We must work harder to understand how boys are affected by sexual exploitation
A guest post from Neha Gauchan & Mark Kavenagh of ECPAT, a signatory organisation of our United for Boys Charter.
While significant attention is rightly directed towards understanding the sexual exploitation of girls, as a global community, it is equally important that we pay more attention towards understanding boys’ experiences of sexual exploitation and include their voices in any and all prevention and response efforts.
Gender norms have a large influence on the persistence of sexual exploitation of both boys and girls. For boys, they are expected to live up to societal expectations of masculinity that demand being ‘tough’ and ‘strong’. These traditional and rigid attitudes towards gender make it difficult for boys to express their emotions freely. These expectations are constantly repeated at home, in schools, and by society – we can even see they are common in the movies and television shows we watch. If boys deviate outside these boundaries of ‘what it means to be a man’, they can face negative consequences, and they are pushed to conform. Boys learn to bottle up their feelings, so in cases where boys are sexually exploited, they don’t report or seek help as they feel like they have not lived up to social expectations to be ‘tough’, ‘strong’, and take care of themselves.
In many parts of the world, the myth persists that sexual abuse of boys might ‘turn’ them homosexual. Obviously today it is broadly accepted that sexuality is not changeable – that no person can convert another person to become homosexual or heterosexual. This homophobic myth does damage. It prevents straight boys who have experienced sexual exploitation from reporting or seeking help for fear that people will label them gay. For gay boys, these homophobic myths can further amplify their vulnerability to sexual exploitation by increasing their experiences of discrimination and harassment, family rejection and high risks of homelessness.
Overall, not enough is known about how sexual exploitation affects boys. The problem is vastly unrecognised and unaddressed in research, policy and programming. So, to tackle this problem, ECPAT has launched a “Global Initiative to Explore the Sexual Exploitation of Boys” to explore and understand the issue globally over the coming years.
Within this initiative, the first country project has begun in Thailand and findings will be published in the first half of 2020. There are three research activities:
- Analysis of how well Thai national legislation protects boys from sexual abuse and exploitation;
- Survey of frontline service providers in order to understand the key perceptions and attitudes towards boys who have experienced sexual exploitation;
- Interviews with children and young people of diverse sexual orientation, gender identity and expression wo have experiences of sexual exploitation to learn their insights to improving supports and responses.
More detail on this important topic can be found in a peer-reviewed article co-authored by the ECPAT team with colleagues from the Canadian Institute for Health Research – TeamSV at McMaster University in Canada which can be found here: “Gender, rights and responsibilities: The need for a global analysis of the sexual exploitation of boys.”