Tola Ogunwuyi* hardly talks about his sexual abuse experience as a child. The few times he has, people raised eyebrows in disbelief and asked him several questions. The most rampant, he told HumAngle, is “how can men and boys be raped?”
The question rings whenever he thinks about his experience and has made it difficult for him to seek help. According to him, he lives in a traumatic loop; low self esteem and haunting memories are tied to his life because his story is mostly received as a joke.
Tola told HumAngle that his abuse started when he was 11 years old, by a neighbour who was a single mother. His mother would leave him with her when she went to the market. Soon, she began to touch him inappropriately and asked him if he felt excited about it. She would then buy him snacks and gifts, making him promise not to tell anyone. The abuse continued till he was 13 years old.
Tola, now 34 and unmarried, said his romantic attractions took a different turn since then and he has found himself looking for the qualities of the abuser in women he dates. He added that he has studied and prayed to “correct this defect.” He vows to be as protective of his male children as he would be of his female children.
“If I notice that my wife gives less attention to my male child compared to the female, it could lead to our divorce if she does not change. I cannot imagine my boy going through the same inability to speak out against the damage done to him unknowingly because he is brought up under the illusion that only girls can talk about these things,” Tola said.
Sexual abuse on male children has been found to have lasting and profound effects on the abused child throughout his life.
A total of 40 male rape victims were asked to provide details of their assaults, levels of psychological disturbance, long-term effects, and reporting issues. Results revealed that most assaults had been carried out using physical or violent force, under different circumstances.
All the victims reported some form of psychological disturbance as a result of being abused. Some of them include; anxiety, depression, increased feelings of anger and vulnerability, loss of self-image, emotional distancing, self-blame, and self-harming behaviors.
The Nigerian law on rape is vague on several terms and its wordings have proven problematic for male and female victims although punishment for rape is 14 years imprisonment. Both the Criminal Code Act and Penal Code Act frame rape as a crime that can only be committed against girls/women.
Although the Violence Against Persons Protection Act (VAPPA) has some alterations, it is not adopted across the country.
Apart from being molested as children, some men who spoke with HumAngle said they had been abused as adults but have been too ashamed to report it.
“It becomes more annoying when you are being sexually harassed as a man or assaulted by a woman, and the only option you have is to just watch or find an escape route. It is a sad reality, Some people believe that men should enjoy the harassment and consent for men is not heavily discussed. Consent should be priority for both parties,” Desmond Agu* an abuse victim said.
Although both the Convention on the rights of a child at the International level, and child rights act at the national level, make provisions for the protection of the child irrespective of gender against sexual assault of any kind with imprisonment term of 14 years, male victims like Desmond believe the laws are limited and do not make it easy to report assualts and sexual abuses of all kinds.
As Desmond shared his story with HumAngle, his eyes became wet with tears and he noted the shame he felt for a while afterwards. According to him, his case was worse because he was an adult. His assault happened when he was 24.
Like Desmond, Frank Awele* said he felt shocked and deflated when a woman groped him in a moving bus in Lagos.
“Yes, I was harassed as an adult. On a bus. A woman groped me while we were in a BRT. I tried to move away but she persisted,” he said.
Awele told HumAngle that he feels the abuse stories of men are not properly reported in the media, adding that abuse affects both genders and abuse across board should be brought to book.
“The moment you try to speak up as a man, you are ridiculed. Society has a huge role to play. It is societal perception that shapes how we view things in smaller units and as individuals. You see an African boy and you automatically think of strength and independence. Which is why most people say they want boys because they are low maintenance.”
“You can just leave your boys and they will be fine. They get injured? They will heal. After all, boys will be boys and boys are strong. And that grows up with these kids. It grows up with all of us.”
“So when and if you as a male do get harassed and you look to seek help, the automatic look is ‘how could you let it happen. Are you not a man?’ Or ‘even if you let it happen, you’re a man. Get over it’,” Awele said.
He called for proactive steps through individual re-orientation and teaching boys and girls the importance of consent. He stressed that it has to be done from the grassroots.
*Names have been changed to protect respondents’ identities.