Letter to Spider Magazine: Knights in Not-so Shining Armor

Dear Spider [Magazine],

This is in reference to Kanwal Abidi’s parenting article “Keeping Up with the Digital Natives” published in Spider magazine (Jan 2014). Although a highly commendable effort to reach out to parents and inform them about the many ways they can be a part of their children’s digital lives without trying to drag their children offline in today’s tech savvy world, it still missed the mark regarding the section “Misusing Skype”. Kanwal Abidi focused solely on the threat to girls posed by cyberpredators. This gives parents a false sense of safety regarding their sons, since repeatedly it is young girls who are specifically highlighted as being vulnerable. But it isn’t what the parents feel that’s the biggest worry here.

The greater problem is the myth of male invulnerability that is perpetuated every time someone talks or writes about only our daughters being at risk. According to US statistics, anywhere between 1 in 7 to 1 in 10 victims of rape is male; 1 in 6 men is sexually abused before reaching adulthood. But those are only American statistics, right?

According to Sahil, a non-profit Pakistani organization working against child sexual abuse since 1996, 1 in 4 reported victims of child sexual abuse in Pakistan is male (2012 statistics; pdf). There is no evidence to suggest that child predators suddenly change their preying habits when they move online; in a cybersafety article such as Abidi’s, not only is it grave oversight to ignore these facts but it also does a great disservice to the most innocent parties involved: the children. Boys are told over and over again that it is not possible for them to be at risk, that child predators are only a significant threat to girls. In the same fell swoop with which we give our daughters the message that they are eternally the damsels in distress, we tell our sons they are the knights in shining–impenetrable–armor. We raise daughters who never feel strong and sons who can’t admit weakness, and we do an injustice to both.

Sexual abuse of boys is already unconscionably underrepresented and stigmatized, in some ways even more than sexual abuse of girls, simply because there is hardly anyone talking about it. Muffled under the shadow of masculinity, boys end up silencing themselves, convincing themselves that they are male and males cannot be raped hence they must have been in control of the situation–and/or if they speak up about it, everyone will know there is something ‘wrong’ with them, that they must not be ‘manly enough’ since they got abused and ‘abuse only happens to girls’.

If the shroud of silence is ever to be lifted, we must hold ourselves accountable when we write and talk about these issues and set the record straight. The buck stops here.