Think back – thirty years ago, or thirty days ago – when you found out you were having a baby girl or boy. What was the script in your head that you imagined you would say to your little girl so she would be brave and confident? Did you say something like, “You are strong and fearless!” Did you cheer during the movie ‘The Help’ when the little girl is told, “You is kind. You is smart. You is important.”? What if that little girl needed to cry? Do you say to her it is okay to cry because she is still strong? What did you imagine you would tell your son? Did you just assume that of course he would be strong and fearless? That he would be a protector? Did those fateful words ever creep out that told him to, “Don’t cry, you’re a big boy!” or “Big strong boys take care of their little sister”, or “Shhh…, big boys don’t cry.” It can be argued that some of these messages have been given a bit of revision in parts of the country, but not all. Various studies over the years have clearly shown that our children get the message via home, school, and the media through the slippery slope of stereotypes that women and girls must be attractive and docile, and submissive sexually and that boys must grow up to be physically strong and sexually dominant.
Our boys are hurting. Our girls are hurting. In childhood, 1 in 6 boys are sexually abused and 1in 3 girls are sexually abused in childhood. The reality of it is, we cannot address the violence against women and girls unless we also acknowledge and honestly discuss the sexual violence against our boys and men. In a CDC survey in 2015, nearly 4 million men and 5.6 million women had been victims of sexual violence from the previous year. In one year.
To be clear, yes, overall sexual violence for the most part affect girls and women more. However, we must acknowledge that sexual violence against our boys is not a new phenomenon. Even for our girls, as a society we were not willing to accept or see the abuse and violence that they were suffering until a little over a generation ago. Even now, the questions of ‘Why were you there or why were you with them?” are common questions asked of the survivor.
Our young boys are abused by family, family friends, older children (teens) and those perpetrators are both male and female. Exactly the same as the perpetrators of our girls. However, unlike our young girls who are cognitively able to understand the abuse and can more effectively tell by the time they reach 10 years of age, for our young boys, by the age of 10 the message of ‘man up’ or ‘be strong, don’t be a wimp’ has begun to form. If they have not already disclosed their abuse by 10, each year that passes it becomes less and less likely they will report the abuse. If the boy happens to identify as part of the LGBTQI community the likelihood of abuse and assault are multiplied and make the survivor even less likely to coming forward.
We have all heard the phrase, boys will be boys. Or have somehow come to believe that if you are part of a sports team or Fraternity, it is to be expected that the younger members will be hazed. Perhaps at one time, it was fun or silly, but all too often the hazing has become abusive, violent, and sexual. Stories have appeared in the news over the last 10 years or so about boys that were charged with these acts. We tend to be shocked and feel that, of course, it is an isolated incident. But is it? You may only hear about a few cases a year on the news about a sexual assault, let alone about a case of assault or abuse toward a male. So, it is easy to believe that it is rare. We can believe that the hazing that takes place, for the most part, is innocent and not violent, shameful, or sexually violent. This is not true. The messages we receive when we are young stay with us. When adults stay silent, that is one powerful message to those youth. In certain cases, we do not listen because we are afraid.
Consent. Perhaps this is also a bit of an unconscious bias. Do we really convey to boys that unwanted touch is just as valid and serious for them as it is for girls? When we talk about consent, many times it is assumed that the girl is the only one that needs to give consent. All bodies are worthy of respect and consent and protection. A boy deserves to know that he can say no to a female or male regarding touch and his body at any time. When you are touched or forced to touch someone you lose control over you. That can be internalized in shame and anger.
In 2019 Ohio State University admitted the Richard Strauss committed 1,500 acts of sexual abuse which included 47 rapes. These assaults resemble Larry Nassar’s, (USA gymnastics Doctor) victimizations except they were to young women. There was a great deal of shock and outrage regarding Nassar and perhaps it helped to show how grooming is used in sexual assault and in the end, it is about power and control over another person. Yet are we equally outraged at Strauss? Do we somehow have that doubt because they were, after all, college male athletes?
#MeToo swept the country a few years ago. It was a good thing despite its flaws of messaging at times. The reality of sexual assault and abuse is that it is about ALL of us. Abuse and assault are that proverbial pebble that is thrown into the pond that consequently has hundreds of ripples. Ripples of anger, drug and alcohol abuse, domestic violence, self-injury, anxiety, fear, and countless other consequences in relationships and cost to our society.
Our boys are hurting too. So are our men. Think about our first instinct on what we tell our young children. All children deserve to be strong and confident as well as cry and learn about their emotions. If someone hurts them, it is not their fault. If they are 5, 15, or 35. It is not their fault. A man does not have to be ultra-masculine and dominant to be a man. Nor does a woman have to be ultra-feminine and submissive to be a woman.
Boys and men have been abused and assaulted just as women. We all can do better; we all can reevaluate our first instinct when people say they were assaulted. The Center is here for healing for everyone, no matter who. We believe. Period.