Why many victims stay silent

Many male victims of molestation or sexual abuse suffer in silence, for various reasons.

Some may have a close relationship with the abuser, which makes it difficult to report the abuse. Others worry that no one will believe their story. Worse, some fear they may be blamed for what happened, according to social workers, medical professionals and lawyers who spoke to The Straits Times.

Mr Daniel Atticus Xu, a lawyer, said some male victims do not go to the police for fear their case will be reported in the media or because they do not know how people will view them.

Some victims feel they are somehow to blame for the abuse.

"Many boys and men may still believe the gender myth that if they experienced sexual arousal during the abuse, then that means they wanted it, and so the abuse was their fault," said Mr Kenny Liew, a senior clinical psychologist at the Institute of Mental Health.

"They don't understand that the body can respond to sexual stimulation, even in situations that are unwanted, traumatic or painful. These conflicting feelings of care, pleasure, fear, guilt, betrayal and confusion can be intense and make disclosure a difficult process for males who have been molested."

Mr Liew added that in some cases, the victims, especially younger boys, keep mum because their abuser has threatened to hurt them or their loved ones.

But bottling it up is not a solution.

Some victims of sexual violence have gone on to develop psychological problems such as depression, suffer nightmares, or feel anxiety when they are with certain individuals.

If allowed to fester, these feelings can blow up later on in their lives.

Veteran psychiatrist Munidasa Winslow has treated patients in their 30s or older with alcohol or drug addiction. When he probed deeper into the likely cause, the patients revealed they had been molested repeatedly when they were young. They took to drugs and alcohol in order to cope with the shame and trauma and other problems.

Said Dr Winslow: "Being molested or sexually abused leaves them ashamed, traumatised and feeling guilty. And these issues can blow up 10 or 20 years later."

Theresa Tan and Tan Tam Mei

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A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on December 18, 2017, with the headline Why many victims stay silent. Subscribe