Boy-child, too, suffers sexual harassment
Mention of ‘sexual harassment’ often brings up the picture of a vulnerable girl or woman being taken advantage of by an egoistic, cruel man since she can’t defend herself. However, men and boys also suffer sexual harassment.
Sexual harassment is unsolicited verbal or physical behaviour of a sexual nature. It includes any sexually motivated behaviour that the recipient finds offensive. Social attitudes and stereotypes about masculinity make harassment of men to be trivialised.
In 2014 and 2015, there were many cases of men being harassed and abused by their wives, especially in central Kenya. When one spoke out, others started talking. But society ridiculed them, forcing them back into hiding. Many don’t seek help in such circumstances, but opt for alcohol, drugs or even suicide in a bid to block the memories.
Both men and young boys can be abused by fellow men and women but since they find it hard to express themselves for fear of not being understood, many choose to remain quiet and drown in their sorrows.
One may decide to be ‘strong’ but it doesn’t work. That’s why you’ll find such victims suffering from trauma, anxiety, depression, stress, low esteem, anger issues and eating disorders.
Perpetrators could use force or psychological and emotional coercion to abuse someone. Men will be scared and ashamed of sharing their stories, not knowing it’ll affect them later. Don’t internalise the abuse; that will only make it seem as if the harassment is happening again.
Many men find it humiliating to report that they were abused or fear that nobody will believe them. But some will brace themselves up and try to talk to someone they can trust. Don’t make such a person regret his decision.
Listen to him, validate his feelings with phrases like, “That sounds like really hard to go through”. Don’t tell him it will get better; you won’t be helping him. Don’t ask for the details; if the person trusts you enough, he will open up of his own accord.
Don’t pressure him. Provide appropriate resources that he might get help from. Show that you believe him, you are with him every step of the way and that it’s not wrong to speak out and try to defend himself.
April is Male Survivor of Sexual Abuse Awareness Month, which recognises that boyhood sexual abuse is often overlooked, neglected and poorly understood. It’s such a shame that many people are not aware of this month.
Just as we raise awareness about sexual abuse of the girl-child, let’s remember that boys and men are also in danger. A young boy might mistake inappropriate touching or fondling as affection, yet he’s being abused.
Let’s not instil the mantra of “men are strong and they shouldn’t cry”, in our male children; they can also be vulnerable and shouldn’t keep quiet if somebody takes advantage of them.
Rehema Ravoga, Narok