No one ever wants to talk about why so many of our men are broken…. because they have been tampered with…
It’s rare to hear or read about a discussion centered solely on the sexual abuse of Black boys. I’ve only seen this topic come up when women are interrupted while discussing the childhood sexual abuse of Black girls. That interruption only serves to derail the conversation entirely or, at best, feels like an inappropriate time to scream “this happens to boys, too.”
A discussion of this magnitude necessitates ample room for both parties to express themselves. There should be no desire to shout over the voices of sexual assault survivors in order to see its importance. It is hard to discuss and prevent child sexual abuse when interested parties focus their energy on the “oppression Olympics.”
With that said, numbers for Black boys who are victims or survivors of sexual abuse can be hard to come by. Robin D. Stone, author of No Secrets, No Lies: How Black Families Can Heal from Sexual Abuse, wrote one out of every six men report they were sexually abused as a child. Furthermore, about 14 percent of all child sexual assault victims were male, with 20 percent of that abuse coming at the hands of women. It’s even more frightening when one understands those numbers are unreliable because sexual assault crimes are underreported.
Stone’s book was released in 2004, but trying to find updated information has been a futile endeavor. There’s a website dedicated to the “one in six” statistic; however, the latest information listed is by the U.S. Center for Disease Control from 2005. In that study, the CDC claims 16 percent of males were sexually abused by the age of 18. But, that statistic still doesn’t touch specifically on the experience of Black boys.
Before I started this essay, I took the idea to my writer’s group to ask for help in locating resources to help with my research. The group, outside of conversations they’ve had with men they’ve known, came up blank. We were all caught off guard, however, when one of the members, who we’ll call Ron, said he’d been sexually assaulted at various points throughout his life, by his mother, aunt, and a teacher.
The abuse started when he was in eighth grade. Ron was in trouble for kissing a girl behind the bleachers at his middle school. When the school told his mother what he’d done, he figured he’d be disciplined within the normal means of a child’s infraction. Instead, he found himself in front of his mother. “She started to touch me…” Ron began, before he decided it was in both of our best interests to not relive the incident.
Unfortunately for him, things would only get worse when he told his middle school teacher. He reported what his mother did to him and instead of alerting the authorities, his History teacher also took advantage of him. According to Stone, this isn’t uncommon. In nearly 95 percent of all abuse cases, the offender is either a parental figure or someone who’s a close acquaintance of the child.
Despite what Ron went through, studies on sexual abuse of Black boys are next to nonexistent, which doesn’t surprise him at all. “Numbers will be very hard to find because men don’t report and even in surveys we often lie, unless very specific questions are asked,” he said. Questions like “What was your first sexual encounter like?” or “Have you ever had a sexual experience with an older woman?”
Dr. Richard B. Gartner’s article, “Talking About Sexually Abused Boys and the Men They Become,” offered credence to Ron’s assertion. Dr. Gartner cited “masculine gender expectations” which “teach boys they can’t be victims” as one of the main reasons the sexual assault of boys goes unreported. “Boys are supposed to be competitive, resilient, self-reliant, and independent, but certainly not emotionally needy,” he said. “‘Real’ men initiate sexual activity and want sex whenever it’s offered, especially by women. For many men, these qualities define masculinity.”
Edward Wyckoff Williams, writing for VICE, asserts the emotional and psychological toll on abuse victims makes it difficult for them to come forward. Williams covered the allegations Ronald Savage made regarding Afrika Bambaataa, a man many believe to be the Godfather of hip-hop. Savage, and later, three other men, accused Bambaataa of molesting them when they were children. He cited feelings like embarrassment and shame as the reason “It took me all these years to speak about this.”
Sexual abuse victims often experience these two emotions and many more. Unfortunately, those feelings persist because of our community’s penchant for turning a blind eye to what’s happening to our children. Child sexual abusers are protected by a veil of silence from family and friends. In some cases, people are more apt to blame the abused child than they are to hold the adult accountable.
In other cases, the abuser might be someone who holds some level of importance: a preacher at the local church; a breadwinner husband a family feels they can’t survive without; a close family member someone believes would never commit such a heinous act; or, someone feels ashamed because they might’ve suspected something but said and did nothing to “prevent” it from happening.
There are people in our families we readily identify or suspect shouldn’t be left with children, but fail to hold them accountable for their actions. Ron said he’d heard about this happening to others in his family and he knew other people were aware of what happened to him. They just never did anything about it.
Chris Rock captured this sentiment in his 1999 comedy special, Bigger & Blacker. In one joke, Rock discussed the benefits of having enough uncles to teach you everything you need to know about life. As he lamented about the “gay uncle,” the “stealing uncle,” the “alcoholic uncle,” he discussed the “molester uncle,” Uncle Johnny. Rock started the bit with an imaginary conversation of a mother openly wondering where the kids are. She freaked out when she discovered they were with Johnny.
The hypothetical mother in the joke blamed the kid for what happened. “That’s what you get. Hanging around [with] fucking Johnny. I told you about that shit. Now walk it off.” Rock’s bit was funny, but it’s worth wondering how many male sexual assault victims felt, or knew, they’d be met with a similar attitude if they spoke up.
Society is still a few light years behind on how to discuss sexual assault and that lack of understanding is never more prevalent than when this topic is on social media. On a number of occasions, I’ve seen this conversation end in disaster. Some Black men attempt to engage Black women on this topic from a place of understanding. Far more often, however, other people, from both genders, believe boys cannot be abused and or actively work to derail the conversation. With that said, there have been a few Black men in pop culture who’ve communicated their ideas on “having sex” as a child, albeit with very different vantage points.
In 2009, NPR recorded “Sexual Abuse Often Taboo For Black Boys” centered on a conversation Lil Wayne had on “Jimmy Kimmel Live.” The New Orleans rapper discussed the time he was 11 and “lost” his virginity to a 14-year-old girl. Weezy said he was in a room with her when she turned off the lights and “[I was] like what are you doing? I felt she was naked so I just stopped.” He admitted the experience affected him well into his adulthood.
In 2013, Chris Brown shared a story with Vibe about the time he “lost” his virginity. Brown said he was eight and the girl was around 15. “It’s different in the country,” said Brown. “Like, girls, we weren’t afraid to talk to them; I wasn’t afraid. So at eight, being able to do it, it kind of preps you for the long run, so you can be a beast at it.” The Virginia native’s description of his first sexual experience fits the textbook definition of abuse and yet, to him, it was something he felt prepared him for sexual situations in the future.
An unsettling thought in Brown’s case is even at the tender age of eight, he was encouraged to explore sexuality with someone nearly twice his age. It’s possible he only sees it in this light because society doesn’t give him room to view it any other way. Boys are supposed to have sex with girls and something as simple as an age difference between parties is overlooked. Unfortunately, the pressure from family members for Black boys to perform sexual acts doesn’t limit itself to older cousins. They occasionally include fathers as well.
Earlier this year, the internet was ablaze after rapper Lil Boosie promised his 14-year-old son “oral sex from a bad b*tch” because it was the teenager’s birthday. Fans defended the quote, saying it had something to do with his music. Boosie eventually said he was kidding, although it’s difficult to know whether his comments were because he knew he messed up or he was actually joking. He further explained on BET that because his son was a teenager, “If he wants to get some head from a girl, I’m cool with it.” It was an answer seemingly devoid of any awareness his statements on social media might’ve been a problem.
Had the Baton Rouge rapper not been joking, the potential damage inflicted on his son could’ve lasted well past his adolescence. For Ron, the effects of his abuse has affected him for decades. “It ruins a lot of shit,” he said. “I can’t tell you how many times I’ve been looked at funny by women because I don’t speak to my mom often or fuck with a lot of my family more than I have to.”
Ron’s traumatic experience gave him a “very weird view on sex” and shattered his ability to create romantic partnerships. It affected his view on his self-worth and self-value. It made him more sexually active and interested in kinks. “As men, we’re already taught we aren’t the prize in sexual interactions, even moreso once you’re abused. So, I kept looking for things that were sexually outside the norm,” he said.
In 1994, David Lisak published “The psychological Impact of Sexual Abuse: Content Analysis of Interviews with Male Survivors” to the Journal of Traumatic Stress. The article discussed a New England study comprised of 26 men who were abused as children. Common effects amongst that group were feelings of isolation, legitimacy (men who failed to admit they were abused), and issues of masculinity.
Lisak found boys who’ve been abused tend to take on hyper masculine traits in order to prove their manhood. They’re prone to unpredictable dispositions, much more expressive rage, and a profound sense of inferiority among their peers. Although there is no scientific causation, Lisak said boys who’ve been victimized have a higher chance of victimizing others. One interviewee took this case to the extreme.
An interview subject told the interviewer about the time he raped a woman. “She was definitely raped. She definitely did that much of the thing against her will with my will,” he said. The subject felt no remorse at the time of the incident, which occurred 16 years before he told the story. He believed that his ability to rape her proved “I’m not a wimp.” And, while Ron didn’t go as far as the interviewee, he does admit that he’s felt the need to prove his masculinity throughout his life, too.
While a majority of the participants in this study were white men — only one was Black, the attitude of hyper masculinity and the violence it might have against others in general, and women in particular, isn’t bound by race. It’s imperative for our community to stop turning a blind eye to the things that are, statistically, happening right under our noses. The only way we’re going to fix the problem is to tear down the wall of protection we’ve built around abusers and heal the boys and men who’ve already been abused.
Ron knew the first step to healing was to talk about what happened. “You can’t heal what you don’t reveal, so it becomes a thing that fucks with you and you don’t know why.” Talib Daryl, a sexual abuse survivor from the NPR interview that discussed Lil Wayne’s conversation with Jimmy Kimmel, said revealing what happened to him was an important step in his recovery. He said he “found a new sense of power and freedom in being able to talk about it, even sometimes down to the details, to be able to let go of that fear. It’s very empowering and it will transform your life.”
In 2008, Sylvia Coleman, an award-winning health journalist and advocate for sexual-abuse survivors, launched the Black Survivors Network, a “national online support system for African-Americans.” Coleman, who is also a survivor of child abuse, believes in the importance of attending a therapy or a support group. She also believes it’s imperative for our community to teach our kids, early, about child sexual abuse.
The sexual assault of Black boys is an issue the community needs to deal with. Black men should be in the forefront of this conversation, pushing to make sure we support one another and go get help if it’s necessary. Because the longer we’re silent on this issue, the more likely it is to keep happening. And the longer the silence, the deadlier the results.