Every time it comes to visiting parks, 21-year-old Abhhydday Pathak breaks out in cold sweat. There was a time he found peace and solace there. Today, they steal his peace of mind. He was five when he was first forced upon in a nature’s park by an elder from his neighborhood. What went on for two years left deep scars that are yet to heal. “I know my present is secured, but I often fight with this feeling of being used. It has affected my relationships. It has become hard to trust anyone,” he tells me.
Writer Rajiv Pandey is older to Pathak by 19 years, but can empathize with him completely. The memories of that dark empty room his caregiver violated him in for weeks still haunt him. He remembers distancing himself from people and finding it hard to trust them. Loneliness had slowly begun to settle. His sufferings may have made him a writer today, but he often wonders why he had to go through that at all.
Both Pathak and Pandey were too young to understand or open up about it. And when they had made up their mind to raise an alarm, the threats from their perpetrators deterred them.
The issue of male child sex abuse surfaced early last month with an online petition that went viral. Filmmaker Insia Dariwala, the petitioner, has urged the Ministry of Women and Child Development to conduct an in-depth study on male child sex abuse. Till the time of filing this story, her petition was signed by 46, 272 netizens.
An Attempt to End the Isolation
The petition is the stepping stone to Dariwala’s photo campaign ‘End the Isolation’ that aims at shedding light on sexual abuse on children, especially boys. “I see a lot being done to highlight the problems of a girl child, but not much to protect boys,” says Dariwala, in an email interview with FSoG, “People need to understand that boys are as vulnerable as girls and that they need our support too.”
For Dariwala, who was herself abused at the age of 10, this is a personal battle. From gloom to guilt and fear to mistrust, she has closely seen all that the victims of sexual abuse go through. “In most cases, the shame and guilt is attached to victims than perpetrators,” she says. “Victims also start isolating themselves and many don’t open up for long. This needs to end and we need to build more conversation around this,” she adds, “This petition is not just about surveying male child sex abuse but also studying the outcome of these surveys.”
Girls and Boys Need Equal Care
A report published this year in The Indian Journal of Psychiatry notes that ‘the “patriarchal social structure” of India has done little to protect the male children as revealed by the fact that the percentage of boys abused sexually are equal to girls.’ The report concludes that patriarchy is not protecting our boys more than our girls in childhood and that the very low rates of reporting and help seeking among victims of sexually abused boys in India could be due to the hegemony of patriarchy.
Despite enough data staring at us, Dariwala says, the society is in denial about rape on boys.
“If you look at Protection of Children from Sexual Offences (P.O.S.C.O) Act, rape on boys is termed as sodomy or unnatural sex and placed under the purview of Section 377. This itself shows our hesitancy in accepting that boys also can be raped,” she says. “The deep seated patriarchal seed is a big reason why men are only seen in roles of protectors and not victims. They can hurt, but never be hurt,” she adds.
Dariwala says that the society is in denial about rape on boys despite there being data staring at us. “If you look at The Protection of Children from Sexual Offences (P.O.S.C.O) Act, rape on boys is termed as sodomy or unnatural sex and placed under the purview of Section 377. This itself shows our hesitancy in accepting that boys too can be raped,” she says. “The deep seated patriarchal seed is a big reason why men are only seen in roles of protectors and not victims. They can hurt, but never be hurt,” she adds.
Documenting the Survivors
Having been through the ordeal herself, Insia says, documenting the sufferings of the survivors was not only challenging but also traumatising. “Their narratives triggered a lot of latent pain in me too. We even broke down a few times during the course of the shoot,” she shares.
However, lending a face to their voice, she says, was important to her. “It is a way of telling the world that despite having suffered, we are courageous enough to tell our stories. One needs to be really brave to open up to the world about their wounds,” she says.
Dialogue between parents-kids is crucial
Clinical Psychologist Yuti Doshi, who works with school children, emphasizes on the importance of conversation between parents and children. “Children need to be made aware about good touch and bad touch in their toddlerhood itself. Parents must also encourage children to share anything they want to fearlessly,” she suggests. Counselling Psychologist Bernard Fernandes agrees with Doshi. “Boys need as much attention and time as girls. At a young age, they are equally vulnerable to abuse and the impact of that can be long-lasting,” she says.