Dear Editor,
Despite worldwide estimates that one in six boys before the age of eighteen is affected by sexual violence, there is little evidence. As co-operative agencies working in child care and protection, ChildLinK and Blossom Inc., over the last five years, have noticed an increase in reports of sexually abused boys. This observation is also supported by Child Protection Agency reports.
The increase in reported cases is positive, as under reporting has long been a cause for concern. However, the increase in reporting also amplifies the urgent need for evidence-based campaigns focused on the care of boys.
Sexual violence is a widespread social issue affecting people of all genders, sexualities, races and classes. Although data on the violence experienced by women and girls has been steadily built up over the years, for both men and boys, data is often sparse.
As a result, ChildLinK is developing a two-year evidence-based public education campaign. This campaign will focus on caring for boys, encouraging adults to play a greater role in protecting boys from harm, and supporting their welfare.
On April 16, ChildLinK will launch its Blue Shadow Day (BUD) in collaboration with four other countries. BUD is part of the wider ChildLinK program activities, and comes directly under the One Thousand Boys Initiative. Highlighting the damaging social norms that drive abuse against boys, this initiative builds on the work of Government and civil society agencies to protect children from all forms of abuse, particularly child abuse sexually.
The gender norms that surround the way boys are brought up have a large part to play in the violence that continues to be considered against them. From young ones, boys are taught that they must be providers who must not only be strong, but also be protectors of those who are considered weaker than they are. They are not allowed to enable or demonstrate weakness. These patriarchal practices keep boys and young men trapped within a narrow idea of ​​what it means to be and act like a man. Unfortunately these practices have many toxic elements that contribute to the violence experienced and perpetrated by men and boys.
These practices have led to confirming the perception that sexual assault occurs only to girls and young women. This can be evidenced by the policies being implemented, the support services provided, and the cultural attitudes that continue to frame young boys as not in need of care and protection. Although there is a deliberate focus on policing the lives of young girls, boys are often provided free of charge and very little supervision. These loose and over-cautious responses are steeped in harmful cultural beliefs. However, they expose the way in which the different sexes are treated in defense.
Given the stigma and discrimination often perceived against survivors of sexual assault, males who experience sexual assault are often reluctant to pursue their experiences of abuse, because of the fear of not to be believed and ridiculed. The over-sexualization of young boys often sees female abusers recognized as such. Their families and peers often celebrate young boys that older women prey on, rather than getting the support and justice they need. If their abusers were men, there is a clearer line for him to be abused, but there are additional obstacles to coming forward with their experiences, given the fear of being discriminated against and being labeled as homosexual .
Cultural and traditional factors continue to affect largely the responses towards child sexual violence.
The lack of institutional support and services for boys and young men continues to contribute to the under-reporting and stigmatization of male sexual violence. Tackling the violence that young boys face means also addressing the religious and traditional norms that continue to damage them and keeping cases of abuse perpetrated. wrapped under cloaks of shame and fear. We, as parents, carers, community leaders and advocates, must all ensure that boys have access to the care and support they need to grow up in safe and caring environments. Human-centered care of young boys, who shatter expectations of being hypersexual and aggressive, will lead to healthy, well-adjusted men and stronger communities.

Akola Thompson
ChildLinK Inc.

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