First international awareness day to protect boys from sexual violence

A new international day of awareness will advance the global conversation on how to better care for boys and protect them from sexual violence.

Blue Umbrella Day, which was devised by four women from Guyana, India, Paraguay and the Philippines, will be marked annually in the UK and around the world on April 16.

It is estimated that at least one in six boys worldwide experiences sexual abuse. And while girls continue to be the gender principally affected by sexual violence (estimated at one in four), the abuse suffered by boys can fall under the radar (Caring For Boys Affected By Sexual Violence, 2018).

Research from Family For Every Child found that boys who experience sexual violence are negatively impacted physically and mentally, are far less likely to ask for help than girls and more likely to have problems in future relationships.

A Family For Every Child research paper Freedom at a Price: Caring for Boys Affected by Sexual Violence (2021), found that boys are less likely to report abuse, are less likely to be believed when they do, and are more likely to be seen as complicit in the act or even as the perpetrator.

Research also found that support services, where they exist, are targeted at and organised around the needs of girls, with counsellors and support workers often ill-equipped to engage with boys.

The study produced a list of recommendations that include the need for more gender-inclusive recovery services, effective sex education, revised laws, and changes to the cultural and social norms around gender and sexual violence.

Family For Every Child is a global alliance of local civil society organisations working together to improve the lives of vulnerable children around the world. It has 42 member organisations in 37 countries.

The new awareness day is the brainchild of a group of Family For Every Child member organisations, who are all local civil society organisations.

The group is made up of five women;  Omattie Madray, managing director, ChildLink (Guyana), Rita Panicker, CEO, Butterflies NGO (India), Alejandra Rodriguez director, Enfoque Niñez (Paraguay) and Zeny Rosales, executive director, Center for Prevention and Treatment of Child Sexual Abuse (CPTCSA) (Philippines).

Amanda Griffith, CEO, Family For Every Child, said: ‘For too long, society has pressured boys to be brave, strong and independent; we have given them greater freedom, but this has come at the price of offering lesser protection.

‘On Blue Umbrella Day, we’re drawing attention to every child’s need for adult care – regardless of their gender.

‘If we don’t give boys enough protection, we put them at risk of harm.

‘On Blue Umbrella Day, we’re reminding the world that boys can be victims of harm too.

‘Too much emphasis on telling boys to be brave can make them feel embarrassed to come forward when they need adult help. This can lead to increased risk of sexual abuse, exploitation or harmful sexual behaviours.

‘On Blue Umbrella Day, we’re fighting harmful stereotypes of what it means to be ‘a real man’, because no boy should be ashamed to ask for help.’

UK supporters of the new awareness day include SurvivorsUK, which offers counselling, group work and a helpline to male survivors of sexual violation.

Sam Thomson, outreach & engagement lead, SurvivorsUK, said: ‘There are thousands of young men and boys worldwide being forced into silence around sexual violence.

‘Whether that is from their perpetrator or the societies they live in, there is a desperate need for more awareness driven campaigns that promote listening and looking out for survivors of all genders.

‘Every one of us has the ability to make life saving changes for survivors. It’s time to start. What better way than to engage with the Blue Umbrella Day?’

People wanting to support Blue Umbrella Day can share social media graphics, which are available on the Blue Umbrella Day website to download . Organisations working with families can request a participation pack. A number of webinars on the theme of sexual violence towards boys are running until July.

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