Recently, the Mumbai Police twitter handle, which often tweets about crimes that are on the rise, posted: “Sexual abuse is not gender specific, then why not talk to all kids about this?”. The tweet carried the photograph of a boy with a caption: “Out of all reported cases of Child Sexual Abuse, more than half are males”.
In the past few weeks, two separate cases of young boys being abused have come to light in the city. In the first case registered with the Powai police in July last week, two boys, aged 13 and 10, consumed rat poison dissolved in a soft drink on July 12. While the 10-year-old passed away the same day, the 13-year-old succumbed on July 25. The boy, who had been prohibited water because of his critical condition, told his mother he and his friend had been sexually abused when she agreed to give him some water. The Powai police are still to arrest the accused.
The boy’s father said: “When a case of abuse takes place, people do not speak out about it. The general feeling is that it will destroy the kid’s future and people will blame the family. However, I decided to talk about it as it is necessary to expose culprits, or they will continue doing such acts.” He added: “Earlier, the thought of my boy being unsafe did not strike me. Normally, people are careful about their daughters. Now, if you come to our locality, people are not allowing their sons to go out alone. The message is clear, no one is safe.”
An officer investigating the case said: “In a lot of these cases, parents prefer not reporting the incident fearing it will tarnish the reputation of their children.” A crime branch officer said: “During probe into several cases, we have found that in several chawls, groups of teenaged boys maintain sexual relations. Some are consensual. But in a lot of cases, older boys who do not get access to girls target younger boys. They often video record the incident to blackmail the victim. The video is then circulated and the list of abusers grows.”
The same modus operandi was seen in the other case, in Andheri, where a 16-year-old was abused by 15 others over a year. There was a video recording of the act and the accused used it to blackmail the victim. There is also the case of Agnelo Valdaris (25), who allegedly died in police custody after he and three of his friends were allegedly stripped, tortured and forced to have oral sex with each other for three days.
Officials in government hospitals believe sexual abuse of boys is reported less frequently than girls, because families are worried it strip the boy of his “manliness”. “Of the three cases of minors’ sexual assault in 2016, two were referred to us by the police. If parents bring a child, they disappear once we counsel them to lodge an FIR,” said Dr Shubhangi Parkar, head of the psychiatry department, KEM hospital.
In 2016, when a 12-year-old boy studying in a Satara boarding school fared miserably in his final exams, his mother realised he had withdrawn from the family. During counselling, the boy said he had been sodomised by the school warden. The incident came to light 35 days after the assault. “In several cases, victims have displaced anger. They don’t share it. But when they grow older, they sexually abuse other boys,” psychiatrist Sagar Mundada said.
Social workers working with victims of child sexual abuse also said incidents involving boys do not come to fore immediately. “Initially, it starts as bullying by older boys and eventually, it leads to sexual abuse. But most victims do not talk about it even to their parents. Victims say they were scared of more bullying. In some cases, due to lack of sex education, they take time to understand it is sexual abuse,” said Vijay Doiphode, a social worker.
He added: “Victims fear that once they return to the normalcy of the school, other boys will continue to look at them differently. The sensitivity required to deal with sexually abused boys is often absent. The fact that not all abuse is penetrative and hence, difficult to prove, also makes many avoid the long legal route to bring the accused to book.” In the absence of school counselling or parents discussing such subjects openly with boys, victims are often left confused. Such cases, doctors said, are common in boys’ hostels, shelter and remand homes.
According to psychiatrist Harish Shetty, globalisation has also led to free access to pornography and “offensive material” for teenage boys. He said the number of sexually abused minors who come to his clinic for counselling has risen by 300 per cent in the past five years. “Online content fuels their imagination. There is chaos in their mind,” he said. Several boys realise much later that they have been abused.
Three months ago, a 26-year-old man approached Dr Parul Tank, consultant psychiatrist at Asian Heart Hospital, with anxiety disorder and problems in his sexual life with his wife. “He was sexually abused by his uncle when he was eight and later in a hostel by other students when he was 10 years old,” Tank says. The man neither disclosed the incident to his wife nor related the incident with his current disorder.
An often-ignored aspect is sexual abuse of boys in custodial homes, said experts. In 2015, a 17-year-old juvenile in conflict with the law was physically assaulted in David Sassoon Special Home in Matunga. He succumbed to his injuries later. He had told his family he had been threatened and asked to perform sexual acts on older boys in the home. In 2016, another 17-year-old was sexually abused twice in the home. The child spoke to a probation officer about the incident who filed a complaint with the Shivaji Park police.
This year, too, the Dongri police filed a complaint against four inmates of the Dongri Observation Home for sodomising a 14-year-old inmate. The incident came to light only after an NGO held a seminar inside the Home after which, the child spoke to social workers about his ordeal. “The ratio of the staff inside and inmates is low in overcrowded custodial homes. In many cases, the incidents are hushed up to ensure that the home administration does not come under fire,” said a former staff member who did not w0ish to be named.