain since the trauma that’s been done over the years, needs to be uncovered. It becomes important then for a professional treating/counselling such male sexual abuse survivors to be even more empathetic, patient and mindful as the male victim could force himself to heal faster because of the societal rules that want him to do so since he’s a “man”.
And as a society, we need to keep examining our thinking at every point for biases and prejudices that create faulty and unhealthy rules for people in general. Educational institutions can play a huge role here but so can every individual at their own level. Critical thinking, awareness, empowerment, sex education and emotional wellbeing have to be taught and practiced in daily lives regularly and from a young age.
Ufra Mir is a peace-psychologist from Kashmir. Ufra has a double degree from Luther College, USA and University of Nottingham, England in Psychology (Mental Health) and Wellness with formal training in various peacebuilding techniques. She has conducted workshops and presented her work at the Campaign for US Department of Peace (USA), World Economic Forum (India), Nobel Peace Prize forums (USA), the Bill Clinton’s Global Initiative (USA) & the Swedish Institute (Sweden).
Views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the author’s and do not necessarily reflect the editorial position and policy of Free Press Kashmir.
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