End The Silence

By Sheril Kirshenbaum | June 4, 2009 9:40 am

I have received a tremendous amount of email regarding Silence Is The Enemy.  Many letters arrived from victims; several revealing they have never spoken out publicly.  Among these were multiple heartbreaking stories from men–some who have lived with the secret of sexual assault for decades–describing the way their lives have been dramatically impacted by guilt, shame, embarrassment, and anger. Let me be clear: The initiative that began Monday to end the silence is not focused on one gender or limited to a single specific region.  The purpose is to draw more attention to the crisis globally and encourage everyone to talk about it and act.

This very week in Florida, four teenage boys were charged–as adults–after admitting to the repeated sodomy of a 13-year-old boy. The details are here, but I’d like to direct your gaze to a few sentences in particular:

Multiple people witnessed the attacks, but no one reported the incidents, including the victim, Hindman said.


The prosecutor said the victim’s screams could be heard outside the boys’ locker room at Walker Middle School, in southern Tampa, where the allegedly assaults took place.


Several students witnessed the incidents over the two months, said the prosecutor, who added that she could not understand why no one reported the attacks.

End the silence.

CATEGORIZED UNDER: Culture, Education

Comments (24)

  1. It’s good that you focus on male abuse. Too often, because of the dominant number of cases involving women, it is easy to forget that women are not the only victims.

  2. Lynsey

    I think inherent in the discussion there is often the tenor that politics is over complicating the issue. Gender/class/age/race is nearly always discussed, that is because it is all about power. Regularly I see the dialogue of who it happens to and who it doesn’t happen to and who is and isn’t at fault. It strikes a clean sword to the debate of how prevalent the problems continue to be every time someone debates any of these issues. Prejudice is the problem and power is the issue. Personal liberty is at stake for all.

    Mothers frightened to have sons, sisters frightened to be left alone with their brothers’ friends. Cries not being heard. Men frightened to speak out, ashamed of being men or being seen to be less male. Men and women growing up frightened and confused about how to represent themselves. People afraid to meet each other.

    The question isn’t about who should be more passive and if that’s what people are asking they are confused. Be engaged, be attentive and be responsive. Chiding people only works when their behaviour has been demonstrably shown to be abhorrent to the health of their attitude, safety and future prospects, it’s a situational response not to be confused with individual identity. Education, patience and skill is required which is why this letter writing campaign (in the way of blogging 😉 is of merit.

    For amnesty to survive people must speak.

  3. Lynsey

    Just to add, it’s hard to write a gender neutral verse given the constraints of the English language. It’s a known issue. I would like to read more men talking about their safety concerns on their blogs from their perspectives. It would be a good way to balance the discussion.

  4. These boys gorw into “fine young men” and attend prestigious universities. They learn that they are not held accountable for their behavior – ever. In order to end the silence, victims must be allowed to come forward and tell their stories without fearing they will become further victimized by the system. For more information visit http://www.uvavictimsofrape.com

  5. Frankie

    Lynsey, you baffled me at “Prejudice is the problem and power is the issue”. and then you lost me at, Mothers frightened to have sons”.. any way, my comment:
    What does this say about the level of morality in our society.
    We have a dispicable act, an awful crime, then we have people who witnessed it, multiple times, and do nothing.(I can’t even imagine witnessing something like that once and not acting in some capacity, let alone multiple times).
    Then we have adults who try to make excuses by claiming that because these”good kids” from “fine” families are “sorry”, the Courts should go easy on them.
    Something is terribly wrong!

  6. It is difficult for boys/men to come forward with abuse. If the perps were male then they have homophobia to fear. If the perps were female, then it’s assumed that they ought to be happy with having young sexual experiences, or if it’s obvious they were kids, there is the additional confusion and shame that female victims of abuse by female relatives incur too.

    It isn’t about sex. It is about power. But it’s also about lack of love and lack of caring, often by people whom everyone assumes must love and care, whether father, mother, uncle, aunt, teacher, doctor, coach, etc etc.

    The answer is to break the silence, but the onus is not only on victims to speak but everyone to listen and stand together against bullying.

    It’s easier said than done. I’ve seen adults let other adults get away with bullying even when they personally have nothing tangible at stake, like a job for example. But we have to do it for our children’s sake.

  7. I want to correc that: it isn’t only about sex; it’s also about power. Because it is about sex for some people–who get off on hurting others, on taking vulnerability, on proving something, on youth itself. It’s still wrong and shouldn’t be tolerated even by tacit silence.

  8. Howard

    Usually young gay men are targets of this abuse simply because they are different. This is a HATE crime and should have special punishment. Another issue here in general is how society views persons who are different. These young men did not learn to hate by themselves. They have learned to hate those who are different all their lives.

    I was a victim of this kind of abuse. Help to pass ANTI HATE laws. Talk to your children about respecting those who are different instead of instilling in them what society seems to support.

    These young men came from GOOD families. I do not believe this. This was their FIRST offense.

    VIOLENCE IS NEVER JUSTIFIED no matter if it is a first offense.

  9. Lynsey

    Frankie, I hope you don’t mind me disagreeing with your idea that lapsed morals stopped the witnesses coming forward. It is simply my experience that people respond to what resources they feel they have and I imagine as a young teen witnessing this “at school!” it would be brutal on the psyche. “School’s meant to be safe!””Why’s this happening here?””What will happen to my education?””We’re just kids!””Those guys are in my history class!””I have to sit next to them””Mr. Doe isn’t going to listen to me and keep me safe if I come forward”… all thoughts I can imagine having as a young teen witnessing/over-hearing this brutal act. If I’d been there at that age and witnessed similar I’d hope I’d have spoken to someone and seen it ended. The danger is I might have confronted them myself as I always had an over-inflated view of my own personal scale as a kid.

    As I see it jeopardy is what governs people. So all we can hope to do is find sensible ways of reducing it which includes public speaking about the key issues of rape, the taking of someone elses “power”, as the intersection and isis are doing. We all agree we want fewer victims and I do not envy the people in charge of handling the trauma at this school.

    I wish we all had magic compasses pointing true but I haven’t seen evidence of that yet. I think it’s easy to be outraged until someone you trust and care about. Someone you’re close to, used to protecting and having aspirations for does something you don’t expect and it becomes very clear what a slippery slope the moral high ground can be.

    Enthusiasm for the power of speech and education over fear and confusion from this typist. And if I’m confusing anyone again here I’ll go get my hat and take a debates class, a psychology class, a politics class, a history class and an english lit class. I probably won’t shut-up in the interim, but alas, neither does life. I’m not really here to lecture as I’m not qualified to. Just lending my own voice and perspective to the issue which I’m sure you’ve heard others with similar opinions before as I didn’t pull them out of the air. I’m hardly that original.

    Enough with my viewpoint, I’m not who you’re here to read. Go Sheril, Isis and all the bloggers supporting the issue, many many kudos from me and I hope this work you are doing helps mitigate some hate and violence in the world.

  10. deb

    This is so sad. I don’t know if this kind of abuse is more prevalent now or if we are just hearing about it more because of the internet but parents need to teach their children COMPASSION. What ever happened to accountability for our actions? I think that too many parents have dropped the ball. If parents are “too busy” then the schools need to step up and teach basic decency. Has everyone forgotten “the golden rule”…”do unto others as you would have them do unto you”; a simple concept but so necessary.

  11. Jo

    Oh well, if they come from good families and have never been in trouble, By all means let them go. We’ve never seen that happen before. Isn’t their a law in some states about penalizing if not reporting a crime if you witness. I wonder why people, even kids, don’t think, what if it where me?

  12. QUASAR


    Because it’s MEN who need more sympathy right now not women!

    1. MEN get genitally mutilated, molested and maimed at birth b some pedphiles hiding behind a medical degree, men get robbed of the most sensitive part of their body( the foreskin which has more than 20,000 nerve endings, the clitoris only has around 8,000), whereas women get complee protection and enjoy whole intact bodies!

    2. MEN get conscrpted, forced to go through punishing physical training and die on the front line or go to jail whereas women are free to get on with their lives!

    3. MEN are the one who endure corporal punishment in some nations whereas women don’t!

    4. During a divorece the woman gets the child and the house wheras the MAN is thrown out on the street!

    5. MALE homosexuality is illegal in many nations whereas female hmsexuality is legal!

    6. Very little sympathy is given to MALE victims in many crimes done to them, like getting genitaly mutilated, or molested whereas women get all the sympathy in the world.

    7. A MAN can get thrown in jail for defending himself when getting hit with a hammer by his wife! And whenever a man complains that man are being greatly abuse and discriminated a lot more right now, they just love to call him a woman hater or whatever garbage. They think that because men are less emotional than women they can take abuse and not complain about it!


  13. frances

    The mother of one of the rapist in front of her perverted son denided him doing any wrong where do you think he gets the idea he can get away with anything and mommy will take care of the proublem for him.

  14. robert

    Quasar; both boys and girls can be molested and mutilated as a child.
    The medical profession will circumsize a child at birth by the request of the parents, not because they get off on it.
    Men and woman join the forces and go to jail, ( if you don’t want to go to jail don’t commit the crime)
    Men are not always the ones that are thrown out of the street after a divorce, it realy depends on how high a price a lawyer he can get.
    I don’t know any nation that makes it illegal for a man to be a homosexual but not illegal for women.
    And finally if a man is hit with a hammer by his wife he probably deserves it, and if she didn’t knock him out he’d get up and most likely kill her so good for her.
    You are outraged, rather more than is comfortable for me to accept. Go see a phychologist, hopefully a female one.

  15. Quasar, please get off my side.

  16. Sheril, please take the following as constructive criticism, and in no way an attack on you or your initiative:

    Let me be clear: The initiative that began Monday to end the silence is not focused on one gender or limited to a single specific region.

    From the introductory post:

    Today begins a very important initiative called Silence Is The Enemy to help a generation of young women half a world away.Why? Because they are our sisters and children–the victims of sexual abuse who don’t have the means to ask for help … I’m asking all of you–bloggers, writers, teachers, and concerned citizens–to use whatever platform you have to call for an end to the rape and abuse of women and girls in Liberia and around the world.

    Etc. Etc.

    It’s not enough to say that its not focussed on one gender when it clearly has been. It’s not enough to intend to include male victims when you use language that excludes and erases them. It’s not enough to make the occasional post about male victims while the vast majority of the posts by you and prompted by you discuss the issue as though they don’t exist. All these approaches have the effect of marginalising and anomalising male victims.

    I agree that there is a silence in the media about the rape of women in the central Africa war, indeed about that war generally, but it’s not so profound that you weren’t able to find eight reports to link to in the first paragraph of your post after the separator. You could easily have found many more. In contrast, you would be hard pressed to find a single article that makes more than a fleeting reference to male sexual victimisation.

    Given that level of erasure, it’s not enough even to avoid explicitly exclusionary language. Saying, for example “use whatever platform you have to call for an end to rape and abuse in Liberia and around the world.” does nothing to make the invisible visible. Say rather “…end the rape and abuse of men, women and children…” or, if you prefer “woman and men”. The order doesn’t matter. Visibility does.

    Please change the way you right about these issues in your future blogging, and consider editing the posts you’ve already made.

  17. Too often, because of the dominant number of cases involving women, it is easy to forget that women are not the only victims.

    I don’t think that’s the reason. Firstly it’s not clear that women are the greater number of victims. It’s rare that male victims are even looked for. When they are, they tend to be found in large numbers. In Liberia, for example, only one study looked for male victims and found more than female victims. See the trackback above to Feminist Critics for citation and analysis.

    Secondly even where the burden of victimisation does fall unequivocally upon one gender, for example more than 90% of civilians killed in the post invasion violence are adult men, yet we do not forget that women are victimised too. In fact, I’d conjecture that most people would be surprised to discover that these figures are so one-sided Indeed, many people believe, falsely, that women and children are the majority of victims of modern war.

    In my opinion, the erasure of male victims of sexual abuse, and the promotion of the minority female victims of non-sexual violence are two aspects of the same media phenomenon – the process, scholarly analysed here by Dr. Adam Jones, by which ‘”unworthy” male victims tend to be marginalized or ignored entirely in mass-media coverage” which ‘deficit is … contrasted with the attention given to the victimization experiences of “worthy” victims, such as women, children, and the elderly.’

  18. I screwed up the link to Dr. Jones’ paper, which is here.

  19. …the post invasion violence…

    In Iraq.

    I’d appreciate it if a moderator could make the corrections in the comment and delete these two errata.


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About Sheril Kirshenbaum

Sheril Kirshenbaum is a research scientist with the Webber Energy Group at the University of Texas at Austin's Center for International Energy and Environmental Policy where she works on projects to enhance public understanding of energy issues as they relate to food, oceans, and culture. She is involved in conservation initiatives across levels of government, working to improve communication between scientists, policymakers, and the public. Sheril is the author of The Science of Kissing, which explores one of humanity's fondest pastimes. She also co-authored Unscientific America: How Scientific Illiteracy Threatens Our Future with Chris Mooney, chosen by Library Journal as one of the Best Sci-Tech Books of 2009 and named by President Obama's science advisor John Holdren as his top recommended read. Sheril contributes to popular publications including Newsweek, The Washington Post, Discover Magazine, and The Nation, frequently covering topics that bridge science and society from climate change to genetically modified foods. Her writing is featured in the anthology The Best American Science Writing 2010. In 2006 Sheril served as a legislative Knauss science fellow on Capitol Hill with Senator Bill Nelson (D-FL) where she was involved in energy, climate, and ocean policy. She also has experience working on pop radio and her work has been published in Science, Fisheries Bulletin, Oecologia, and Issues in Science and Technology. In 2007, she helped to found Science Debate; an initiative encouraging candidates to debate science research and innovation issues on the campaign trail. Previously, Sheril was a research associate at Duke University's Nicholas School of the Environment and has served as a Fellow with the Center for Biodiversity and Conservation at the American Museum of Natural History and as a Howard Hughes Research Fellow. She has contributed reports to The Nature Conservancy and provided assistance on international protected area projects. Sheril serves as a science advisor to NPR's Science Friday and its nonprofit partner, Science Friday Initiative. She also serves on the program committee for the annual meeting of the American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS). She speaks regularly around the country to audiences at universities, federal agencies, and museums and has been a guest on such programs as The Today Show and The Daily Rundown on MSNBC. Sheril is a graduate of Tufts University and holds two masters of science degrees in marine biology and marine policy from the University of Maine. She co-hosts The Intersection on Discover blogs with Chris Mooney and has contributed to DeSmogBlog, Talking Science, Wired Science and Seed. She was born in Suffern, New York and is also a musician. Sheril lives in Austin, Texas with her husband David Lowry. Interested in booking Sheril Kirshenbaum to speak at your next event? Contact Hachette Speakers Bureau 866.376.6591 info@hachettespeakersbureau.com For more information, visit her website or email Sheril at srkirshenbaum@yahoo.com.


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