Last week there were two high profile cases in the area newspapers involving sexual abuse. One was about a male psychiatrist who is accused of sexually assaulting several female clients, some of which were underage. The second was about a female high school teacher who was accused of having an inappropriate sexual relationship with a student. I made the mistake of looking at the comments sections of the online versions of these stories. Though I really should have known better than to do so, these comments brought to light a shocking difference in how these events were perceived. Granted, this is the perception of those persons willing to put a comment on a newspaper web-page. Nonetheless, they do represent a sample of our society.
What was glaringly evident, based on these comments, was the difference in how the sexual abuse was perceived based on the gender of the perpetrator and the victim. Both of the alleged perpetrators were in a position of trust, one a teacher and one a psychiatrist. Both of the alleged perpetrators had sexual contact with a minor. What was very different was how the commentators viewed the issues. In the case of the male psychiatrist accused of assaulting female victims, the comments were a relative consensus of negative feedback, some cruder than others. The overall impression was that this was a horrible abuse of trust of his position as a doctor and that he was a sick or depraved man.
In the case of the female teacher accused of having sexual contact with her male, underage student, the comments were of a very different vein. Many of the comments involved people commenting on how this was the quintessential adolescent male fantasy. Many of the commentors stated that they would have had sex with her if they were in the teenager’s shoes. What was missing was the plethora of comments about how horrible this event was or that it was, clearly, sexual assault.
This disparity in societal feedback was made even more pronounced in my brain as that same day I received an announcement for the Creative Changes Conference promoting its 6th Annual “It Happens to Boys” conference in February of this year. (www.creativechangeconferences.com). This minimization of the impact of sexual abuse on boys is damaging in so many ways. As a clinician, I work with many men who were sexually abused as boys. This abuse is, in fact, very impactful for them and a source of deep shame and trauma. The fact that it is often perpetrated by men can add to the shame of the event and decrease a boy’s likelihood of coming forward to report the abuse.
The organization Male Survivor (www.malesurvivor.org) discusses many of the myths of male sexual abuse. When I think about the event recently in the news here, Male Survivor’s Myth #7 comes to mind (http://malesurvivor.org/myths.html), “If the perpetrator is female, the boy or adolescent should consider himself fortunate to have been introduced to heterosexual activity.” The comments in the news article overwhelmingly supported this myth. Not confronting this myth does a disservice to those boys that are sexually abused. Any sexual abuse of any kind is dangerous and damaging.
In no way do I want this post to infer that I am minimizing the impact of sexual assault on female victims. This post is simply the result of my experience both in reading the comments of these news articles and my work with many men who were sexually abused as boys. I challenge all of us to confront our own judgments and myths about sexual assault. It is imperative that we all realize that sexual assault is damaging and traumatic to the victims, no matter what the gender of either the perpetrator or the victim.