As part of our ongoing commitment to tackle sexual violence affecting boys, Blessing Mutama (Director for FOST) and his team in Zimbabwe have undertook research on the topic. Here, he talks about why this work is vital – and how what he is learning will help to make a difference.
In my home country of Zimbabwe – as in many places – it is very likely that sexual violence affecting boys is both underestimated and underreported. Same-sex relationships are illegal; and communities commonly regard them as taboo. The result is that male victims of sexualised violence suffer, not just from the physical injuries inflicted on them, but also from an extreme sense of humiliation and isolation. Because of the immense stigma associated with rape generally, men and boys will often not even speak of it, fearing being ostracised from their families or communities. And if they do come forward, services are often lacking in knowledge of how to help.
Our research has highlighted that, no matter the gender of the perpetrator of the abuse, boys affected by sexual violence have specific needs that need to be addressed. We need a more comprehensive legal framework to protect them, as well as to better prepare support services so they can help all children.
Simply raising awareness that boys can be victims of sexual abuse too is a crucial starting point, both with the general public and with those who work with children and families. Fortunately, campaigns like Family for Every Child’s ‘United for Boys’ and ‘Blue Umbrella Day’ campaigns can help us to make that happen.
“Raising awareness is a crucial starting point”
It is really encouraging that this research has been carried out in collaboration with our national government, as well as with other local organisations on the ground. By working together like this, we can finally start to grow the understanding around this topic which has the potential to devastate lives. Even though our culture is not used to discussing male sexual assault, this research gives us useful data and testimony from boys that finally shows that here, too, this is something that needs to be addressed. It is my hope that with this research as a starting point, we can continue to advocate for the rights of boys and ensure they – as all children – are better protected from sexual violence in all its forms.
You can download Blessing’s report from our Resource Library. This year we will also be marking Blue Umbrella Day, raising awareness of sexual violence affecting boys, on April 16th – visit blueumbrelladay.org to learn more.