Boys who have been brutally ill-treated are refusing to get help because they believe they must be tough and keep any worries to themselves, according to a new survey published by the charity ChildLine.
Despite talk of the "New Man", the macho stereotype persists and boys who do speak of their problems fear being ridiculed as weak wimps.
The report, We Know it's Tough to Talk, is based on a sample of the 16,505 boys who contacted the helpline in 1994-5 and a questionnaire carried out in secondary schools. The charity has also launched a campaign with the London Monarchs, Britain's only American football team, encouraging boys to call.
Four times as many girls as boys call ChildLine, and more than five times as many girls of 11-15 than boys.
Mary MacLeod, research director for ChildLine, said the proportion of boys calling with such serious problems that they had to be referred to police or social services was much higher than that of girls. Among boys, 18 per cent called about physical abuse, 17 per cent about bullying, 11 per cent about sexual abuse and 8 per cent about sexuality. In comparison girls called about a wider range of concerns, most frequently bullying or family problems, and proportionally fewer because of physical abuse.
Boys told of attempted strangulation, being thrown downstairs, beaten around the head and stabbed. "Steve", 13, said his father frequently got into a rage and hit him around the head, dragged him by his hair and pushed him downstairs. He added that because he was blind his father would move objects so that he fell over them. And "Simon", 15, told ChildLine that the previous day his stepfather had beaten him with a metal rod and broken his arm.
"Assaults like these are criminal offences ... But for children the possibility of getting help or of the violence ending seems remote," Ms Macleod said.
Both girls and boys talked of their feelings of worthlessness, hopelessness and low self-esteem. But boys were more likely to speak of anger and destructive behaviour, and were much more likely to be self-critical about having a problem at all, feeling that a "real" boy would have prevented or stopped bullying or assaults.
In the school survey, based on 1,453 completed questionnaires, 17 per cent thought it was acceptable for girls to get upset but boys should be tough. Half (51 per cent) said boys found it harder to talk than girls.
"Stereotyping seems to reach its height in adolescence when boys feel under great pressure to show they are tough," Esther Rantzen, chairwoman of ChildLine, said. "... But the 71 per cent increase in suicide by young men in the past 10 years shows how dangerous it can be to bottle up distress."
8 ChildLine (free): 0800 1111.
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