More men and boys fall prey to molesters but many choose to keep mum

There were 98 male victims of molestation in Singapore last year, making up 7 per cent of molestation victims. The number was 74 in 2010. PHOTO: ST FILE

What with all the recent news about sexual harassment faced by women, it is easy to overlook the fact that victims include men and boys - a small but growing group.

In Singapore, police data showed there were 98 male victims of outrage of modesty, or molestation, last year, making up 7 per cent of molestation victims. The number of male victims was 74 in 2010, making up 5 per cent of all molest victims that year.

While the number of victims who reported the offence to police has risen since 2010, social workers, medical professionals and lawyers interviewed say they are but the tip of the iceberg. Sexual abuse cases in general tend to be under-reported because of factors such as the culture of secrecy and shame felt by victims.

Still, the increase in molestation cases reported could be a result of more professionals, such as teachers and social workers, trained to spot young victims, said Ms Iris Lin, head of youth services at Fei Yue Community Services.

Veteran social worker Sudha Nair said it also showed that men, too, recognised that this was unacceptable behaviour.

"Victims of abuse have nothing to be ashamed of and seeking help is the courageous thing to do. Their coming forward means that the perpetrators can get help too," she added.

On why it is much harder for a male victim to speak up, Mr Kenny Liew, senior clinical psychologist at the Institute of Mental Health, said: "The difference may be due to gender stereotypes and myths pertaining to sexual abuse of men, such as 'boys and men cannot be sexually abused' or 'they were lucky to have been touched by a female' or 'they must be weak if they can be molested by another male'."

Last year, 7 per cent of the 1,347 molestation victims were male, including young boys. Of the 98, 60 per cent were aged 21 and below.

As for the abusers, most were men. In fact, only eight women were arrested last year for outrage of modesty, compared with 864 men.

Offenders included family members, friends, colleagues and strangers, such as bus passengers, according to those interviewed.

Last month, an art teacher went on trial for molesting one of his students, a 13-year-old boy.

In September, a restaurant executive, 27, was jailed for eight months for molesting two teenage boys whom he did not know.

Or the offender can be a co-worker.

A man turned to the Association of Women for Action and Research (Aware) for help after he was molested by a colleague who was in a more senior position. He did not report the harassment as he feared that his bosses would not believe him.

Some 4 per cent of the 338 cases handled last year by Aware's Sexual Assault Care Centre involved male victims. They were either molested or experienced other forms of sexual violence, including sexual harassment.

Lawyer Daniel Atticus Xu noted the misconception that men cannot be molested.

"This isn't true, outrage of modesty cases can happen to both sexes. There might be the misconception as most of the time cases involving female victims are the ones highlighted," he said.

Mr Xu cited the case of a bridegroom-to-be who went to him for legal advice.

The man told him he was having his wedding photos taken when the male makeup artist touched his private parts. The man considered making a police report but decided not to as he was not confident of getting the makeup artist convicted.

"We spoke about some of his concerns like how there were no witnesses or CCTVs around, and how the makeup artist could say it was an accident," said Mr Xu.

"This, coupled with perhaps the stigma of being a male victim, he decided to keep silent."

A 29-year-old film maker, who gave his name only as Sam, shared his own experience.

He was a polytechnic student when a male friend tried to grope his private parts, he said, adding that he avoided that friend after the incident.

A few years ago, he was at a club with friends when he felt someone grab his buttocks. When he turned around, he said, a woman was standing behind him but she acted as though nothing happened.

He said the polytechnic incident "was a bit traumatic", but admitted that it did not occur to him to make a police report. If you have experienced sexual violence and need support, you can call Aware's Sexual Assault Care Centre helpline at 6779-0282 from Mondays to Fridays, 10 am to midnight.

Join ST's Telegram channel and get the latest breaking news delivered to you.