Recent news headlines regarding the alleged sexual abuse of male pupils by a female teacher at a Cape Town-based school has once again reminded us that more needs to be done to educate our boys about consent, sexual harassment, assault and rape.
The allegations are currently being investigated and is one of many cases involving inappropriate student-teacher relationships.
In 2018, Dori Meyers, a public school teacher in New York, was arrested for performing oral sex on a 14-year-old boy on multiple occasions. While prosecutors pushed for no less than 2 years of jail time, Justice Michael Obus sentenced her to 10 years’ probation – that’s zero jail time – and the social sciences teacher managed to keep her licence.
If ever there was a gross miscarriage of justice, a 'slap on the wrist', this would be it. But what makes it even more distressing is that the victim was a minor.
Further, our now level-one sexual offender was a woman, and her student a boy – which, I believe, had much to do with the probation she got instead of the jail time she deserved.
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But why is that? Are we so completely focused on #menaretrash that we forget women commit crimes too? Because we’re so busy empowering our girls that we don’t consider it equally important to do the same for our boys? Have we, as socially aware as we've become as a society, forgotten what it means to fight for equality for all? Or is it simply because we assume men and boys don’t get sexually assaulted, abused and raped?
Boys in SA are at risk too
“In 2030, people living in South Africa feel safe at home, at school and at work, and they enjoy a community life free of fear, women walk freely in the streets and children play safely outside.”
These opening comments in Chapter 12 of the National Development Plan for 2030 mention feelings of safety and protection, especially for women and children.
The South African Police Service (SAPS) recently released their annual report of the crime situation in South Africa and revealed that the murder of women, specifically, has increased by 11%, while the murder of children has gone up, with 10,9% more girls being murdered and 20,4% more boys. Further to this, rape has also gone up by 8,2%, with an increase from 39 828 in 2016/2017 and 40 035 in 2017/2018.
While there are no specific statistics available to indicate how many children were raped over that period, earlier in the year a parliamentary reply indicated that, over a three-year period, children fell victim to 41% of all rape cases. And in 2017, activist Rees Mann told Radio 702 that, while more girls are raped than boys and 25% will be sexually abused by the time they turn 18, this compared to an estimated 17% of boys, highlighting that boys are at risk too.
The statistics are distressing. What doesn’t seem to make the headlines is that 17%. I think that has a lot to do with the fact that people don’t think men can be victims of sexual assault, and just as the reason male rape is rooted in toxic masculinity, so too is the reason these instances go unreported.
"Toxic masculinity" can be defined as the all-too-oppressive idea that to be a man one must be masculine in the most traditional, and often, exaggerated sense, and therefore embody supposedly masculine traits such as being strong, unemotional and aggressive – even sexually – which will in turn give them power over others.
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That being said, of course one can be masculine, even in the most traditional sense of the word, without being toxic.
Breaking the stigma
Over the past few years Terry Crews has become a household name after appearing in Brooklyn Nine-Nine and hilariously dancing to Vanessa Carlton’s A Thousand Miles in White Chicks. He also made audiences laugh in his role as a personal trainer in My Wife and Kids.
In the episode his commitment to being healthy and strong is everything. And it’s clearly a very big part of his real life too, if his build is anything to go by. So if you were to see him, as any other guy on the street, one would probably assume he’s the textbook example of a big, strong man. But that traditional definition of masculinity didn’t mean anything when he was sexually assaulted by a man in 2016.
The actor gave a detailed account of his experience before the Senate Judiciary Committee advocating for the right of victims of sexual abuse:
Crews elaborated on his experience, “The assault lasted only minutes, but what he was effectively telling me while he held my genitals in his hand, was that he held the power. That he was in control.”
He continued, “The first reaction was to be violent. And I immediately held back.”
“Why weren’t you?” asked a female senator and member on the board. “You’re a big, powerful man.”
He explained that as a black man in America, had he retaliated, he might have been the one to end up behind bars. His career might also have suffered, he said, before revealing his manager had actually been asked to drop his case so he could appear in the fourth installment of The Expendables – a film staring Sylvester Stallone, Jason Statham and other actors typecast to deliver explosions and testosterone.
My point: Whether you’re a woman or a “big, powerful man” called to duty, you’re at risk. Your sex and gender has nothing to do with whether you can or will be sexually assaulted – a rape by any other sex or gender, would still be as awful – a rape is a rape is a rape.
So although we often focus on empowering and protecting our girls from sexual assault by preaching that boys should respect women – and that isn’t to say they shouldn't, they absolutely should – we should also be teaching them to respect themselves.
With this whole idea of toxic masculinity, we've come to assume that real men don’t cry, they’re strong, tough and they can’t keep it in their pants, so when they get some, we high-five them instead of asking how they feel, if they’re okay – if they wanted it.
And we need to.
The Dori Meyers case indicates that we aren’t doing enough to protect our boys, the stats do too, and if we're ever going to be an equal society – a safe one where women can walk the streets and children can play outside – we need to advocate for the rights of both women and men, our girls and our boys.
Do you agree that we don't put enough effort into empowering and protecting our boys? Tell us by emailing firstname.lastname@example.org and we may publish your comments. Do let us know if you'd like to remain anonymous.
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