Four-country study sheds light on sexual abuse of boys


A four-country study on sexual violence inflicted on boys indicates that socio-cultural pressures play a role in how people differentiate sexual abuse between girls and boys and prevent male victims from seeking help as well.

Around 400 male respondents from Cambodia, the Philippines, India and Nepal participated in key informant interviews and focus group discussions for the country reports to discuss what it means to be boys in the context of violence and sexual abuse.

The reports show broad similarities in the underlying causes of the sexual abuse of boys and the broad consequences of the interventions to prevent it, said Lois Engelbrecht, an expert in preventing child sexual abuse and one of the study’s proponents.

“Patriarchy, in some forms, appears to be the overarching mechanism that guides gender roles in all country reports,” Engelbrecht said during the presentation of the reports at the Philippines’ Department of Social Welfare and Development on Tuesday.

“All reports confirmed that male respondents embraced this definition and the expectations in its forms,” she said.

In all four countries, she said, the major themes revolve around the demand for boys to maintain physical and emotional strength to the point that they are not allowed to show emotion.

The report on Cambodia said men are treated as “golden”, and because boys are more capable than girls, they are more valued and are supposed to be powerful.

In the Philippines, boys can be physically punished more than their sisters, and this could have an impact on their notions of strength, due to the country’s strong patriarchy, its report said.

India’s report highlights the need for men to care for their families and thus maintain strength in all aspects.

In Nepal, according to its report, men are meant to be the family protectors and income-earners – responsibilities that are also linked to community power.

All these dominant notions of masculinity and sexuality also prevent boys from seeking help for their own abuse, the reports show.

A deeper look into the report on the Philippines, for which there were 79 respondents, shows the prevalence of the belief that the sexual abuse of boys is not of much importance and is certainly not as big a problem as for girls.

The report said there appears to be recognition that when a boy is sexually abused, both the victim and his parents will find it hard to deal with the matter.

For service providers, not being able to report or believing that the sexual abuse of boys is no big deal – a concern in some communities – does present a problem for male victims.

Notions that people will ridicule a male victim of sexual abuse and will blame him for “failing to protect himself” are apparent in some communities, the report added.

“In the context of sexual abuse, it is really rare for men or boys to admit that they have been sexually abused because of what our culture says – that they should be strong, that they should keep it to themselves,” it said.

The reports were published by Family for Every Child, an international alliance of civil society organisations working to mobilise knowledge, skills and resources involving the care of children.

The member-organisations that have worked on the reports since 2017 are First Step Cambodia (Cambodia), the Centre for the Prevention and Treatment of Child Sexual Abuse (Philippines), Butterflies (India) and Voice of Children (Nepal).

PHILIPPINE DAILY INQUIRER/ASIA NEWS NETWORK