So often in our discussions we talk about girls that have been sexually abused. Today at the Chab Dai Coalition member meetings, I had the opportunity to sit in on a session for sexually abused boys. We at Ratanak have had the privilege of partnering with Hagar to set up one of the first foster care homes for boys in Cambodia so for me, today's session provided some more insights into ministering to boys who have been sexually abused. There were 4 NGOs who are involved in different aspects of this ministry---one targeting boys in massage parlors, another organization focusing on boys on the street who are at risk or have been sexually abused, then their was a presenter who was speaking about lady boys and finally another organization that is focused on providing a variety off social services to help male survivors of sexual abuse.
There are several myths over here regarding sexual abuse of boys. One of them is that it actually doesn't happen that much here. According to one of the organizations that was presenting today, research in Cambodia and other places in the world suggest that at least one in six boys and men will have experienced some form of sexual abuse in their lives (16.5%). It may even be higher. In Cambodia, it is believed that most of the abuse is done by foreigners. This is false. While there are some foreigners who abuse boys and travel here with that intention, the reality is that the abuser can be anyone ---including parents, family members, friends, neighbors and other people known to the boy and in positions of trust. This includes women and other young people. The research appears to indicate that Cambodians are responsible for most abuse of the children in this country and not the foreigners. Granted that the cases involving foreigners tend to be more visible as they are highlighted in the newspapers so it is easy to understand why people would conclude that foreigners are the main culprits.
Another myth over here is that it is not serious when a boy is abused, because he can recover quickly. Again the research indicates that Cambodian culture and social views that boys are strong, tough and not having virginity and a reputation to lose, leads many to believe that the the boy can recover fast. But this too is false. The Cambodian proverb that boys are 'pure gold' and do not lose value if they have sex or are abused perpetuates this false thinking because the reality is that boys are also human beings and can be physically and emotionally hurt just like anyone else. One of the common practices here is that the genitals of young boys, teenagers and even adult men are often touched and played with by their relatives. I asked one of the staff of our partner organizations why this is such an acceptable practice since it certainly is not done to girls. She said its simply a way of playing and having fun with the boys and is viewed as harmless. What I was surprised to learn is that this practice can happen between grown teenage boys and even uncles and their nephews. So you can only imagine the cultural challenges that NGOs face as they share in rural villages about inappropriate touching of boys as it pertains to sexual abuse. One Khmer participant who educates communities about this issue reported that he experienced animosity from the boys parents after this presentation was done in a village because the families do not see anything wrong with such behavior. It was after all part of their cultural practice. So it is quite an uphill battle for organizations who are seeking to educate communities on sexual abuse of boys for they have to navigate cultural values that seem contrary to what they are trying to promote.
Another myth is that it is easier for boys to talk about their sexual abuse because they are not shy like the girls. Again the research shows that most boys experience great shame and try and hide what happened to them. Most never talk about it because they know that they will not be believed but rather, they will be mocked and laughed at. In fact, we heard of a situation where a judge commented to a young boy that boys can't be raped. This kind of thinking unfortunately re-victimizes the boys and as a result, some times boys may joke about the abuse and act as if they don't care about it. Acting like this is a common way for a boy or man to cover up their true feelings. What the presenter noted was that many boys and young men often feel that they have to act tough or deny the seriousness of abuse as a way of coping with their stress.
As for the staff, many of them feel totally inadequate in helping the boys due to a lack of training and insufficient support services. As such, the staff often can feel isolated since they don't really know what to do. It is no wonder, that those who serve in this ministry can become so easily weighed down by these burdens. Someone said today that ''seeking justice and doing justice is a 24 hour job''----there is so much truth to that statement.
Despite all these challenges, it is encouraging to see that the Lord has raised up a few organizations here who are focusing more on helping the boys and providing the necessary care and support they need. Like many of the projects here, we are all learning as we go along. It is not easy trying to sort through cultural complexities, but despite all the obstacles, we take heart in knowing that He has not forgotten this often hidden and marginalized group and surely He will find a way to bring deep and lasting healing in the lives of these young boys so that they can discover their true value in Him. As I think of those who are ministering to the young boys it is Hebrews 6:10-12 that comes to mind: God is not unjust; he will not forget your work and the love you have shown him as you have helped his people and continue to help them. We want each of you to show this same diligence to the very end, so that what you hope for may be fully realized. We do not want you to become lazy, but to imitate those who through faith and patience inherit what has been promised. Indeed may they stay the course with committed faith despite the visible reality knowing that it is God who will equip them and give them all they need to fulfill His purposes in the lives of the boys.