Tuesday, December 20, 2011

Protecting Our Boys 2: Male Sex Abuse - The Facts & Myths

In part two of GET DOWN’s series Protecting Our Boys, we take a specific look at male child sexual abuse (CSA) and the myths, stigma and facts.  Is male CSA under reported, if so, why don’t more young males come forward? Does male CSA often end up the punch line in popular culture? Does society play a role in stigmatizing a young man who comes forward?  Take a read.

In this day and age we find that evolution is taking place in dramatic ways.  Many taboo subjects around sexuality, sexualization, and sexual behavior are finally being had.  Many things that have been lurking in the shadows and hidden in the deep forest of many a people minds are now coming into the light.  With the late 2010 admission by movie titan Tyler Perry of his childhood sexual and physical abuse on The Oprah Winfrey Show and a much discussed special show followed with an audience of 200 male survivors of abuse and the recent spate of brutal accusations from many alleged victims of Penn State’s Jerry Sandusky and Syracuse basketball coach Bernie Fine, male childhood sexual abuse is beginning to take front and center.  Many young men are being abused in churches, synagogues, youth programs, sports teams, and even at home.  In fact the latest statistic estimates 1 in 6 young males have been sexually abused in the United States as of 2005.  This is a shock to many as the focus has generally been placed on young girls.  Many individuals have also tried placing blame solely on and person’s sexual orientation as a way to consciously deal with the epidemic, and finally the effects of male sexual abuse can have a lasting debilitating effect on the victim.

Studies of male college students have found prevalence rates from 4.8% to 28%.  At the lower extreme of 4.8% is a study by Fritz, Stoll and Wagner (1981) in which 412 students responded to a self-report questionnaire that required them to label their experiences as "abusive" -- a method guaranteed to cause under-reporting.  Risin and Koss (1987) obtained a rate of 7.3% in a national sample of 2,972 male college students.  They used eight self-report behavioral descriptions about sexual behaviors before age 14.  As pure behavioral descriptions, none of the items included the word "abuse."  Finkelhor (1979) used a similar list of behavioral self-report items in a study of 266 college students and found an 8.3% prevalence rate; he included non-contact experiences and used specific age criteria (if under 14 there had to be a 5 year age difference with the perpetrator, if 14-15, a 10 year difference).  Needless to say these outcomes were a shock and very difficult for some people to accept.

The effects of male childhood sexual abuse can be lasting for the victims. The list of possible outcomes can include anger, fear, sexuality issues, helplessness, isolation alienation, legitimacy, loss, masculinity issues, negative childhood peer relations, negative schemas about people, negative schemas about the self, problems with sexuality, self blame/guilt, and shame/humiliation.  These feelings and emotions can lead to unhealthy behaviors including anxiety, depression, dissociation, hostility/anger, impaired relationships, low self-esteem, sexual dysfunction, sleep disturbance, suicidal ideas and behaviors.

There are several myths about male childhood sexual abuse that are prevalent (Pamphlet: CSA: The Facts).

Myth #1: Boys and men can’t be victims
This myth, instilled through masculine gender socialization and sometimes referred to as the "macho image," declares that males, even young boys, are not supposed to be victims or even vulnerable.

Myth #2: Most sexual abuse of boys is perpetrated by homosexual males
Peodphiles who molest boys are not expressing a homosexual orientation any more than pedophiles who molest girls are practicing heterosexual behaviors.  While many child molesters have gender and/or age preferences, of those who seek out boys, the vast majority are not homosexual.  They are pedophiles.

Myth #3: If a boy experiences sexual arousal or orgasm from abuse, this means he was a willing participant or enjoyed it
In reality, males can respond physically to stimulation (get an erection) even in traumatic or painful sexual situations.  Many survivors feel guilt and shame because they experienced physical arousal while being abused.  Physical (and visual or auditory) stimulation is likely to happen in a sexual situation.  It does not mean that the child wanted the experience or understood what it meant at the time.

Myth #4: Boys are less traumatized by the abuse experience than girls
Some studies have found males to be less negatively affected, more studies show that long term effects are quite damaging for either sex.  Males may be more damaged by society's refusal or reluctance to accept their victimization, and by their resultant belief that they must "tough it out" in silence.

Myth #5: Boys abused by males are or will become homosexual
While there are different theories about how the sexual orientation develops, experts in the human sexuality field do not believe that premature sexual experiences play a significant role in late adolescent or adult sexual orientation.

Myth #6: The "Vampire Syndrome" that is, boys who are sexually abused, like the victims of Count Dracula, go on to "bite" or sexually abuse others.
This myth is especially dangerous because it can create a terrible stigma for the child, that he is destined to become an offender.  Boys might be treated as potential perpetrators rather than victims who need help.  While it is true that most perpetrators have histories of sexual abuse, it is NOT true that most victims go on to become perpetrators.  Again, the majority of victims do not go on to become adolescent or adult perpetrators; and those who do perpetrate in adolescence usually don't perpetrate as adults if they get help when they are young.

Myth #7: If the perpetrator is female, the boy or adolescent should consider himself fortunate to have been initiated into heterosexual activity.

In reality, premature or coerced sex, whether by a mother, aunt, older sister, baby-sitter or other female in a position of power over a boy, causes confusion at best, and rage, depression or other problems in more negative circumstances.  To be used as a sexual object by a more powerful person, male or female, is always abusive and often damaging.

Above: Controversial Saturday Night Live skit based on Penn State and Syracuse sex abuse scandals.

Believing these myths is dangerous and damaging.

So long as society believes these myths, and teaches them to children from their earliest years, sexually abused males will be unlikely to get the recognition and help they need.

So long as society believes these myths, sexually abused males will be more likely join the minority of survivors who perpetuate this suffering by abusing others.

So long as boys or men who have been sexually abused believe these myths, they will feel ashamed and angry.

And so long as abused males believe these myths they reinforce the power of another devastating myth that all abused children struggle with: that it was their fault. It is never the fault of the child in a sexual situation - though perpetrators can be quite skilled at getting their victims to believe these myths and take on responsibility that is always and only their own.

-- J. Marshall Evans, AASECT, ACS, CHS
STAR Project Coordinator


(n.d.). Pamphlet: CSA: The Facts .

Monday, December 12, 2011

Sex Education in Philadelphia Schools: An Ounce of Prevention

Every so often, along the brick pathways that go through the University of Pennsylvania campus, there are stone panels with quotes from Benjamin Franklin etched into them.  Every Tuesday, on my way to statistics class, I pass one that reads, “An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure.”  This idea is very important to the HIV/AIDS situation, especially here in Philadelphia.

Philadelphia’s HIV infection rate is five times the national average, affecting 1.3% of the population.[i]  Young adults are the most at risk of contracting Sexually Transmitted Infections (STIs) in general, and for HIV in particular, infections have increased by 40% over the last three years.[ii]  According to the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, almost 18% of reported AIDS cases in the United States are people ages 20-29.  Because AIDS usually takes 10 years to develop after HIV infection, these young adults probably contracted the virus as teenagers.

Psychologists believe that the part of the brain responsible for evaluating long-term consequences is still immature during adolescence.[iii]  For this reason, teens often engage in risky behaviors such as becoming sexually active at an early age, using drugs, not using protection, or having sex with multiple partners,[iv] all of which make HIV infection more likely.

If you are a teenager living in the Philadelphia area, you face a major challenge in getting information and skills useful for prevention.  In Pennsylvania public schools, sexual health is rarely taught until high school, at which point you or your peers may already be sexually active; a 2009 survey from the CDC found that 15% of Philadelphia teens lose their virginity before age 13.[i] 

Public schools in Pennsylvania are required to teach STI and HIV transmission, but not as part of a comprehensive sex education curriculum.[ii]  Last year, the Healthy Youth Act (HB 1163), which would have made schools offer age-appropriate sex ed,  covering both abstinence and contraception, failed to pass.[iii]  Instead, individual districts are left to decide whether sex ed will be offered and what will be included in the curriculum.[iv] 

Many of the health classes that are taught are not very practical.  The trend seems to be focusing on anatomy and physiology rather than real-life applications and decision-making.  As Brenda Green, executive director of Concern for Health Options: Information, Care, and Education (CHOICE) said in a Philadelphia City Paper article, “When you’re 15 and someone is pressuring you into something you may not want to do, knowing what your fallopian tubes are won’t help.”

Some community-based programs have arisen to (partially) make up for these shortcomings. CHOICE is based in Philadelphia and provides services throughout Pennsylvania.  The organization teaches sexual health through formal presentations, local events and community outreach. They also operate a hotline where teens can call in with any questions about health, relationships, or related subjects [v] Another movement called Take Control Philly, which offers STI testing at health centers and allows teens ages 13-19 to pick up or order free condoms.[vi]

Factors other than education influence adolescent sexual behavior.  Some things that predict less sexual risk-taking are close relationships with parents, strong religious affiliations, and involvement in school and community activities.  On the other hand, riskier sexual behavior corresponds to sexually irresponsible parents, sexually active friends and peers, romantic relationships (particularly with older partners), alcohol and drug use, and gang involvement.[vii]

Ultimately, however, sexual responsibility is an individual choice.  Teens, your parents may not have been great role models to you.  Your school may not have educated you properly.  Your friends may be pressuring you.  But you still have the power to do what is right for you.  Becoming sexually active is a big decision that you shouldn’t rush into or make for the wrong reasons.  If you are sexually active, HIV (as well as pregnancy, and other STIs) can happen to you.  If you use protection consistently, the risk of HIV can be reduced by 80%.[viii]  You should know your partner, your partner’s sexual history, and you should both get tested for HIV.  Make sure your partner is someone you trust to tell you the truth and to support you if the worst should happen.  Respect yourself, protect yourself, and remember the words of Ben Franklin: “An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure.” 

For more advice on dealing with peer pressure and sex, go here: http://kidshealth.org/teen/sexual_health/girls/virginity.html?tracking=T_RelatedArticle

For more information on your body, sexual health, and relationships, check out http://www.choiceteens.org/ or call 1-800-84-TEENS

To find an HIV Testing Site near you, follow this link: http://www.hivtest.org/

--Melanie Pino-Elliott
GET DOWN Youth Blogger

[i] Daniel Denvir, 2011.  Avoiding the Subject: Philadelphia Schools are Failing When It Come to Sex Education. http://www.citypaper.net/news/2011-10-20-philadelphia-schools-sex-education.html
[ii] Christina Long, 2011.  Urgent Need for Sex Education in Philly Schools. http://www.thenotebook.org/blog/113578/urgent-need-sex-education-philly-schools
[iii] Brian Wallace, 2010.  Bill Would Require Sex-Ed Classes in Public Schools. http://lancasteronline.com/article/local/253048_Bill-would-require-sex-ed-classes-in-public-schools.html
[iv] Christina Long, 2011.
[v] http://www.choiceteens.org/
[vi] http://www.takecontrolphilly.org/
[vii] Douglas Kiry & Gina Lepore, 2007.  Sexual Risk and Protective Factors. http://www.etr.org/recapp/documents/theories/RiskProtectiveFactors200712.pdf
[viii] World Health Organization, 2011.  Condom Effectiveness in Reducing Heterosexual HIV Transmission. http://apps.who.int/rhl/hiv_aids/dwcom/en/index.html

[i] Nick Powell, 2010.  City Council Tackles HIV/AIDS epidemic in Philly. http://blogs.philadelphiaweekly.com/phillynow/2010/10/27/city-council-tackles-hivaids-epidemic-in-philly/
[ii] WHYY Radion, 2011. http://whyy.org/cms/radiotimes/2011/04/12/11025/
[iii] Salynn Boyles, 2007.  Teens Are Hard-Wired for Risky Behavior. http://www.webmd.com/parenting/news/20070413/teens-are-hardwired-for-risky-behavior
[iv] American Academy of Child & Adolescent Psychiatry, 2004.  Children, Adolescents, and HIV/AIDS. http://www.aacap.org/cs/root/facts_for_families/children_adolescents_and_hiv/aids

Saturday, December 10, 2011

Human Rights Day 2011 & Erasing Stigma

Today, Saturday, December 10th, is Human Rights Day.  On this day, the world pays tribute to human rights defenders and dedicates time to collective change and protest.  The advocacy for a 100% AIDS free generation, overall sexual health, and female reproductive rights globally must be linked in the collective conscious as a Human Right in order to cause a paradigm shift in erasing hate, sexism, xenophobia, transphobia and homophobia. 

Speaking in Geneva for International Human Rights Day, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton reminded the audience that the original December 10, 1948 universal declaration for human rights adopted by the United Nations General Assembly clearly and simply stated that “all human beings are born free and equal with dignity and rights” and that as humans, we had rights by birth.  Over the years these rights have come to include, the well-known struggle for civil rights of African Americans in the U.S., the right to housing, an adequate standard of living, right to health, the right to protection from discrimination on grounds such as physical or mental disability, gender, religion, race, national origin, age, sexual discrimination, or gender identity. 

Sounds awesome, except that it is a fact that over 50 years since the Declaration was signed, there are still gaps in equality in every one of these areas.  The GET DOWN campaign is very concerned about human rights, especially as it relates to stigma and the spread of HIV.  In November, GET DOWN youth blogger Melani Pino-Elliott touched on the sexual rights of women globally (http://getdownpsa.blogspot.com/2011/11/dangerous-liaison-antifeminist-culture.html), and how sexual violence is used a weapon of war in many countries, and as an abuse of power here in the United States.  As Pino’s blog illustrates, although there needs to be more research in order to track the number of HIV infections due to sexual violence in the U.S., in sub-saharan Africa and other parts of the world, there is a direct correlation.  With respect to sexual identity, there is still much work to be done in order to erase the kind of homophobia that would cause teens and adolescents to bully their peers who they suspect of being gay so much so that the only solution the bullied youth can think of is to take their own life. 

While progress is being made in the U.S. in the area of gay marriage, in other countries, not so much.  Take Uganda, for example, where disclosure of sexual identity may often than not lead to death.   The Ugandan Anti-Homosexuality Bill is a legislative proposal what would outlaw homosexuality and make homosexual behavior punishable by imprisonment or death.  Ironically, an ardent supporter of the so-called “Kill The Gays” Bill is American evangelist and “hate exporter” Lou Engle, now in Uganda fanning the flames of homophobia and helping maintain a climate where in Fall 2010, a Ugandan newspaper Rolling Stone (no relation to its U.S. namesake), ran the photo of LGBT activist David Kato on its cover with the headlines “Hang Them”, “We Shall Recruit 100,000 kids by 2012” and “Homos Raid Schools”.  Kato was later found beaten to death.  In 2010, President Obama’s criticism of the Ugandan bill was “met with a strong rebuttal from Ugandan Christian minister Martin Ssempa” according to Accuracy In Media (aim.org).  The article goes onto to say that “Ssempa, a major player in the country’s successful anti-AIDS program, says that Obama has an ‘obsession with the spread of sodomy in Africa’.  Ssempa and other pastors have formed a National Pastors Task Force that urges abstinence and monogamy as measures to decrease HIV infections and rally against homosexuality with archaic mistruth such as “homosexuality and bisexuality are associated with serious, yet preventable public-health risks”.  Hello. This is 2011, not 1981. As widely reported by Avert and other organizations, “Sub-Saharan Africa is one region of the world where the majority of HIV transmission occurs during heterosexual contact.”

Now Nigeria is introducing a similar anti-gay bill.  According to Forbes.com, the Nigerian Anti-Gay Bill will prohibit same-sex romantic liaisons and dole out 10-14 year jail sentences.  President Obama has threatened to cut off foreign aid to Nigeria if the bill is passed and, according to Forbes.com, “that the fight against gay and lesbian discrimination would be a central point of U.S. foreign policy, and transgressing nations like Nigeria could be denied aid”.  On Monday, Ifeanyi Orazulike and other Nigerian activists are speaking out at the UN against this bill.

Today is Human Rights Day 2011.  The first step in advocating for increased sexual health and stomping out the HIV pandemic, is shifting perceptions, mindsets, and create more tolerance and then acceptance.  If you do nothing else, begin the education process with yourself and then share what you’ve learned with someone else.  I just did.

To Sign The Anti-Nigerian Petition: http://www.allout.org/en/actions/nigeria

For more information on:

Nigerian Anti-Gay Bill

Ugandan Gay Rights

Sexual Violence Against Women and HIV

Human Rights

Read.  Share.  Discuss.  Educate.

--Kim J. Ford
GET DOWN Creator/Executive Producer

Wednesday, December 7, 2011

Protecting Our Boys: Break The Silence, Educate The Community

At GET DOWN, where we seek to empower youths with information to enable them to make better decisions about their sexual behavior, it begs the question:  What if the power to make decisions about their own bodies is taken away?  And, by an adult authority figure who they trust no less?  What then?  In a series of blogs, we will take a closer look at the recent spate of scandals and the deeper issue of protecting our boys. 

In the past year, the Bishop Eddie Long lawsuits, Penn State’s Sandusky, Syracuse’s Assistant Men’s Basketball Coach Fine and the long ago hushed up Boston Red Sox Fitzpatrick sex abuse scandal all captured the headlines.  The same issues have put the Catholic church under the microscope for years.  Enough!  As a father of two young boys, it’s my job to protect them, sometimes from the same authority figures I’ve entrusted their safety to, even if for a few hours a day.

Jerry Sandusky, a retired defensive coordinator for Penn State’s Division I college football program, was recently indicted by a grand jury of on 40 counts of sex crimes against young boys.  This on the heels of a three-year investigation that alleges Sandusky used his Second Mile youth charity as a means of finding future victims.  Two witnesses, including now assistant coach Mike McQueary (put on administrative leave), stated that he witnessed an abusive incidents, where Sandusky was allegedly raping a boy on the property of Penn State.  To me, Sandusky misused his influence, power & authority to sexually abuse and prey on several young boys.  The amount of people impacted by his abuse of power and his unhealthy behaviors is proof enough that there was and is a serious problem —that a number of people who worked with him and were in authority to make some real changes and protect the innocent failed to do so.

As a clinical professional it's my job to develop healthy and productive relationships, inform students and adult educators, and be an advocate and ready to listen and help when needed.  It is often difficult for young people to come forward and or to be believed, especially males.  When a victim feels safe and secure to share the problem then they will.  I tell students and staff a like that the problem can get solved in the healthiest least harmful way when the victim of the abuse, crime, violence feels safe enough to tell people he/she trusts.  The earlier, the better.  

So what can we do as a community?  In my professional experience as a social worker, first the victim is supported and encouraged to take their power back from the perpetrator and reduce emotional, mental, and physical harm to him or herself.  Second, the community needs to be proactive and have resources and education about abuse of power built into every educational setting at both the parental level and that of youths.  Third, teach young people not to keep it a secret.  Telling a third party in a position to help.  Empower them with information on where to go and who to call. There are organizations like Joe Torre Safe-At-Home Foundation, Safe Horizon and others.  When a perpetrator commits abuse, he or she (and sometimes more than one person) is abusing their power and is using unhealthy control over you.  By keeping what happened a secret it makes it easier for them to do it again to you and or others. By communicating right away you can help yourself be safe and you can help them stop being unhealthy & abusive.

There are a few ways to communicate what’s going on with a young person.  They are writing, talking and if the age of the victim deems appropriate, drawing.  Here are some questions that are typically asked and points shared by an expert in sexual abuse cases:
Was this the first time you are touched in an uncomfortable, intimate, or sexual way?  When you feel uncomfortable about your relationship with an adult or older person please let them know right away you do not want to participate.  Second, by all means if you feel uncomfortable don't go or be near them.  Don't be left alone with this person ever.  You have to tell someone.
Write down or document when the problem started or when it happened.  Do that right away.  If there's any talk using technology (chat rooms, social networks, cell phone records, emails, text messages), that could be evidence or proof of he/she preying on, keep it.  This can be strong proof and it will help the person or organization who is a position to help know the details of the problem.
Are you having confusing feelings about an uncomfortable experience and are not sure if you are being preyed on?  If you are having confusing feelings, and are not sure if someone is being inappropriate, talk to someone who is an expert on it.  Ensure that is someone neutral and the discussion should happen within a safe, professional environment.

What is a “Neutral” person?  Someone who is trained to hear what you are saying without any bias.  This person is an advocate for you.  This advocate can help you talk to your parents and get the help you need.  It can be difficult for parents to hear this; especially if it is someone they know or a member of the family.  This is why a neutral trained person is the best help. 
Can you speak with a doctor or nurse first?  When you are sick you go to the doctor or the nurse, right? Ask that person what resources they have.  They can help refer to to the right person or organization that can help.

What can parents do?  Our job is to learn about the world we live in and help empower them to get through the good, the bad, and the ugly.  The more we are informed the more they are.  The truth can be difficult, especially if the abuse exists within one’s own family.  Sometimes a neutral party or person can help advocate for you and your child.  Parents and guardians needed a support system also.  If you are the parent of am abuse victim, there are resources for you also.

Even a strong bond of trust between you and your child can be broken when a crisis or trauma happens so seek a support system, group or form of therapy that works best for you.  Being strong requires getting through it to survive instead of being the victim.  Breaking the code of silence that protects abuse of power or evil is good and right.  Breaking the code of silence requires brave and wise people who want safety for all! 

Abuse of power and unhealthy behaviors is part of the human experience it won't be solved or changed until we all get informed and get educated and become pro-active and healthier. 

I recommend the following websites for more info:


--Amir Thornell
GET DOWN Blogger, Parent and Life Student
MSW at Joe Torre Safe at Home Foundation & WJCS

Photo: bee-media.blogspot.com