‘Boy can’t be sexually abused: Cops’, screamed the headline of a Bangalore tabloid in late October. This was a statement allegedly made by the Mysore police when a distressed father filed a complaint about his four-year-old son being sexually abused. The instance highlighted the addition of yet another spoke in the wheel of archaic thought — a spoke representing the belief that only females can get sexually abused.
A 2007 study of 2,211 children across 13 states by the Ministry of Women and Child Development revealed that 53.22 per cent children reported being sexually abused. Of these, 53 per cent were boys and 47 per cent were girls. An environment propagating the assumption that males can’t be abused does further harm to those who’ve not only been subjected to molestation or sodomy, but also what Radhika Sharma calls ‘non-contact abuse’.
Sharma manages the Healing Unit of Arpan, a Mumbai-based NGO dedicated to helping survivors of child sexual abuse. Around 37-38 per cent of their work, she says, has been with male survivors. “Many — mostly second and third graders — are forced to watch pornographic photos or clips by older boys. They feel confused at first, but are conditioned into thinking it’s ‘cool’ by their seniors,” she says. Sexual bullying, she adds, is another cause for concern. “There are boys who either get groped or picked on over their anatomy in a sexual manner.”
Ironically, the same patriarchal mindset that places blame on women for ‘inviting’ rape in some way also denies male survivors the help they need to overcome their trauma. The synonymity of shame and helplessness with sexual abuse and society’s pedestal to mardaangi doesn’t give males the means to acknowledge that they too can be abused. For this reason, says Sharma, the sense of denial can be more pronounced in male survivors.
Psychiatrist Pavan Sonar agrees. “Many men who’ve been abused don’t seek help for fear of being perceived as ‘weak’. The self-blame is amplified because men then hold themselves responsible for not being able to fight back physically,” he says. Some even start questioning their sexuality or believing they deserved it if they get an erection during the act. “It takes intensive therapy to convince them that bodily responses are no indicators of consent or complicity,” underlines Sonar.
Denial is something Broadway doyen Martin Moran was once familiar with. Through his critically-acclaimed plays The Tricky Part and All the Rage, Moran recounts his eventual coming to terms with being a survivor of abuse. He’s come a long way from attempting suicide and using sexual compulsivity as a coping mechanism. “Much of my anger was self-directed. It took me years to direct righteous anger towards the man who was idiotic and sick,” says the 54-year-old about the abuser he simply calls ‘Bob’. Moran, now married to long-time partner Henry Stram, was even asked whether it was the sexual abuse that ‘made him gay’. “Being abused has nothing to do with your orientation. I know many heterosexual men who’ve been abused,” he points out.
Indeed, self-stigma is common in adult males who’ve experienced abuse. Institutional rape, such as the kind that reportedly takes place in prisons, is one example. Data on prison rapes is extremely hard to come by, says Vijay Raghavan, Professor of Criminology at the Tata Institute of Social Sciences (TISS). But that’s not to say it doesn’t exist. Prisons where undertrials are made to share the same space as hardened convicts can be particularly problematic. Alpha-male dynamics in an environment where inmates jostle for space and power triggers sexual abuse, feels Raghavan.
“Undertrials or short-term prisoners may be targeted by long-term or older prisoners, or those who’ve been given official duties. The prison being an institution of scarcity also witnesses sexual trade-offs. Prisoners who need access to basic items or services are sometimes forced to conduct sexual favours,” he says.
Raghavan believes sexual abuse in prisons is more an expression of power, but psychiatrist Sonar thinks sexual frustration can be a trigger too. “Unfulfilled sexual desires and instincts could play a role. In such an environment, the victim may also become submissive since there’s no way out,” he says.
But what about those who don’t fall in the male-female binary?
Urmi Jadhav, a transgender representative at Humsafar Trust, has plenty to say about this. In a doctor’s cabin off a narrow corridor in the NGO’s Vakola office, she tells this reporter about the heinous degrees of sexual abuse transgenders are subjected to. These include cases of gangrape, sex at knifepoint, and coercive unprotected sex. “One of my friends had her earlobe completely bitten off because she refused to be with someone who didn’t want to wear a condom,” she says haltingly, before adding. “Another had her nipple ripped off by a perpetrator so barbaric that he lost a tooth during the act.”
Urmi says that up to 90 per cent of transgenders are engaged in sex work since it pays better than begging and dancing at weddings, et al. But as in the case of female sex workers, they’re constantly told they invite abuse just for being in the profession they are in. “There’s a mentality that transgenders are ‘easy’, that we are made for sex. A transgender who has been abused has no recourse because even cops think we ask for it,” stresses Urmi. Complicating the situation further is the notion of ‘unnatural sex’ or an act that doesn’t involve peno-vaginal penetration. “There’s anal rape, oral rape, digital rape (the use of fingers and/or other external objects). People don’t realise that,” she shares. The limited understanding law enforcement officials have of the various forms of abuse — including verbal sexual abuse such as eve teasing — is a major reason why transgenders have little to no grievance redressal mechanisms.
Almost all transgenders in India have been abused in some way or the other, reckons Urmi. One wonders whether the transition from male to female has anything to do with this. Does the sexist view that women are ‘easier’ and weaker, or the ambiguity (and the ‘taboo’) associated with a body that’s home to both masculinity and femininity — despite ‘hijras’ identifying as females — have anything to do with it? Urmi smiles when asked about this. “It happens a lot. Transgenders who’re already transitioning mentally as children are most vulnerable,” she says, chronicling her own struggle against sexual bullying in school. “I was sometimes forcefully kissed. Some boys would put their hands up or down my pants or corner me in the toilets. Anybody with the slightest ‘hint’ of femininity is singled out,” she informs.
There’s no doubt that the majority of sexual abuse survivors — and victims — are women. But centering the sexual abuse discourse on a heteronormative fulcrum and excluding the possibility that boys can also be vulnerable to abuse is a disservice to those who’ve survived, but remain silent. This includes cases of women-on-women and women-on-men abuse.
The message is perhaps best summed by Arpan’s Radhika Sharma. “Many parents, through their subconscious gendered lens, tell daughters to remain safe and vigilant,” she says. “It’s time they tell their sons the same.”
If you or anyone you know has been sexually abused, reach out to:Childline India Foundation helpline: 1098Arpan (helpline number): 9819086444Humsafar Trust: (022) 26673800Helpline for women in distress: 10911in6.org: A website that specifically helps male survivors of sexual abuse through 24×7 chat support, online therapy and active support groups
Sana Das, Coordinator of the Prison Reforms Programme at Commonwealth Human Rights Initiative (CHRI), on challenges faced by abused prisoners:“In spite of statutory provisions and judgments, prison and medical health monitoring remain extremely weak. Prison monitors and medical staff are often not even appointed in many prisons, and if appointed, they often do not fulfil criteria.Without regular monitoring and undoubtedly, sensitisation of prison monitors and custodians on this issue regarding vulnerabilities involved, consent, need for periodic checking of medical records of prisoners, regularity of visits by medical officers and a mechanism by which all of this can be brought on record, the preventing and minimising of sexual abuse in prisons appears to be an insurmountable task.The other aspect is the role of the lawyer and magistrate when the prisoner is produced in court. It is the duty of the lawyer to put forward the complaints of his client, particularly vis-a-vis his treatment in custody. Bad treatment would definitely raise the merit for bail or protection in custody which would act as safeguards against prison rape. But very often, prisoners go unrepresented at the time of their hearing. Lawyers, both legal aid and private, fail to be present in court at the right time, with few having made efforts to have met their clients in private to put forward accurate details of treatment. As a result of these lapses in effective representation, the magistrate might end up refusing bail, sending the person back to a risky environment and prolonging the period/extent of abuse, with all its hazardous consequences.As regards the magistrate, it is his duty to insist on the physical appearance of the accused if he is arriving from prison/judicial custody and to directly interact with the prisoner to find out about his safety and sanctity. But throughout the country, there is a problem of undertrial prisoners being physically produced in court regularly as per the terms of law, which is at least every 15 days, if not sooner. This lapse is due to various administrative bottlenecks to do with the availability of police escorts who ferry the prisoners from jail to court and back. So in the absence of the accused, the absence of the lawyer, absence of the application of mind of the magistrate who is to ask after the presence and well-being of the prisoner, the likelihood of prevention, detection and action vis-a-vis prison rape and other prison offences become very bleak.”
Source : DNA