Child sexual abuse is widespread and one of the most difficult subjects to openly talk about. It is almost unbelievable to realize that social sexual stigmas often trump a child’s ability to speak out and seek help. There is an ugly truth that is rarely discussed, and it speaks volumes to the criminal neglect that social homophobia places on male youth. Sexually abused boys are forced into silence because society refuses to view homosexuality as anything other than abnormal. Too ashamed and too frightened by the “gay” label, sexually abused boys many times over are forced to keep their abuse to themselves. I was one of those boys.
I was nine years old when it happened. Sparing the graphic and unnecessary details, I never told a soul. I grew up in a household and community that were religiously tied to condemning anything that wasn’t straight, Caucasian and gender role specific. Gay was this mysterious and threatening “behavior” that was made out to be evil. I realized “gay” involved men who were affectionate toward each other like a man and woman in “normal” society. I had limited comprehension of what sex was and was completely vulnerable and defenseless against the sexual abuse, as any child would be.
The encounter left me silently shaken; it was an incredibly overwhelming experience that no child should ever have to go through. Adding to the residual scars from the abuse was the confusion I was left to deal with on my own—as a child. Fearing that I somehow was to blame, that I would be treated the way “gays” were by those closest to me, wrapping my head around the beginning realization that I was gay and the deep-seated shame that I felt were just some of the obstacles I encountered that prevented me from telling anyone. I have since come to understand that a sexually abused boy who would seek help and support from adults who harbor homophobic social ideology would be victimized yet again—a tremendous burden to bear, especially for someone so young.
In the United States, 1 in 53 boys under the age of 18 experience sexual abuse or assault at the hands of an adult. This statistic seems too low in comparison to 1 in 8 girls being sexually abused. It might be underreported due to social sexual stigmas. Reliable estimates of how many boys experience childhood sexual abuse are difficult to come by. Many survivors keep their experiences secret, so police data doesn’t provide good enough estimates. Male youth tend to suffer in silence because of fear, and, when their “manhood” or social identity is questioned, they simply do not report. Current studies place more realistic statistics at one out of every six boys and one out of every four girls will experience sexual abuse before the age 16. These statistics should have rippled across the nation long ago, but society continues to fail our youth. It is neither acceptable nor just for a child to be the victim of sexual abuse—no matter their gender.
Youth who keep their sexual abuse to themselves and are unable to access the support needed to emotionally heal are at greater risk for depression, drug abuse and suicide later in life. Unfortunately, both boys and girls face added stigma if they chose to report their abuse. It proves to be a cycle of victimization that could be ended if only the adults in the lives of youth traded stigmas and gender sexual norms for empathy and openness. We shouldn’t have such shame surrounding the sexual abuse of boys, and, as long as society continues to brush it under the rug for the sake of placing straight masculinity on a pillar, this crime will continue.
I have found myself in adulthood reeling from relationships with the men I have had in my life due to my childhood sexual abuse. Recently, I rekindled a past romance. We were in bed, and I flinched at one of his arm gestures. I realized at that moment I was always on edge with partners, fearing physical harm in those vulnerable sexual moments. Even the most tender and safe sexual encounters I have had as an adult can be reminders of what I had been through. I never wanted to tell my partners of my victimization. After I had flinched, my partner jokingly commented that I must have been abused and continued to fake hit me. That moment took my breath away. A simplistic but telling demonstration to the emotional toll childhood sexual abuse has in adulthood.
Today, I am picking up the pieces and working toward healing. Growing up, I needed to trust the adults in my life to have cared enough about me to not place social stigmas above my health and safety. I deserved to speak out without fear and to have been surrounded by compassion. Victimizing a victim is never warranted. Therapy has been a godsend; while it’s the most challenging thing I have ever taken part in, it has been my saving grace. Finally being able to open up and talk through this past experience is helping me heal, move on and embrace my future. Kids who have been victimized need to grow up without fearing social stigmas. It is imperative that every child have that most basic of needs met.