When Mixo* was a boy growing up in Limpopo, a woman who lived in a nearby hut would call one of the boys playing outside to come and see her. The first time she called him, she asked the boy to take off his pants. Afraid, he ran away. But after some of his friends came out boasting about having sex, he got curious. The next time she called, he also had sex. Mixo was 10-years-old at the time.
Now in his late 20s, Mixo says he could not even have imagined telling anyone. At the time, he thought that was how things were suppose to be, and did not see anything wrong with it. For the boys, it was an opportunity to boast to each other about their “manhood” capabilities.
According to Mashilo Mnisi, chairperson for Moshate, an organisation working against abuse of boys and men, in some cases, but not all, while boys may see early sex with an older woman as an opportunity to boast, the violation physical and mental health risks.
“I was listening to Zakes Mda on the radio one day, and he came forward to say that when he was still a young boy, he used to be sexually abused by the nanny at home,” says Mnisi. “He would go to his peers and boast about what was happening with the nanny.”
Yet, as Mnisi points out, it is later in life that problems may occur. In his book Memoirs of an Outsider, and in interviews with researchers and journalists, Mda candidly recounts the abuse, citing it as the cause of sexual dysfunction into adulthood, which he also blames for the breakdown of his marriage.
Growing recognition of the need to better understand the extent of abuse boys experience has prompted research in recent years. This past May, a study conducted by Southern Africa Research Capacity Development in Zimbabwe found that 7.2% of pupils in five provinces responded that they had had sex with a teacher for favours; what surprised researchers was the growing number of boys reporting abuse by female teachers. Outside of school 16.2% of the respondents reported being victims of sexual abuse, boys included.
This echoes research conducted in 2008, which found that in Zimbabwe women bore half the responsibility in the 30% of young boys reporting sexual violence. In addition, in the Eastern Cape, South Africa, 12% of men reported coercion into sex by a woman.
While male against female violence is more common, it is important to recognise that a significant proportion of males, especially boys, also face sexual violence. Boys and men are also even less likely than females to report their experience of sexual assault, because of prejudices regarding male sexuality, guilt, fear, and shame. Parents may also not discover the assault very easily, since there is a lower chance of physical injury taking place, which is often what parents of girl children notice.
As with girls, stigma and silence prevents boys from seeking health services when needed. In October 2010, police arrested a 32-year old woman in a village near KwaMhlanga, Mpumalanga for allegedly raping a 14-year-old boy. The abuse became known after the boy resorted to house breaking to get money to pay for medical treatment for a sexually transmitted infection.
Perhaps the most notorious cases of male rape has occurred recently in Zimbabwe with newspapers widely publicizing a spate of women accused of kidnapping, drugging and raping males in different areas of the country. The first attack happened last November when three women kidnapped an 18-year-old man. In February this year, a group of four women forced a 25-year-old man to have sex with them at gunpoint. Recent court proceeding and newspaper reports suggest the rapes were part of some sort of ritualistic practices.
Yet, under Zimbabwean law, the charge of rape only applies to women victims. The courts are charging the accused women with aggravated indecent assault. What does this signal to our society though? Are we not exacerbating gender stereotypes that men are strong, therefore can never fall victims to sexual abuse at the hands of women? And perhaps also suggesting that this kind of sexual violence is less important.
Along with health and emotional risks, sexual abuse in a boy’s early life can distort perceptions in terms of sexual violence, affecting future relationships. Much research has linked boyhood child abuse with later domestic abuse of female partners.
Mnisi believes awareness is the only solution. “It is important to engage the community, for example we do workshops with communities, where we educate young men people about abuse,” explains Mnisi.
During Sixteen Days of Activism, it’s important to remember that gender is about both female and male, though male survivors tend to be ignored. There is a need to seek out and amplify the voices of boy and man survivors of sexual violence, and to be sure that services and support are available.
Mandla Masingi is a freelance journalist based in Johannesburg, South Africa. This article is part of the GL Opinion and Commentary Service series for the 16 Days of Activism.