Trigger Warning: Details of child sexual abuse
“Boys don’t cry”. “Boys must be strong”. “Boys must hold everything inside”. “Boys don’t get abused”. Yet I was; for over 8 years. I could not comprehend the gravity of all that happened to me; neither did I know nor find anyone who had to face sexual abuse and that made all the difference. In a patriarchal country like India, the assumption is that only women are the victims of sexual crimes and because of the indestructible conception that men are not victims. While such a belief is held high, any cases regarding the same is considered a taboo and often hushed due to the ideas surrounding masculinity and sexuality. This hampers proper data and makes it hard for people to even acknowledge the existence of such happenings.
According to RAINN, 1 out of 10 rape victims are male. I cannot help but wonder about the number, if all the male sexual abuses are reported. And sadly, sexual abuse against boys is more common than we would like to admit. As per the 2010 report from the U.S Department of Health and Human Services, 9.2 percent of the children were sexually assaulted and nearly 1 in 20 boys had to face sexual abuse. Having been forced to face that reality at the age of 6, I was left damaged in every way. Manipulated into the sombre room of sexual activities, I was not even aware of what I was being forced into. I was exposed to things that a child should never have to face and neither was I free from self-blaming.
All of this becomes even more overwhelming and nerve-wracking knowing that these events are instigated by a family member, a close family friend or just anyone who is familiar to children. I was not saved from this either, as I was assaulted multiple times by a relative of mine, who asked me to keep this “secret of ours”, as he would tell me each time.
My abuse became more mechanic over the years, as my self-esteem and self-worth became non-existent.
I believe one important subject that must be given a great deal of importance in school is sex education and sexual abuse prevention programs. In the absence of such awareness, children may struggle to understand the issue and may even victimise themselves further, in addition to developing other divergent behavioural patterns, adding on to the victimisation they may encounter by the perpetrator or a third party. It was only during my personal research that I began at 15, did I finally realise that it was not my fault. The four years of research made me see the complexity and seriousness of the issue. While I came across a lot of stories related to women and other minorities, I did not find much related to men and that was disheartening.
As I began understanding what I was put through, I began distancing myself from my abuser. And I finally had the courage to open up to my parents at 19. They were upset and cried, and were apologetic for not being there for me. The next biggest leap of courage was standing up to my abuser. That day he had told me “Kar de meri khushi keliye” (Do it for my happiness). I have lost count of the number of times he had uttered those words and could no longer bear to hear it. I said NO. I was repelled by the face of the rapist I was looking at.
It took me a long time to say NO; but saying no was one of the most liberating moments in my life after so many years. The word NO has more power than we presume and I hope, we all find in ourselves the strength to say it more often. This is not just a individual process but also a systemic one, given how the emphasis on sex education in schools and in open discussions with parents will help children be more assertive in drawing the boundaries to their personal space.
The whole experience within itself causes a lot of pain, hurt and trauma that can never be erased. However, the moment of realisation, that you are not at fault and rather it is the perpetrator whose head must hang low, the healing begins; at least that was the beginning of my journey in healing. However, in a country like India, such a journey is either denied or delayed, even more, when abuse is gendered.
Men are bound by societal expectations ensuing them to live in ignorance and denial. Our stories and experiences are often brushed off, rendering us little to no voice. According to the 2007 report on child abuse by Ministry of Women and Child Welfare, India, 57.3% of boys were reported to have faced sexual abuse and yet not much is heard about this reality. It is a pity that no one speaks about male sexual abuse, especially when this issue lacks representation, even in artistic mediums like a film or drama.
This, thus inspired me to become that ‘somebody’ that I was searching for as a child. I am a child sexual abuse activist today. Having shared my story already, I hope to give a voice and a representation for those who still suffer, who are being suppressed from sharing their stories. I have had people share their stories with me after listening to mine and I hope that more would speak up. Currently, I am engaging my social media audience with a consistent public dialogue by picking relevant topics in and around abuse. I can see how one opinion can help engage ten different minds and by the next minute all of these people will have come up with something absolutely constructive or not, perhaps what matters most is the discussion.
Alongside this, I am working as the digital advocate for an organisation’s public dialogue initiative called ‘The Minor Project’. This project focuses on highlighting essential information about the epidemic that is abuse has become and bursting myths around the same. In the coming month, I am working alongside a publication on a larger campaign to pick up conversations in the digital space only to make the topic more common. Parallelly, I am also a part of two NGOs, one in the UK and one in India, dedicated to resolving issues and guiding abuse victims and survivors through their trauma.
My aim is to reach every second child of this country being abused and essentially make them believe in the fact that they’re not alone in this fight. There is a long way to go and a lot of work needs to be done but I am determined to make that happen. Along with our fight for all the survivors out there, let us also keep in mind to be reflective in the process and actively make sure we stop gender abuse, violence and rape, instead of being mere bystanders. The change has to take place at its roots.
Lokesh Pawar is a 23-year-old writer, a content creator and a sexual abuse survivor and activist. His mission to create awareness about Male Sexual Abuse is his top priority and he has spoken to thousands of survivors to help them heal from their trauma. Lokesh was recently awarded the REX Karmaveer Global Youth Fellowship & Karmaveer Chakra Awards 2020-2021 by United Nations and iCongo. He also became an Advocate in 2020 for Unicef India and Leher India’s CSA campaign called, ‘The Minor Project’. Pawar hopes that he doesn’t have to talk about this for long because he wishes for a world where kids are safe and unharmed. You can find him on Instagram and on Twitter.
Featured image source: Simlyn J/Feminism In India