Monday, July 02, 2012

How Should We Talk to Boys About Sexual Abuse?

http://parenting.blogs.nytimes.com/2012/06/12/how-should-we-talk-to-boys-about-sexual-abuse/


How Should We Talk to Boys About Sexual Abuse?

Have you talked with your sons and daughters about the Jerry Sandusky case, and if you have, what did you say? Opening arguments in the trial against Mr. Sandusky, along with Amos Kamil’s New York Times Magazine story this weekend about sexual abuse at the Horace Mann School in New York City, have me revisiting what I’ve said to my children — in particular, my oldest son.
“When I was at Horace Mann,” Mr. Kamil wrote, giving a little back story on the 6th Floor blog, “all of these stories were swirling around us. Some of it was rumor, some of it was conjecture, some of it was latent homophobia.” Thirty years and more after the fact, the young men at the center of some of those stories shared them with Mr. Kamil (although he writes that young women, too, suffered at the hands of the teachers and administration at Horace Mann, those aren’t the stories he tells).
It’s the “latent homophobia” Mr. Kamil describes that leaves me wondering if saying the same things to my son as I do to my daughter about sexual abuse is enough. I can talk about inappropriate touching, I can talk about it being fine to leave anyone and anywhere that makes them uncomfortable. I can talk about how if they come to me, at any time, I will believe them, and I will protect them.
But is that enough to say to a boy who might feel that even being approached suggests something about his own sexuality? That “latent homophobia” that I suspect still prowls middle- and high-school halls has a power that could keep a boy silent, and that silence is something that many men victimized by sexual abuse at Horace Mann to any extent, even those who defied their would-be abuser and walked away, tell Mr. Kamil that they regret.
I know that there’s plenty of pressure to keep a girl silent, too — even, to some extent, the fear that “she asked for it” by being too sexy too young. But is “too sexy” a self-flagellation with a different spin than “secretly gay?”
I asked Dr. Richard Gartner, a past president of Male Survivor and the author of “Beyond Betrayal: Taking Charge of Your Life After Boyhood Sexual Abuse,” if a boy who feared that something “gay” about him provoked an abuser’s approach might be more reluctant to tell an adult what had happened. “What,” I asked, “do we need to be saying to our sons that we aren’t?”
One thing, he said, would be to make sure a boy knows  that “it’s natural to get aroused when stimulated — that’s what happens when boys’ bodies are touched or otherwise put into sexual situations. It does not mean you wanted it to happen, or even that you really enjoyed it. … I would say to boys that abusers choose boys for reasons other than whether they think the boy is gay or not. That straight boys are chosen as much or more than gay boys, and even abusers usually say that they themselves are not gay.”
That’s a little different from something I might say to my daughter — but the more I consider it, the less different it feels. A girl, too, might blame herself for her body’s response, and surely every victim of abuse struggles with why they were “chosen.” I’m left thinking not that I need to talk to my sons differently than my daughters, but that I probably need to talk more, and more clearly, to both.

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