Degrees of Child Abuse?: 1in6 Thursdays on the Joyful Heart Foundation Blog
More and more often it seems we are reading news about adult females “having sex” with teenage boys. It is good to finally see some press on this common form of abuse and also the fact it is being reported, but we do have a long way to go. There is a very disturbing aspect of these stories that always ends up in the comments and public discussion and it goes like this: “He’s a boy and he scored with a woman and now you want to call it rape? He got lucky, what’s the big deal?”
Well duh, that’s because legally and morally it is rape. In case anyone missed it, a child cannot “have sex” with an adult in this country, it is defined as child sex abuse among other things. The age of the offender or their gender does not matter, it is a crime.
Most children know the person who abuses them before any abuse or boundary crossing occurs. With older kids and teenagers it often starts with them being drawn to a charismatic adult in a position of power and it is very normal for a child to want that kind of attention. It is also normal for pubescent boys to think about sex dozens or even hundreds of times a day as their bodies are flooded with hormones.
This may be a crass way of putting it, but all an adult has to do is get the boy’s defenses lowered (grooming) and the body’s hormones will do the rest. It matters little to the body whether the abusive person is male or female or even their age. Tyler Perry on the Oprah Show claimed that his body betrayed him. It is in fact a chemical reaction just like mixing baking soda and vinegar to create a volcano-like eruption. Just because our body responds to a stimulus, it does not mean we are complicit any more than “liking that feeling” makes it necessarily a good thing.
So why do we see things so differently depending on the gender of the child who is victimized and the person offending ? My abuser (the man who abused me was my male minister and it was my first experience with being touched sexually. How would that have been different if he had been a woman? I suppose I might not have dissociated as much as I did, in that I would have been mentally attracted to a female body. But doesn’t that almost make it more difficult to deal with, since I am supposed to like it? I think it would have potentially been more confusing because there is still that sense of wrongness and shame.
If a man sexually abuses a boy like me, then culture tells me I am “less than” what I should be. If a woman sexually abuses me, culture says, “score dude, walk proud laddie.” And it doesn’t stop there, if the woman is my teacher that’s cool, if it’s my older sister then it may be gray to some, but what if it is my mother? And how different is it, if it is my stepmom or aunt? What if it is grandma? How does culture view being abused by my father versus my minister or coach? It is as though people want to rate child sexual abuse not only by the genders involved, but by the relationship to the victim.
Politicians and the media have taken it upon themselves to rate rape with adjectives such as “legitimate”, “forcible”, “gray”, “date” and “stranger” to name but a few. Guess what, all rape is forced (use of power by one over another) and it is never legitimate, even between partners. There are not degrees of rape or child sexual abuse. It is morally and legally wrong in all cases and the victim is never at fault.
As one of an estimated 19 million male survivors of child sex abuse I can assure you, being sexually abused is not healthy for a boy (or anyone) regardless of the gender of the other person. When I sit in recovery groups there are men who were abused by men, women, boys, girls and every relationship you can imagine.
So can we please stop quantifying the abuse by the parties involved and name it the heinous crime it is? Maybe then we can begin to help the survivors heal and hold those who abuse children accountable.
– By Randy Ellison
Speaker, writer and author of the book Boys Don’t Tell: Ending the Silence of Abuse, Randy Ellison is a child sexual abuse victim’s advocate and an activist promoting cultural change working with local, state and national organizations. He addresses abuse prevention and healing for survivors from a survivor’s perspective. Randy is a member of the Oregon Attorney General’s Sexual Assault Task Force. He is a founding member and former board president of OAASIS, Oregon Abuse Advocates and Survivors in Service.
Randy recently received the Diane Sandler Award for his work in education, awareness and prevention of sexual violence in Southern Oregon.