Richard Pryor. Tyler Perry. Todd Bridges. Donnie McClurkin. The link that ties them together is not talent and celebrity but, rather, the sexual abuse and trauma inflicted on them while children. All four have publicly revealed that men sexually abused them. Last year we were startled by allegations against Bishop Eddie Long of sexual abuse of male minors and then we were abhorred by the acts of sexual abuse comitted by Penn State University’s former coach Jerry Sandusky.
But has that horror motivated us to act?
Far more important than the salaciousness of the Long and Sandusky cases is the reality that boys, too, are the victims of sexual abuse far too often. By age 18, nearly one of three boys experiences some form of unwanted sexual interaction. Yet, our society tends to be more vigilant in its attempts to protect our girls than we are when it comes to our boys. Sexual abuse manifests some of the same life symptoms in males as it does in females – depression, criminal justice system involvement, failed relationships, at-risk sexual behavior, substance abuse, and increased likelihood that they will victimize others. Emotionally, it may lead to distrust of males and male authority figures and self-loathing.
So, what can we do to protect our sons? We should operate with same care and concern that we show to our daughters: Monitor who your children are left alone with, entrusting their supervision only to trustworthy caretakers and coaches (after and ONLY after they have successfully cleared a background check!)
–Avoid allowing your children to spend unsupervised one-on-one time with unfamiliar teens and adults.
-Limit overnight sleepovers, as predators look at such situations as an opportunity to victimize children.
-Educate your sons to refer to their body parts by anatomical names and not slang terms.
-Explain to them the difference between acceptable touches and unacceptable touches and empower them inform you if they ever feel that someone has touched them inappropriately.
–Develop a safety plan for your children to use in case they are ever treated inappropriately, even if that person is a family member. Blended families (composed of step-siblings and step-parent’s brother and cousins, for example) create dynamics which facilitate access to children by non blood-related kin. Your children are at particular risk in such environments.
Boys require as much supervision as girls. They often are easier targets simply because they tend not to have as much supervision as girls. Sexual violation is often one of the most devastating acts of violence due to its personal nature and the fact that it is so often perpetrated by trusted persons. When it comes to guarding your children against abuse, the old aphorism applies: it is better to be safe than sorry. It is best yet to raise, love, discipline, and protect our sons as much as we do our daughters.
Yan Searcy is an associate professor in the Departments of Social Work and Sociology at Chicago State University where he has taught for the past 16 years. His areas of research and practice include child and adolescent welfare and urban social policy. He is a proud husband and father of two! Need parenting advice? Email [email protected] and your questions may appear in future column!