New Delhi, Jun 25 (PTI) A filmmaker whose husband was abused sexually as a child is seeking to bring into focus the plight of such men through a photo campaign which encourages the survivors to speak out about their ordeal.
Mumbai-based Insia Dariwala, a survivor of child sexual abuse herself, has also launched an online petition through Change.Org, urging the government to conduct a study on cases of male child sexual abuse.
The campaign, a first such initiative in the country, so far has over 1,000 endorsers.
"Over the years, I have met many more survivors living a life of penance for a crime they did not commit. One of them is my husband," she said.
In the petition, Insia describes how she and her husband lived through an extremely painful process of coming to terms with their abuse.
"His, and others' stories, I heard from friends, made me realise even men can get sexually abused. Millions of men are living an isolated life of pain endured as a child. Then why were their stories never told?" she writes in the petition.
Insia, her husband Rajeev Pandey, the co-founders of The Hands of Hope Foundations, and documentary photographer Deepti Asthana will launch the photo campaign to encourage such men to speak out about their experience.
"Indian males are not supposed to cry or complain. I was just 5-years-old when I was repeatedly abused by a household help who promised me to teach how to ride a bike, just like my father.
"Then he'd take me to a room and abuse me. For years, I have been suspicious of people who have been nice to me. I have not been able to make friends or be in relationships," said Pandey, 40, a writer for TV shows in Mumbai.
He said he associated himself with the campaign as he wanted to ensure that no child faces what he went through and to make families aware that it can also happen to their boys.
Gender rights activist Harish Iyer said as far as sexual abuse was concerned men were the "forgotten gender".
"Now, there is a silence on the issue and if this (study) works, it will break the myths and expose how vulnerability is not gender-specific," he said.
No recent study has been conducted by the government on the number of such cases in the country. A 2007 study had, however, found that more male children in the country were victims of sexual abuse than girls.
The study conducted by the Women and Child Development Ministry said 53.2 per cent of children had experienced one or more forms of sexual abuse. Of this, 52.9 per cent were boys. Boys of all ages, backgrounds and across states had reported sexual abuse.
In 2012, the government passed the Protection of Children Against Sexual Offences Act which is a gender neutral law. However, it is invoked primarily in cases of female child abuse.
"It is quite unfortunate that while on one hand, a girl's sexual abuse is treated as a serious crime, most men are pressured by the society to pass off their sexual abuse as a rite of passage," Insia said.
Requesting anonymity, another survivor told PTI, "The problem is that sexual abuse of boys is often ignored with 'boys will be boys' kind of comments or considered to be a form of sexual exploration.
"It is not that. Sexual abuse of men is as painful and damaging as for a woman. In fact, many don't even believe that boys or men can be raped," he said.
Insia said she is pushing for a study on the topic as she believed it might help gain insights on how it can be prevented.
"A research will shed light on male mindsets, and certain hidden aspects of long-term effects of sexual abuse on men," she said.