Today is World Suicide Prevention Day and many things lead to someone taking their lives. Suicide rates for U.S. teens and young adults are the highest on record. One issue in our community that is not talked enough about is sexual abuse and many times this can lead to depression, which can lead to suicide.
During early Summer of this year, three months into the pandemic that swept the world and at the height of civil unrest, a trend began on social media, more specifically on Twitter. Without any context, users of the popular site began their posts with “I was” and then added their age. As days went by, I began to notice the trend more and more, with the ages reaching down to 12 years old. Finally, I wanted to look into why I kept seeing these posts on my timeline, being liked or retweeted. What I found was that people who made these posts were coming out about being victims of sexual abuse. These posts were published by not just white people but Black and Hispanics as well. Some were boys who are now men and some were girls who are now women. Sharing spans across a spectrum.
I was shocked by how many Black men shared their ages. On the heels of a friend sharing their story on Facebook just weeks prior, and with news of Rapper Lil’ Boosie speaking about having strippers perform sexual acts on his young son and nephews, I thought to myself, who is speaking out about the sexual abuse of young Black boys? And if someone is speaking out about it, are they speaking loud enough?
According to statistics, 1 out of every 6 boys is abused before the age of 16. This rate is even higher in Black communities, especially communities that suffer from systemic and sociological problems. Shame, guilt, and being birthed into a toxic masculine driven world, shows the double-edged sword Black boys and men face with being able to be open and accepting of what happened to them. If an older man was the abuser, the abused would have to deal with people who will question their manhood and sexuality. If a woman was the abuser, many would think that it was the abused rite of passage into manhood, no matter the age, which also leaves damaging effects as the years go by. Abuse is abuse regardless if its from a man or woman. Cases such as Lil’ Boosie, who allowed an older woman to perform sexual acts on his young son and nephews because he wanted to teach them how to be men and did not want them to grow up and be gay, are issues in our community.
Many men agreed with the rapper, often saying that they too had sexual acts performed on them at a young age by older women. What those men don't think about is the lasting effects that they took into their adulthood from that experience. “A boy’s early experimentation with a woman can complicate his psychological perception of impotence if he is unable to perform,” Dr. Nathan Hare of San Francisco, says in a 2003 Essence article. “This belief in his failure may follow him into his adult relationships,” Hare further explains. That feeling of failure can lead to jealousy, jealousy can lead to extreme dependence on who a young or older man enters a relationship with. That feeling of failure can lead to insecurities. Those insecurities can come out in the worst of ways in a relationship, and one extreme way is an abusive relationship. It could also lead to “avoidance of commitment and monogamy, particularly if the young victim was abused by a man. There can be a quest to establish their virility by not having one woman, but many,” New York Psychiatrist Dr. Margaret Seide says, regarding the effects of abuse.
In 2010, Hollywood Mogul Tyler Perry appeared on the Oprah Winfrey Show. During his sit down, he discussed growing up and the abuse he suffered by 3 men and a woman, all by the age of 10. Perry talked about feeling like his body “betrayed him,” the triggers he continued to have in his adult relationship, and losing women that he loved because of those triggers. The show hosted 200 other Black men who were survivors of sexual abuse. Looking back, I now see how monumental that was, and I wish that moment sparked more of a flame for Black men to be open about the horrors they’ve experienced. “We know that sexual abuse of Black boys is under reported particularly if the assailant is a woman. America has made no room for seeing young Black men as children or as victims. This is painfully evident in our judiciary system. The concept of a “real” man is someone who always wants sex, so it is perceived as consensual,” Seide explains. “We don’t easily think of a Black man as the wounded and vulnerable one in any scenario.”
In the age of #BlackBoyJoy, being vulnerable and creating spaces for Black men to show this vulnerability is not only talking loud enough about the sexual abuse of young Black boys but also putting action behind the conversation. Of course, the goal is for children not to be robbed of their childhood and innocence. The goal is for parents to believe their children and help them cope throughout the years from such a horrible experience. But where we are in society, we must continue to change the narrative that society has created about Black men.