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The father of taboos

in PAKISTAN, 31/07/2013

Acknowledging the presence of abuse of a girl and boy child in our society, in our neighbourhoods, in our homes, in our own lives is only the first but essential step in our journey to make our children safe, healthy and happy. I'll keep counseling the abused children in my care, but frankly, the solution lies with adults, especially men. Until they heal their own wounds of abuse, they will not only fail to see abuse around them, they might also find themselves participating in it and taking the cycle of abuse to the next generation.

Being young and being a woman can be a handy combination, especially in my line of work.

I work for charities and donor-funded projects to do with eradicating child abuse in Pakistan. I do get a lot of exposure to abused children but that is another subject for another time. The bulk of my working time is spent with adults, and of my own interest, mostly men. I meet them in small and big groups, in the office or in a public place and we talk about the one thing most important to parents: how to keep our kids safe.

The objective of my job is to learn from and return to the society. I work with entire communities but my best learning has come from men. Women may be lax in their strategy and execution but they have a vested interest in preserving and nourishing the child. They are my natural allies. It's the man who is so spectacularly ambivalent on this subject. He knows there is abuse in the society he lives in but he finds talking or reading about child abuse distasteful. He knows kids are being molested and abused in his locality but he will insist upon watching over his daughter all the time, leaving the son to face the street realities. And if his son does go through sexual abuse, he'll use everything in his power to stop it from becoming known to others, or he might die of shame.

I had no idea how big a deal male rape is. Men are creators and victims of a culture where man is essentially the giver and woman the receiver. An abuser, as much as a protector, is seen as a he-man because they are both doing the manly thing: giving. Women fit the passive victim profile just as men are only expected to do the manly thing. When males become victims of sexual abuse, it's therefore a double shame - surviving abuse as a human, just like women do, and being treated as a receiver, a she-male. The latter is by far more damaging of the two. It takes the air out of his long and stiff male ego. It's the ultimate humiliation that marks the survivor as a stamped slave of the abuser and the laughing stock of other men and boys, sometimes for life.

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