Chris Anderson explains that when the media frames male victims of sexual abuse as “lovers”, the world becomes a less safe place for children.
When is abuse not abuse?
“Whether or not it seems fair, when adults and children have unforced sex, the child is always the victim.”
(from Child Molesters: A Behavioral Analysis, P. 6)
This is a quote from Kenneth Lanning, a retired FBI special agent whose area of expertise was the investigation of child sexual abuse. One of the very important things to note about this statement is that it is gender neutral.
In much of the reporting on sexual abuse or coercion involving male students and female teachers there is a glaring problem. The victimization of males is very often written about in terms that minimize and normalize the incident while downplaying the potential criminality of the perpetrator.
We are finally starting to see data that challenges the dominant paradigm that men are not victims, or are at best a trifling minority of the victims of sexual violence. According to UK stats about 40% of domestic violence victims are male. According to research from Lara Stemple at UCLA law, in 2010 through 2012 criminal justice statistics shows that males and females experienced sexual violence at roughly equal numbers). And even more recent research from an American Psychological Association published study reported that 43% of young males said they were sexual coerced, identifying females as the coercers over 90% of the time.
But on a recent episode of Real Time, Bill Maher went on a tirade about this last study. Instead of making any statement acknowledging that males can, in fact, be sexually victimized, he joked about the 43% as suffering from “Lucky Bastard Syndrome” As a result, the message many took away from the skit is that if any man ever claims he was sexual violated by a women, then he must be lying and should be mocked, scorned, and humiliated.
While much of the coverage of female teacher/male student scandals is not that egregious, it still upholds the principle that a male who is sexually abused is somehow less of a victim that a female. In a brief survey of news items from one 24 hour period, 3 stories came up referencing the abuse of male students by female teachers.
It was later taken down, and an apology tweet was issued.
The next day, the Daily News in New York managed to have a double dose of demeaning language. In Utah, the case of another female teacher who stands accused of sexually abusing a male student was reported on as a “relationship” between the accused and the alleged victim. While another story about a teacher accused of abusing 2 male students from was reported this way:
A Queens gym teacher accused of a year-long tryst with a teen student wrestler also bedded a second student, sources said Tuesday.
Hours after Joy Morsi, 39, of Massapequa, L.I., pleaded not guilty to charges of raping the Grover Cleveland High School student when he was 16, two sources confirmed to the Daily News that additional charges were expected after a second student lover came forward
Abuse is abuse. It is not a “relationship”, a “tryst”, there is a perpetrator and a victim. Again, whether or not it seems fair, when a child – and yes a teenager in high school is still developmentally and legally a child – has unforced sex with an adult, the child is always the victim. While it may be true that not all males who have these experiences are scarred or severely harmed, many are.
As it stands today when male students are sexually abused, more likely than not they can expect to be referred to as lovers, not victims. This double standard makes it tremendously harder to hold accountable teachers who break the bonds of trust given them by parents, and it makes it far harder for many of the young men who have been abused to get the help that they need.
Lead photo: Flickr/Paul Reynolds