Andhra survivor’s mercy killing plea reveals pain of male child sexual abuse victims

Concurring with Vishnu’s experience, activists say that the society continues to disbelieve and ridicule boys who have been sexually abused.
Andhra survivor’s mercy killing plea reveals pain of male child sexual abuse victims
Andhra survivor’s mercy killing plea reveals pain of male child sexual abuse victims

Vishnu Teja, a resident of Kurnool in Andhra Pradesh, did something shocking on Wednesday – he wrote to President Ram Nath Kovind asking for mercy killing. The reason: the trauma of being a male survivor of child sexual abuse.

In the letter to the President, the 24-year-old pointed out that cases of boys being sexually abused tend to fall through the cracks because of the society’s delusion “that a male child can never be vulnerable in a patriarchal society”.  

Speaking to TNM, Vishnu says that the society discounts and trivialises the fact that boys are vulnerable to sexual assault and abuse too. He had a similar experience when he told his own parents about his ordeal. Their first reaction was that of shock, because they hadn’t heard of boys being raped. They eventually ended up not filing a police complaint because one, they thought nobody would believe that a boy could be sexually assaulted, and two, because of the social stigma that would come with it.

Vishnu wrote in the letter that he had no hopes of receiving justice. However, he did not want to be labeled a “criminal” by taking his own life, and so, was asking for euthanasia instead.

Read his letter here:

‘Unacceptable’ for boys to be sexual abuse victims

Social workers and legal experts concur with Vishnu that even today, when conversation and visibility of child sexual abuse has increased, it continues to be difficult for male victims to find validation and redress.

Swagata Raha, a legal researcher, notes that social conditioning prevents both survivors and their families from acknowledging and addressing a male child’s experience of sexual abuse. “It is still deemed socially and culturally unacceptable for a male to admit he has been sexually abused. This in turn, makes it harder for him to be believed if he does admit it,” she says.

This, even as the incidence of male children being sexually abused appears to be higher.  A 2007 study by the Ministry of Women and Child Development surveyed 12,447 children. Of those who admitted to have experienced sexual assault, 54.4% were boys.

Despite these numbers having been in the public discourse for several years now, the shock and disbelief associated with boys being victims of sexual assault, prevails.

For instance, Kushi Kushalappa, who works with Enfold, a Bengaluru based NGO that supports survivors of child sexual abuse and their families, reveals, “In the awareness and training programs we conduct with stakeholders, when we tell them that more male children are sexually abused, they find it quite difficult to believe.”

There is also a difference in the reaction that a male child gets when he opens up about being sexually abused or assaulted.  “A girl is treated more sympathetically. But when it is a boy, family members come up with questions like ‘couldn’t you protect yourself?’”

Social workers say that another reason parents may conceal the abuse of boys is because they fear that their child will be labeled homosexual.

Even legal system is not immune to biases

Even judges are not immune to conditioning which disbelieves that boys can be victims of sexual violence.

Swagata gives the example of a case she came across from Maharashtra. The judge said something to the effect of, “Since the seven-year-old boy told his grandmother and went to play after that, it is not believable.” The judge went on to add that he did not believe it possible that a seven-year-old could be sexually assaulted or held down “single-handedly”.

This is something that reflects in the number of cases reported as well. According to a study on functioning of Special Courts under POCSO Act, conducted across five states by Centre for Child and the Law, the average number of cases reported of boys being sexually abused was as low as 2%. Swagata who was part of the team conducting the study, says, “Only in Delhi it was 5% or so. But those other 95% cases go unreported.”

While the Indian Penal Code is not gender neutral, Prevention of Children from Sexual Offences (POCSO) is. But Swagata points out that merely having a gender-neutral law is not enough. “Unless the mindset changes to accept boys as victims of sexual violence, the laws will not be enough,” she says.

It does not help that legal investigations into sexual assault and abuse rely heavily on physical evidence. Many survivors, especially children, open up about the abuse after several months or years. For instance, with boys especially, the incidence of oral assault is much higher. “With oral assault it is difficult to find any medical evidence or injuries,” Kushi says. This makes it even more difficult for male survivors to find legal redress.

Kushi asserts that there is a need to create more awareness among public and stakeholders - police, doctors, public prosecutors - about the issue of male child sexual abuse.

Ordinance for death for child rapists not gender neutral

Vishnu tells TNM that another reason he wrote the letter to the President asking to be euthanised was to highlight the gender discrimination in the ordinance which calls for death penalty for child rapists. Introduced by the Centre in April following the outrage around the rape and murder of an eight-year-old girl in Kathua, the ordinance allows courts to award the death penalty to rapists of girls below 12 years of age.

While many people working in the area of child rights and child sexual abuse have repeatedly pointed out why death penalty for child rape is an “anti-child” measure and is more reactive than preventive, the fact remains that ordinance only sees girls as victims of sexual violence.

“Why doesn’t the government acknowledge that even boys get raped and sexually abused?” Vishnu questions. He says that the government only takes action when someone dies, which led him to ask for a mercy killing. “Maybe this will compel them to acknowledge the problem and address it,” Vishnu says.

(Note: The CSA survivor’s real name has been used with his permission.)

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