The Aftermath of Newtown: The impact of gender
Newtown was an horrendous human tragedy, and the outrage expressed afterwards was significant and appropriate, as were the calls for all boys and girls to be safe in their schools from gun violence. Of course, no one in this situation would have thought to have blamed any of the boys or girls who lost their lives that day, nor any of the adults who worked at the school. Help for anyone, male or female, who needed assistance in processing their grief and anger, was made available without any consideration of gender.
Unfortunately, whereas this type of trauma where lives are lost leads to outrage and support, when the type of trauma is instead sexual violence, another scenario unfolds, especially for boys. It is clearly understood and expected that if there is sexual violence, girls will be the targets, and men will be the perpetrators. It is always understood it the victim is a child or adolescent girl, she would never be thought to be responsible, and she would be afforded the help she needs to process this violation of her body. Girls and women in our society are given permission to ask for help, and counseling is readily available.
Boys who are the victims of sexual violence are treated much differently. For one, it is still common place when the fact is shared that 1 in 6 boys before the age of 16 is sexually abused, most people express shock, as they tend to believe that boys can't be victims. If boys are victims, another level of damage is done by a society who most often believes that a boy who is abused is somehow at fault, due to being too weak to protect himself. Again, no one in Newtown or anywhere in the nation thought the boy victims should have been strong enough to stop the murderer. When it comes to the murdering of souls and spirits, however, boys are expected to protect themselves. Further damage is caused because our society also projects the idea that if a boy is abused, he will naturally become a perpetrator himself. If a boy or man seeks help, again all too often the belief he has heard through male socialization is that it is a sign of weakness to ask for help, and that most men in this situation have learned to "be a man", which means, bury the pain, bury the rage, and keep silent.
Where is the outrage for all the boys who suffer sexual abuse daily? These boys may not be safe in their own homes; some are not safe in their schools from teachers (male and female) or from coaches. Some are not safe when they participate in the Boy Scouts, or go to some religious-sponsored activity where they are also supposed to be safe.
My hope is that the lessons of Newtown will inform us all to protect all children, regardless of gender, from all forms of violence. We must do a better job making mental health available to all who are suffering, and continue to work to remove the stigmas so that boys and men feel the same permission to seek help that girls and women learn. We must leave our denial of the seriousness of sexual abuse that harms significantly more boys and men than a gun ever will, and recognize we all have a responsibility to create safety wherever a child lives and visits. Far too many institutions have protected themselves at the cost of the murder of children's souls and spirits.
There is help available through malesurvivor.org for any man who has been sexually victimized as a boy or adult. We hope all men and their allies will empower themselves to visit our website, find support and help and resources, as healing and recovery is absolutely possible and achievable.
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