Thursday, June 10, 2010

The Invisible Boy - Revisioning The Victimization of Male Children & Teens

An interesting research paper and here comes a first, which I do not feature for the numbers (fairly old) but simply for that which I try to usually say with the numbers. You can read the whole document here and it is really worth it. It is about, to quote from the article 
the existence of a double standard in the care and treatment of male victims, and the invisibility and normalization of violence and abuse toward boys and young men in our society.
So we begin.
    Despite the fact that over 300 books and articles on male victims have been published in the last 25 to 30 years, boys and teen males remain on the periphery of the discourse on child abuse. Few workshops about males can be found at most child abuse conferences and there are no specialized training programs for clinicians. Male-centred assessment is all but non-existent and treatment programs are rare. If we are talking about adult males, the problem is even greater. A sad example of this was witnessed recently in Toronto. After a broadcast of The Boys of St. Vincent, a film about the abuse of boys in a church run orphanage, the Kids' Help Phone received over 1,000 calls from distraught adult male survivors of childhood sexual abuse. It is tragic in a way no words can capture that these men had no other place to turn except a children's crisis line.

    The language we use in the current discourse on violence and abuse masks, minimizes, or renders invisible certain realities for male victims. Terms such as "family violence" have become co-terminus with "violence toward women", particularly on the part of husbands, fathers, or other adult male figures. Male teens, boys, male seniors, male victims of sibling-on-sibling violence, and female abusers disappear in this term.

    Canada lags far behind other western democracies in the study of male victims and their male and female abusers. In fact, among the large and growing number of research studies on male victims only a small number are Canadian. Social policy development, public education, treatment programs and research funding, and the evolution of a more inclusive discourse on interpersonal violence that reflects the male experience are all long overdue.
And it is not only Canada. This was written in 1996 and I doubt the situation has changed much in the following 14 years.
    Several large scale Canadian studies about interpersonal violence conducted in the past several years have reported the findings pertaining to only female victims. Many academic papers written about victims of violence purport to be "balanced" yet typically bring only a faint male "voice" to the analysis. From a conceptual standpoint, many also make the mistake of accepting and using, uncritically, a woman-centred-only model of victimization. Male victims also find much of this work dehumanizing and dismissive of their experiences. They feel many writers and thinkers in the field have delineated the boundaries of the discourse on violence and abuse, boundaries that leave males out.
I'd like to add that especially studies about sexual abuse fall in this category (only female victims). When it comes to interpersonal violence there are more studies conducted now, which doesn't mean politicans act on that known numbers (they don't).
    Male victims frequently find that therapists, counsellors, or other types of caregivers trained with female-centred models of victimization are unable to help them. Consequently, they are likely to simply abandon therapy, leaving unexplored many of the issues relating to their victimization experience and to their deeper healing.
    Male victims, like female victims before them, have encountered their share of critics and detractors, people who refuse to believe them, ignore prevalence statistics, minimize the impact of abuse, appropriate and deny males a voice, or dismiss male victimization as a "red herring". When prevalence statistics are given for male victimization it is common to hear the response that the vast majority of abusers of males are other males, a belief which is simply not true. This comment is usually intended to frame male victimization as a "male problem". It is also insensitive and perceived by male survivors as being victim-blaming. While challenges and criticisms to concepts and theories are valid, and an important part of the evolution and development of any field, denial, minimization, and silencing is harmful, abusive, and damaging to any victim.

Ouch, I am thinking of a fair share of feminists right now (pointing out that violnece is a male problem).
    In many respects, male victims are where female victims were 25 years ago. Most of us forget the enormous opposition the women's movement encountered as women began to organize and claim a voice to speak against violence and name their abusers/offenders. The services and supports that exist presently for women were hard won and yet are still constantly at risk of losing their funding. By comparison, there really is no organized male victims "movement" per se. Males, generally, are not socialized to group together the way women do, to be intimate in communication, or to see themselves as caregivers for other males. In short, much of what male victims need to do to organize a "movement" requires them to overcome many common elements of male socialization, all of which work against such a reality ever happening.
And we are not there yet folks. Sadly most men only are interested in male problems, once they have them. To say it with Farrell "The weakness of men is the facade of strength: the strength of women is the facade of weakness.."
    Much of the current thinking and discourse, both public and professional, about abuse and interpersonal violence is based on a woman-centred point of view. This is neither right nor wrong, good nor bad, but rather the result of who has been doing the advocacy. However, as a result of this history, victims have a female face, perpetrators a male face. Because of this image of perpetrators as having a male face, violence in our society has become "masculinized" and is blamed exclusively on "men" and "male socialization". Though there is without question a male gender dimension to many forms of violence, especially sexual violence, simple theories of male socialization are inadequate to explain why the vast majority of males are not violent.

    Violence is even blamed on the male hormone testosterone. The irony in this argument is not lost on male victims. While women have been struggling to get out from under the stigma that they are at the mercy of their hormones, males are being accused of being at the mercy of testosterone.


    Sadly, male victims and their advocates risk a lot to challenge the status quo and experience much pressure to remain silent. It is ironic that the pressure males feel to remain silent replicates, at a social level, the same patterns of silencing, denial, and minimization they experienced at the hands of their offenders. If we do not face the fact that we need to heal the "gendered wounds" of both women and men, then we will compromise the search for gender peace.

    Finally, and perhaps the most important reason to revision our understanding, is because men and teen males are not, in any substantial way, joining women in the struggle to end all forms of interpersonal violence. Part of the reason for this may be because males do not see their own stories reflected in public discussions about violence and abuse. If one were to rely solely on the media to convey the male experience, few stories would be known beyond the more sensational cases involving several church-run orphanages or provincial training schools. It is not uncommon to hear male students express resentment toward high school anti-violence curriculum that presumes them to be abusers, harassers, rapists and sexual assaulters in waiting. Indeed, it is difficult to feel part of a collective social movement against violence when one's own experiences are dismissed, excluded, or minimized. It is evident from even a casual review of this material that much of it contains biased stereotypes and unchallenged assumptions about "male anger", "male aggression", and "male sexuality". All too often, these writers take as a starting point a caricature of the worst imaginable elements of "masculinity" and assume it applies to all male persons.

    As males begin to tread upon the path broken by women, they are summoning the courage to bring their own voices to the public and professional discourse about violence and abuse. If we want males to engage in true dialogue, then we have to be open to hearing their criticisms, their experiences, their pain.
Well said. Still remember Farrells quote from the last paragraph?
Why is it that Canada, a country that prides itself on being a compassionate and just society, lags behind other countries in advocacy for male victims? Why has the media refused to give equal coverage to male victimization issues? Why do we consistently fail to support adult male victims? Why, do we support a double standard when it comes to the care and treatment of male victims? Perhaps the simplest answer to all the above, is the fact that much of what constitutes male victimization is invisible to us all, especially male victims themselves.
And this doesn't only apply to Canada. Uh this will be another wall of text.

The next section talks about studies and differences of males and females. Listen closely.
    If we use only the commonly reported categories of physical abuse, sexual abuse, or psychological maltreatment and neglect, then we obtain one picture. However, if we add corporal punishment, suicide, community and school-based violence, and violence in sports and entertainment, the story becomes more complicated. Still other areas could be added if we unpacked the term "family violence" and explored in more clinical depth commonly used descriptors such as "hard to manage children and youth", "parent-child conflict", "difficult children", "dysfunctional families", "problem teen behaviour", "conduct disorder", "oppositional-defiant disorder", or "attention deficit disorder", to name a few. In general population health surveys, when we use terms such as "sexual contact" or "sexual touching" instead of "sexual assault" or "sexual abuse", the prevalence numbers increase substantially. This is because males often do not see their sexual experiences in strict clinical and legal terms such as "abuse".

    Other categories could be added if we more closely examined the concept of "at-risk". For example, boys in the U.S. are more likely than girls to be diagnosed with behavioural and mental disorders, more likely to be admitted to psychiatric hospitals, twice as likely to suffer from autism, eight times more likely to be diagnosed with hyperactivity, more likely to become addicted to drugs and alcohol, and more likely to drop out of high school (Kimbrell, 1995).

    The picture becomes complicated further when we add the everyday lived experiences of male children and youth in care of the state, living in foster homes, group homes, with legal guardians, or in young offender custodial facilities. We could also add male senior abuse, male victimization in sibling-on-sibling violence, abuse of male spouses or other intimate male partners, abuse of same sex male partners, and violence toward males with disabilities including children, teens, and adults. Finally, we would need to add the stories of homeless young people, street kids, and male adolescents using prostitution as a means to survive.


For male victims, the situation is even more precarious. Many cultural and other barriers must be crossed by boys, teen males, the professional community, and the public even to be able to acknowledge male victimization experiences as abuse. For example, gay males have to "come out" to disclose their abuse, and so typically remain silent. Stated simply, if we do not go looking for male victims we will not find them. If we do not explore issues of abuse with males they will not tell us their stories. Consequently, and all too typically, the first time a teen or adult male offender obtains any help with his victimization is when he has come to the attention of the legal system because of his offences (Sepler, 1990).

One can see the connection that DV and sexual abuse is seen as a female issue. We are not looking for male victims.

The following about sexual harassment is interesting to, and explains why we have to take a close look at results.
        "In a recent survey done in Ontario high schools, over 80 per cent of girls said they had been sexually harassed. Boys said their harassment was often complimentary or teasing: few of them said they felt unsafe or that the harassment interfered with their lives, unless their harasser was another male." (OSSTF, 1994)

    Most would read this and not give it a second thought. However, what makes this kind of statement worrisome is that it supports biased and harmful stereotypes about males and reinforces a double standard. And, there are other problems.

    First, the overall percentage of males reporting being sexually harassed is not given, so it is difficult to compare anything to the 80% figure reported for girls. Second, when asked, "Are you ever afraid of being sexually harassed?", approximately 70% of the girls and 30% of the male students said "Yes". Between one-quarter and one-third of the males said "Yes" they were afraid of being sexually harassed. This is hardly a small number. But perhaps more importantly, it gives the authors no defensible position to diminish the seriousness of the issue for boys simply because prevalence of harassment toward girls' may be higher.

    Third, the authors also make qualitative judgments about the impact on boys without recognizing that male students are less likely to report harassment, more likely to diminish any negative impact, more likely to withhold expressions of fear, and more likely to normalize the experience since males are socialized to value, and view as being positive, "sexual overtures" from females. We need to ask ourselves if we would accept at face value comments of the young women in the study saying that they took their harassment as a compliment or teasing.

Reminds me of a study I featured the other day where a much larger pecentage of young males reported sex before the age of 13 than females, yet more female report being forced to have sex. There is certainly an overlap. Also the bold part. I can not see that happening.

We continue with a nice deconstruction of feminist theories
Because public awareness of sexual harassment is only just beginning to emerge, it is not uncommon to encounter people who believe that boys cannot be sexually harassed because, as males, they have "power". While it is true that sexual harassment is about power, a definition of "power" using only political or economic terms is too narrow to apply to the lives of children and teens. It is also too limited if we assume that only males have power by virtue of their gender. Physical attractiveness, age, popularity, and even "personality" can be forms of "social power". For example, how serious is a school administrator or a youth's peers likely to take the complaint of a pimply, skinny, or "nerdy" type male who is "rated" or sexually teased and taunted by an attractive and popular female? What if the male in the above example was younger or a visible minority student whose first language was not English and the female student was Caucasian? What if the male student was from a strict religious background that viewed any form of "sexual" talk or contact as inappropriate and offensive? From this perspective, sexual harassment can also be an issue of basic human dignity. It can also be about violation of another person's religious beliefs or cultural norms and values.

To cite Farrell again: "The fundamental feminist false assumption: Female powerlessness meant male power."

A closer look at different kinds of abuse with some numbers.
The sexual abuse of children and youth has dominated much of the research activity, advocacy, and many of the media stories about child abuse published in the past 10 years, despite the fact that it accounts for only about 14% of all forms of indicated or substantiated maltreatment (NCCAN, 1994). In the U.S., neglect accounts for 49% of maltreatment cases, physical abuse 23%, and emotional maltreatment 5%. Medical neglect 3%, other 9%, and unknown 3% constitute the rest. This is particularly significant when one realizes that boys, especially in the younger age categories, tend to be the majority of victims of physical abuse and emotional maltreatment.

    The issue of corporal punishment has just begun to emerge in the child abuse discourse and we are beginning to witness challenges to the appropriateness of certain sections of the Criminal Code that sanction the use of physical force in the discipline or correction of children. The concern is that corporal punishment is part of a continuum with spanking at one end and physical abuse and homicide at the other. It can sometimes be very difficult to assess when a parent or caregiver has crossed the line. However, regardless of whether the force was intended as abuse or discipline or correction, the effect on children is harmful (Yodanis, 1992; Vissing, et al., 1991).

    Corporal punishment is of particular concern to males. In Canada, 70% of the victims of non-sexual assault under the age of 12 are boys (Statistics Canada, 1991). It is evident that boys are physically hit more often than girls (Bryan and Freed, 1982; Gilmartin, 1979; Knutson and Selner, 1994; Maccoby and Jacklin, 1974; Newson and Newson, 1989; and Wauchope and Straus, 1992).

    Studies published in the U.S. show that between 93% - 95% of young adults report being corporally punished during their childhood or teen years (Bryan and Freed, 1982; Graziano and Namaste, 1990). Parent surveys report that approximately 90% of adults use corporal punishment to discipline and correct the behaviour of their children (Wauchope and Straus, 1990; Straus, 1983).
    Community and school-based violence among children and adolescents is a topic that has gained prominence in the media and education circles. A recent newspaper story reported that researchers at the University of New Hampshire using a random sample of children 10 to 16 years of age, found that 1 in 10 boys (10%) in the U.S. suffered a non-sexual genital assault, usually a kick by someone their own age (Globe & Mail, 1995). The rate for girls was 2%. The researchers in this study also reported that 40% of the perpetrators were girls. Boys who wore glasses or had other physical limitations were three times more likely to be kicked. One year after the kicking, one in four boys still suffered depression from the incident.

    In 1990, Statistics Canada conducted a study of patterns of criminal victimization. They found that the risk of personal victimization was highest for persons who are male, young, single, and residents of urban areas. In a study of approximately 1,000 middle level students in Ontario, 29% of grade 6 boys reported being beaten up and 22% robbed while at school compared to 19% and 10% for grade 6 girls. In this same study, overall, boys and girls were found equally likely to be victims or perpetrators of violent acts (Ryan, Mathews, and Banner, 1993). This is not surprising considering that boys and girls up to the age of puberty are roughly the same size. In a Calgary study involving 962 middle and high school students, 47.5% of the males and 26.6% of the females reported being slapped, punched, or kicked while in school during the past year (Smith et al., 1995). In Canada, violence toward young males in the form of gay-bashing at school or in the community, is another rarely discussed problem.

    In the U.S., 72% of juvenile homicide victims were male. Forty per cent of juvenile homicide victims were killed by family members, mostly parents. Fifty-three per cent of boys were killed by their fathers and slightly more than half (51%) of the girls were murdered by their mothers (OJJDP, 1995). Also reported in this study was the fact that Caucasian males comprised 83% of suicides of persons under the age of 20, and that for every two youth aged 0-19 who was murdered in the U.S. in 1991, one youth committed suicide.

In various developing countries, the number of street children is estimated to range between 10 and 100 million, the vast majority are boys (World Health Organization, 1995). In Canada, males and females on the street appear to be equally at risk for physical violence, with most perpetrators being someone the youth considered a friend or someone else they knew on the street (Janus, et al., 1995). In this study, physical abuse was the most frequently given reason why these youth left home. The physical abuse was most often perpetrated by a biological parent, and most often by the mother. In other studies of runaway youth, Powers and Eckenrode (1987) found that 42.3% of males (57.7% of females) were the victims of physical abuse, 37.9% of emotional abuse (62.1% for females), and 47.7% of neglect (52.3% for females). McCormack et al., (1986) found that 73% of female and 38% of male runaways were physically abused.


Sexual abuse is also high among teens involved in prostitution (Mathews, 1989). Thirty per cent of juvenile females and 27.4% of juvenile males involved in prostitution reported an incestuous sexual experience. By the age of 13, 62.8% of the females and 77% of the males reported being sexually experienced, compared to general population samples of 1.7% and 5.4% respectively (Badgley, 1984). Of course, these numbers do not reflect the fact that 100% of males and females under the age of 16 who sell sex to adults are being sexually abused by their customers.
And I'll end this wall of text with the promise to finish it in another post. Good night....


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