LeRon Barton discusses the sexual abuse of Black boys and how their sexual assault or rape is often seen as a “rite of passage” instead of a discussion about victimhood and support
CONTENT NOTE: This article includes frank discussion of sexual assault from the very beginning.
Stock photo used. If you are affected by issues in this article, 1in6 in the USA or NSPCC in the UK will be able to help.
When we think of Black boys and teenagers, what are the first things that come to mind: mischievous, smart, angry, cute, criminal, stupid, ignorant, creative, slow, intelligent? To different people, they represent different things, but I would be willing to wager that the one thing most of us never attribute to Black boys – being sexual assault victims.
There is a longstanding belief that men and boys cannot be raped. The way that many see sexual assault is through the lens of women. The forceful taking of a woman’s body has always been the popular definition. Because the man has a penis and is the penetrator, he is always considered the aggressor and the victimiser, but never the victim. This view is magnified 20x if you are Black.
The Black man has always been defined as a hypersexual being; giving into his carnal desires to have sex and rape women at any time. DW Griffith’s The Birth of a Nation gave us a picture of Black men as savages, frothing at the mouth at the chance to rape white women. We objectify the Black body and his supposed sexual prowess. He is there to please, penetrate, and satisfy; nothing else.
“They thought they were willing participants in these sexual acts, but in actuality this was statutory rape. Lil Wayne has said that he lost his virginity to an older woman when he was 11. It boggles my mind why folks chuckle and smile when these stories of young Black boys having sex with much older women are told”
In discussions about rape and sexual abuse, Black men and boys are never given the chance to be, let alone look, like victims. However, when we see stats reported by 1in6 (an organisation dedicated to helping male sexual survivors) that many Black boys first sexual encounter is age 9 or 10 from an older woman, and that one in six Black boys have suffered sexual abuse we have to ask ourselves, “Why aren’t we talking about the sexual abuse of young African-American boys?”
In 2018 actor DeRay Davis, known for his appearance in the comedy “Barbershop,” appeared on popular video channel Vladtv describing his first sexual experience. Davis told the story of being watched after by two 30-year-old women, who he ended up having intercourse with at age 11. Rapper Tech Nine also recalled on the video platform losing his virginity at age 14 to his middle school teacher. She was 21.
While both men tried to laugh and joke about the situation – Tech Nine even calling it “player” – I felt sad for them. Davis and Tech Nine thought they were willing participants in these sexual acts, but in actuality this was statutory rape. Lil Wayne has said that he lost his virginity to an older woman when he was 11. It boggles my mind why folks chuckle and smile when these stories of young Black boys having sex with much older women are told. There is no outrage over these kinds of situations; it is looked at laughingly. Black boys are thought to have entered into manhood by doing this.
Growing up, I would hear stories from my male friends about how their baby sitters would kiss them or touch them in inappropriate ways. My friends would talk about making out with a “play aunt” or having sex with a family friend. It was not looked upon as a bad thing; in fact, it was something they bragged about. This was a rite of passage to many of us. My mother, however, shielded me from this. When I was about 14 years old, she had a friend that would come over and hang out with us. One day I noticed that the friend stopped coming around. When I asked why the friend stopped visiting, my Mother told me, “She liked you.” I knew what she meant.
Dr. Tommy J. Curry of Texas A&M has written much about the subject of the sexual molestation of Black boys. In his groundbreaking book The Man-Not: Race, Class, Genre, and the Dilemmas of Black Manhood, Dr. Curry talks about the victimhood or lack thereof when discussing Black boys. Curry writes, “The hyper-masculinity of the Black male brute resonates in the minds of observers and theorists as a denial of his sexual victimization and rape by women.”
Many times throughout my life, both men and women joked about “you can’t rape a man” and by having sex with an older woman you automatically “became a man.” Because we as Black men are viewed as more sex crazed than the average man, apparently this means we welcome any and all sexual contact from a woman. Presumably we never stop to think about how this could change us later in life. The thought of this having an adverse effect on Black men’s lives is lost on many.
“Refusing to see Black boys as rape victims can lead us to viewing Tamir Rice as a dangerous 12-year-old or Mike Brown as a 10 foot tall savage. Society tells us Black boys cannot be victims; we are always looking to harm, rape and murder. It totally desensitises everyone from seeing our vulnerability”
Dr. Curry co-authored a paper with Ebony A. Utley called She Touched Me: Five Snapshots of Adult Sexual Violations of Black Boys which looked into stories of five African-American men as they told of being raped by older women. In talking with the five men, the median age for first sexual experience was 9.2 and the first sexual contact with an adult was 13. While all the stories were different, they all followed a common trend – all five men were sexually abused by a family friend.
Possibly due to this, it seems that their understanding of sex became distorted, and the men led very sexually active lives. One man slept with nearly 150 women and another fathered 11 children with multiple women. Reading the stories of the women slightly flirting with the boys at age 12, the hugs and touches they received from the women under the guise of familial affection, and the eventual sexual encounters hit home. These stories sounded JUST LIKE THE ONES I heard from my friends. It is sickening and it breaks my heart, but it also makes me angry. Why don’t we care that this is happening to our Black boys?
Today we are in a climate of #metoo and the overdue awareness of sexual assault that women endure on a daily basis. It is important that these stories are highlighted. I also believe that there should be room made “at the table” for the conversation about male sexual assault, specifically with Black boys. We need to change how we view sexual abuse amongst us. Having sex with a woman 10 years our senior when we are 14 years old is not okay. This is abuse, plain and simple. Have we internalised anti-Blackness so much that we think it is normal for African-American boys to be raped at an early age?
While Dr. Curry argues that Black men were never considered men, hence the term “Man-Not,” I will take it a step further and say we were never allowed to be youth. When a Black boy steps into this world, he is not a child, but a grown man. Refusing to see Black boys as rape victims can lead us to viewing Tamir Rice as a dangerous 12-year-old or Mike Brown as a 10 foot tall savage. Society tells us Black boys cannot be victims; we are always looking to harm, rape and murder. It totally desensitises everyone from seeing our vulnerability.
Having this conversation is so important. When I started to write this piece, I thought of the many boys I knew growing up who experienced having sex so young, with an older woman, and my mother protecting me from that possible fate. I take a deep breath and sigh. Black men don’t just have to worry about the bullets from the police, but the touch of a family member or friend that can change our lives, and no one giving a damn. People will just rationalise it as “well, that’s the way things are.”
LeRon L. Barton is a writer in San Francisco. His book All We Really Need Is Love: Stories of Dating, Relationships, Divorce, and Marriage is available at Amazon.com. You can view his TEDx speech – How I overcame my stutter and also visit his websiteFollow @MainlineLeRon