Being in the child protection field, sexual abuse is something we unfortunately often meet. It is children who have been raped, exploited, molested, assaulted, harmed… A terror that likely will follow them for the rest of their lives, if not dealt with in healthy ways. Don’t stop reading here, because this is important!
A South African study (https://www.saferspaces.org.za/uploads/files/08_cjcp_report_2016_d.pdf) carried out a few years back, not surprisingly, showed that sexual abuse of children and adolescents is extensive here. But behold, it is common everywhere in the world, in any social and cultural context. This specific research showed how 33.9% of the teenage female participants had been sexually abused in some form during their lifetime. 36,8% of the male participants reported the same awful experience. This equals about one of every third adolescent! Please, read these statistics again … Yes, it’s right, more boys than girls were shown to be victims.
GCF was invited to support the Blue Umbrella Campaign (https://www.blueumbrelladay.org/about/), which raises awareness about how to better care for boys and protect them from sexual violence. You might have seen our posts on social media to promote the campaign. Sexual abuse among girls has been studied many times, which has led to more awareness of risk factors and prevalence, but not as much has been done on sexual abuse of boys. So, the knowledge of the matter is undoubtedly lacking.
The campaign focuses on a few topics, that we all should be mindful of.
1) The need for adult care and protection. In general, boys are encouraged from an early age to be strong. They are often able to live their lives with fewer restrictions than girls, even so, they should be adequately cared for.
2) Boys can be victims of sexual abuse and violence. Without sufficient protection, they are put at risk of harm.
3) Don’t be ashamed to ask for help. Stereotypes and myths about how boys and men should behave make it hard for them to ask for help. They are told to be brave and might feel embarrassed or scared to come forward, which also put them at risk of sexual abuse, exploitation or/and harmful sexual behaviours.
Boys tend to avoid mentioning anything about it, but there are often signs that follow instead. Some common ways of responding are anxiety, depression or post-traumatic stress disorder. Avoiding people or places that reminds them about the abuse. Questions and concerns about their sexual orientation or fear of being “less of a man”. Sleep disturbance, eating disorders, isolation, feelings of blame and shame as well as worrying that a disclosure will be judged or simply not believed.
If, after all, a boy (or a girl) has disclosed to you that he has been abused sexually, never leave it like that! Listen and take what they say seriously. Don’t be a person making them fear not being believed. Validate their feelings and avoid too optimistic statements they cannot relate to. Never ask about particular details of the abuse, if they do not choose to share it with you. Be supportive and non-judgmental. Get help, but first, tell the child what you will do next. Do not confront the possible perpetrator yourself and don’t agree with “keeping it in the family”. Contact your local social work office or police station and report the abuse as soon as possible to stop a continuation of the abuse.
Is GCF doing something to stop sexual abuse of boys? We don’t have specific programmes for only boys but deal with it with children who have been sexually abused at the centre through the organisation’s therapeutic programme. To give relevant skills to prevent sexual abuse among children, GCF also renders the Protective Behaviours programme that targets both children and adults and the Child Safeguarding programme, which you can find more information about in previous blog posts on our website. (www.gcf.org.za/stories/).
Written by Anna-Karin Öhrnstedt