Singapore—The country has seen a steady increase in the number of incidents of male molestation, even as some of the victims have struggled to come forward to tell their stories.
In 2009, there were only 73 cases of outrage of modesty cases involving male victims reported. Last year, there were 125 such cases, according to a report by Channel NewsAsia (CNA).
Similarly, the Sexual Assault Care Centre (SACC) at the Association of Women for Action and Research (AWARE) has had more male counseling clients than in previous years. Last year, 14 males availed of counseling services for physical sexual harassment, including outrage of modesty. In the previous year, there had only been half that number, while two years ago, only 5 males came for this type of counseling.
SACC has in fact also seen an increase in the number of male clients overall, more than doubling in number from 2017 (17 male clients) to 2018 (37 male clients).
The head of the centre, Anisha Joseph, attributes the increased number of males coming forward to more open attitudes toward sexual harassment at present, partly due to the #MeToo movement from two years ago.
She told CNA, “Public discourse and a more supportive stance from individuals and organisations have begun to normalise the act of seeking help.”
Fiona Tan, a senior clinical psychologist at the department of developmental psychiatry in the Institute of Mental Health (IMH) concurs with this.
“With every report made, it means there is more accurate information being shared and discussed about sexual abuse and how it can occur across genders, races, socio-economic status and educational backgrounds.
In turn, people who have experienced sexual abuse or molestation and the people who support them are also more confident to report on their experiences, regardless of their gender.”
The number of such cases overall, for both women and men, have seen a significant increase. CNA reports police data as showing a nearly 12 percent increase in outrage of modesty cases last year, on top of an almost 22 percent increase from the year before. In 2017, 1,561 cases were reported, while in 2018, the number had jumped to 1,741.
CNA also quotes the Singapore Police Force (SPF) as observing the same trend, which they deem as a key concern. “The police will continue to work closely with stakeholders and the community to prevent and deter outrage of modesty cases.”
However, experts note that it may still be harder for males to report molestation incidents, given gender-specific stereotypes regarding sexual harassment and abuse.
Many males may feel guilt, helplessness, shame, or even that they have caused the abise themselves.
IMH’s Ms Tan said, “They may feel that it is “their fault” for being “unmanly” and had “attracted the abuse” or failed to stop the abuse from happening.”
And at times they may not understand their own bodies’ responses to stimulation, however unwanted.
“Many boys and men may still believe the gender myths that if he experienced sexual arousal during the abuse, he wanted and or enjoyed it, and since he may have wanted it, then the abuse was his fault.
These conflicting feelings of care, pleasure, fear, guilt, betrayal, and confusion, can be intense and make disclosure a difficult process for the males who had been molested,” she added.
The SACC’s Ms Joseph emphasized the importance of public education to help males in these situations.
“Public education to dispel myths about sexual violence, challenge gender stereotypes and encourage all survivors, including men, to get support, is crucial,” she said.
She said that the higher numbers of victims reporting incidents of sexual abuse and harassment is a good sign that they feel safe to ask for help. Since October 2017, with the advent of #MeToo, the SACC has reported a 79 percent increase in cases.
Ms Joseph added, “The case numbers have not abated since. This indicates that, even if it wasn’t very visible to the wider public, #MeToo did have an impact on Singaporean culture. It encouraged survivors to come forward and seek the help they needed.” -/ TISG