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Updated: November 18, 2013 16:12 IST

Let the change start at home

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Education plays a key role in achieving gender equality and preventing crime against kids. Photo: K.R. Deepak
The Hindu
Education plays a key role in achieving gender equality and preventing crime against kids. Photo: K.R. Deepak

Most of our efforts to prevent sexual crimes seem to be centred around girls, but do we consider that boys too need guidance and help, asks Hema Vijay

The gruesome Delhi rape and that of the Mumbai photojournalist involved juvenile sexual assaulters, but these cases are just the tip of the iceberg. A spate of sexual crimes by juveniles is being reported these days. It leaves us horrified, and we wonder what is wrong with our boys. Of course, sexual crimes are horrific and the perpetrators deserve punitive action. But shouldn’t we also pause to think that something must be very wrong with our society and the way we are bringing up our boys, which is perhaps why many are committing sexual crimes at a very young age?

Sense of ‘male entitlement'

Our society brings up boys with very little to change their archaic and patriarchal values. It all begins at home, for instance, with something as innocuous as when the females in the family are relegated to serving food and clearing the table and the males never pitching in; when we perpetuate a social system where the wives remain servile and the husbands are the decision-makers, and where domestic violence is common — be it verbal, physical or economical.

Such domination by men is seen in mass culture too, and is epitomised by the ‘heroes’ in our films who stalk girls and bully them into capitulation. Rather than being sent to jail, these heroes are rewarded by ‘romance and sexual gratification’. There is also a ‘rape culture’ that cracks jokes about rape and treats it lightly. All this insidiously breeds a sense of ‘entitlement’ in boys that makes them feel that if they want sex, they can have it, regardless of the girl’s consent.

A recent UN study conducted in Asia and the Pacific by Partners for Prevention discovered that a whopping 70-80 per cent of males attributed the feeling of ‘sexual entitlement’ as the reason for committing rape, followed by ‘for fun’ or due to ‘boredom’, and then followed by ‘anger’ or ‘as a punishment’. Half of the men who admitted to rape said they had committed their first rape as teenagers. The study also found that childhood abuse, humiliation, and neglect strongly correlated to a male committing rape; and that boys who witness domestic violence are at greater risk of becoming sexual offenders.

“Juvenile sex crimes can’t be prevented by addressing the individual alone. Families, institutions, and society have to proactively promote gender-equality and healthy masculinity,” says Vidya Reddy, Tulir - Center for the Prevention and Healing of Child Sexual Abuse. So, it all boils down to this. How do we bring up our boys?

Bringing up boys

While we do talk to girls about handling puberty and sexual safety, boys are left to cope with puberty on their own. Remember, puberty is the time when hormones are more than active, sexuality is at a peak, and boys require attention and guidance. Add to this the highly sexualised world we live in now, from item numbers in movies to titillating female cheerleaders at stadiums, sexually vivid images in the mass media, besides pornography on the Internet.

Moreover, with women now coming into their own now, men are in a dilemma. “We have begun to work with girls to empower them, but no effort is spent on boys to help them reconcile with this equality status. We encourage girls to get jobs, but we don’t teach boys that they need to share in housekeeping,” remarks Dr. Lois J. Engelbrecht, founder, Center for the Prevention and Treatment of Child Sexual Abuse, that works with juveniles in India, the Philippines, Malaysia, China, Saudi Arabia and Vietnam. Dr. Lois adds, “We don’t let our boys cry, express vulnerability or feelings, and expect them to act like tough ‘men’. This adds to the pressure on boys,” Vidya points out, “Most parents are not around to spend time with their boys, and the counselling given to them, if any, revolves around academic performance, because they are not comfortable about discussing sexuality.”

Dos and Don'ts

- So far, our approach to handling sexual violence revolves around protection for girls from becoming victims, but does nothing to prevent boys from becoming perpetrators of sexual violence. But our boys need attention too.

- Parents should proactively teach boys to respect privacy and boundaries, rules of behaviour, and to reconcile themselves to a ‘No’ when it comes.

- Youngsters should be taught about upholding ethics when it comes to romance and sexual gratification.

- When sexist/chauvinistic information is beamed on the newspaper/television, parents should use this teachable moment and voice the right message, rather than just switching channels.

- Parents should be role models in instilling gender equality by their own behaviour at home.

- Fathers must be role models as caring and respectful males and instil a sense of healthy masculinity in their male children.

- Parents should discuss and help adolescent boys in handling psychosocial changes that accompany puberty.

- Schools should hold workshops/forums for boys on accepting gender equality, understanding their evolving sexuality and healthy masculinity, and on consent and respect in relationships.

- Mass media, the film industry in particular, must desist from propagating male-entitlement notions.

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