Lagos, Nigeria – Akpan Bassey* was a baby when he was rushed to the hospital after developing swollen testicles. At the hospital, the doctor confirmed he was having gonorrhoea. “Who has been sexually abusing your son?” the doctor asked the parents of the toddler.
After thorough questioning, Akpan confirmed that the maid had been touching his private parts, and he subsequently received the necessary treatment.
A 2015 UNICEF report shows that one in ten Nigerian boys experience sexual violence before turning 18. For girls, it’s one in four. Sexual abuse, which is defined as “any type of sexual contact or behaviour that occurs without the explicit consent of the recipient,” is endemic in Nigeria, especially against children who are legally incapable of giving consent.
In contrast to many male perpetrators who may resort to violence and force, female perpetrators often employ a different strategy by grooming their victims. They utilise tactics such as coercion and emotional manipulation to create a facade of consent, thereby making it increasingly challenging for their male victims to recognise the abuse they are enduring.
Childhood sexual abuse can have profound and lasting effects on men, leading to emotional trauma, mental health challenges such as depression and anxiety, difficulties in forming relationships, sexual dysfunction, and even substance abuse. Survivors may wrestle with issues related to self-esteem and trust and may sometimes resort to self-harming behaviors. This trauma can significantly impact their sense of self, gender identity, and sexuality.
Michael Edet*, a survivor of childhood sexual abuse at the age of 8 or 9, grew up in one of Lagos’ suburbs with his parents and siblings during challenging times.
“I was molested several times, and I started enjoying the act over time. Our Landlord’s daughter, then Aunty Adesuwa, was actually responsible for this act, although she is late now,” he said.
He added, “It effect on me was a notable lack of enthusiasm for pursuing relationships with women, which set me apart from my peers. I often harboured a suspicion that females might seek to exploit me, contributing to my guarded approach. Additionally, I found myself more prone to being easily provoked and experiencing anger issues.”
It’s a girl world, boys are left behind
Jeph Oluwagbemiga, a psychologist, underscores the significant role of sex education for boys. He emphasises that boys frequently find themselves in a situation where they need to proactively seek information independently.
This is because mothers at home often prioritise discussions with their daughters, focusing on topics related to female bodies and daily routines. Consequently, this information gap results in girls having greater access to knowledge than boys when it comes to matters of sexuality and reproductive health.
Teaching boys about wet dreams as a natural bodily response during puberty is paramount in combating misinformation. This proactive approach helps address potentially harmful beliefs and behaviours, including rape and other negative actions that may arise due to a lack of understanding or misconceptions.
“As we are training the girls, we should be training the boys too. The fact that you are having an erection doesn’t mean you should have sex, it simply indicates that you are okay downstairs, not for you to look for a girl to sleep with”, Jeph said.
Sexuality education for boys is essential to ensure that girls, who have often received guidance from various sources, enter into relationships or marriages with men who will not maltreat them.
“The key to addressing gender-based violence is to train the boys,” Jeph concluded.
Boys Lives Matter
In a landscape where attention often centres on girls and females, the Boys Life Organisation delves deeper, going beyond the surface to support and empower boys to have a sane society.
Founded in 2019 by Nkechi Macaulay, a multimedia journalist driven by a passion for helping boys become responsible men in society. It is focused on creating awareness on the sexual abuse of the boychild, exposing boys to sexual reproductive health rights and inculcating positive masculinity to raise boys’ right to better men and positively impact their world.
She held that the assumption that only girls can be victims of sexual abuse doesn’t augur well for the growth of society.
“Boys can also be victims of sexual abuse. Observing men who experienced sexual abuse during their formative years and subsequently developed uncontrollable sexual urges, it becomes evident that addressing this issue is crucial to prevent a rise in sexual violence within our society.”
She added “If boys understand sex education properly, they won’t abuse the girls because they will know better. No one teaches them what to do if they have an erection. They find means to ease themselves whenever they have sexual urges, but no one teaches them self-control or management. I believe if we expose boys to information as regards sexual health, they will make better decisions, they will not rape girls.”, Nkechi said.
In collaboration with organisations like the Mirabel Center, the 48 team members support boys’ psychotherapy. They also carry out advocacy and sensitisation about sexual abuse against boys through the Sexual Abuse Rally, imparting crucial sex and sexuality education through school tours.
The nonprofit also leverages social media platforms to raise awareness about the critical importance of educating boys on sexuality, where stories like that of Michael Edet are gotten from.
In certain cases, when individuals reach out for help, they may initially feel shy or hesitant, leading them to disengage abruptly from further conversation. This reluctance can be influenced by concerns about judgment or embarrassment, particularly when seeking support from a female advocate like myself.
“They will say, this one na woman. She may laugh at me or embarrass me. And this is why I am trying to partner with men advocates for older men to have the liberty to speak with. But personally, I speak with boys,” Nkechi said.
Nkechi added, “In pursuing this cause, which extends beyond advocating for girls, securing funding has proven to be a significant challenge. As a result, we have primarily relied on my personal resources to sustain our efforts.”
Nkechi further stated, “While we possess the ideas and human resources needed for our projects, financial resources are essential for their implementation. Our vision includes establishing a centre staffed with male counsellors dedicated to assisting male victims of sexual abuse.”
Names of Victims have been changed for anonymity.