Originally posted on July 21, 2013
One of the common reactions to news about sexual violence against boys is that it harms boys less than it harms girls. This is particularly true when the abuser is female. The common opinion is that boys are more resilient because they are male. People also believe that boys always desire sex from women, therefore any sexual activity from women is always acceptable. Should a boy refuse the sex or dislike it, people will assume he is gay. Should a boy abused by men get an erection, ejaculate during sexual abuse, continue to engage in any activity with the male abuser, people will assume he is gay.
This idea that boys experience less harm leads to situations where abusers, particularly female abusers, receive less prison time for their actions. Roger Sherman noted this is in an op-ed:
Our societal perception frequently does not recognize this when it comes to women abusing boys. In this regard, a very important discussion was presented in a recent Statesman article between the Ada County prosecutor and the judge in a case regarding the abuse of eight teenage boys by a 35-year-old mother in Kuna.
According to the article, the judge disagreed with the prosecutor, who argued that female perpetrators are “treated more leniently than men and that boys (abused by women) are somehow considered ‘lucky.'” The judge concluded that “there is a difference” between boys abused by women and girls abused by men. “I have a problem articulating what the difference is,” he said.
Unfortunately, this perception that there is a difference can lead to irreparable harm for male victims. According to the authors of an authoritative study reported in the American Journal of Preventive Medicine, sexual abuse significantly increases the risk of developing health and social problems – such as drug and alcohol abuse, mental illness, and marital strife – in both men and women. A history of suicide attempts was more than twice as likely among both male and female victims as among non-victims.
One reason the judge may have concluded that “there is a difference” in this case may be because the boys were teenagers. The judge may have assumed that the boys’ ages meant they wanted the sex and were not harmed by it. Yet as Sherman notes, sexual abuse can lead to a number of issues later in life. Sexual violence by women may heighten this problem. Not only must the survivors cope with the abuse itself, but also with the social backlash against them should they speak out.
Our society, despite the growing changes in attitudes towards male survivors, still treats female-on-male sexual violence as a rite of passage at best and indicative of homosexuality — should the male complain — at worst. Many people still do not see such unwanted sexual activity as rape. Even some rape victim advocates play the “is this really rape” game.
Those attitudes continue to make it difficult for male survivors to come forward, and it does not help that the judicial system appears to give female sex offenders a slap on the wrist compared to male sex offenders. While these cases have garnered more media attention and spawned more discussions about male victimization and female rapists, much to some people’s discontent, there is a long way to go if we still have judges saying there is a difference between raping a boy and raping a girl.