Teaching Boys About Body Safety
If you’ve been following my blog, you may already know that I worked as a child trauma therapist for about 5 years before I decided to switch gears and begin parent coaching. As you can imagine, I have heard many heart breaking stories from the mouths of the children who have experienced it firsthand. While sexual abuse is not something that many parents want to think about, unfortunately, this is a topic we all must educate ourselves on as parents. This article may be triggering for individuals who have experienced sexual abuse, so proceed with caution if you have a history.
Sexual abuse isn’t just an adult touching a child. Sexual abuse can be a child touching another child without consent or coercing another child into engaging in sexualized behaviors. Sexual abuse is an adult making a child touch them. It’s forcing a child to watch pornography or taking pornographic or suggestive photos of a child. It’s using fear or power to coerce a child to engage in sexual behaviors.
Perpetrators of sexual abuse may be male or female – young or old – and are present in every race and culture. It’s important to note that victims of sexual abuse aren’t limited to a certain gender either. Many people think that sexual abuse and assault is primarily a female issue, when in reality this is far from the truth.
According to the National Center for Victims of Crime, approximately 1 in 5 girls will be victimized, whereas 1 in 20 boys will be victimized (source). While it appears that girls are being victimized at a much higher rate, we need to take gender norms into consideration and realize that the actual number of boys might be much higher than what was reported. In fact, research conducted by the CDC estimates that 1 in 6 boys and 1 in 4 girls are sexually abused before the age of 18. Regardless of the number, what we’ve learned over the years is that boys are less likely to report overall and this is most likely due to several cultural factors.
Boys are taught at a very young that it’s not okay to be weak. Phrases such as “man up,” or “boys don’t cry” are a huge part of the problem. They suggest that boys should ignore their feelings no matter what happens. This makes it hard for a boy to open up when something bad happens because they don’t want to be seen as feminine or weak.
This problem becomes even more complicated when we take sexuality into consideration. Boys are taught that there are certain rules that they must follow when it comes to sexuality and any variation from the norm is weird or bad. For example, if a boy child is sexually abused by another male they might not want to tell because – even though this is not their fault – they don’t want to be perceived as gay. Being perceived as “feminine” or “gay” shouldn’t be considered an insult but our culture perpetuates this ideology and suggests that being labeled as such challenges masculinity.
Conversely, if a boy is sexually abused by a female they are also less likely to tell because our society perpetuates the idea that this type of experience should be considered a “conquest” rather than a trauma. For example, when a male student discloses that they were abused by female teacher they often receive comments like, “Why is he complaining – that’s every guy’s fantasy,” or “Good for him!” These comments are extremely damaging and discredit a victim’s experience. So instead of getting help, they keep their trauma to themselves and suffer in silence.
In order to protect our boys, we’re going to have to make some big changes as a society. In the meantime we can start at the individual level by teaching our boys about body safety. Take time out on a regular basis to teach your sons about private areas, safe v unsafe touches, and consent. Help them learn who to talk to if someone makes them uncomfortable or touches them inappropriately.
Let’s teach our sons about tolerance and love. Let them know that it’s okay to be “weak” every once in a while and that sexual abuse is not acceptable in any shape or form. If we do this with our own children and encourage others to do this as well, maybe together we can work on eradicating toxic masculinity and create a physically and emotionally safer world for our children.