Sexual Assault of Males
The complexities surrounding male sexual victimization are similar to the female experience of sexual assault: however, there are also a number of differences. In order to gain an understanding of the male experience, it is essential to address some of the misconceptions about male survivors of sexual violence.
Myths about Male Sexual Assault
|Myth:||Sexual Assault of males is a rare occurrence.|
|Fact:||A recent study in Canada (Sexual Offences Against Children) reports that an estimated one in three boys will be sexually assaulted before the age of 18. Also, in one study involving college men aged 19-24, 30% admitted to being survivors of sexual assault. Both males and females are vulnerable to sexual exploitation. However, due to the complexities surrounding male sexual (e.g., societal misconceptions about masculinity and sexuality, males are less likely to report sexual assault).|
|Myth:||Males are less traumatized or do not suffer to the same extent as female survivors do.|
|Myth:||Male survivors are just as likely to experience post-traumatic stress, depression, suicidal ideations, or have their experience affect their future relationships. All survivors of sexual assault and sexual violence have very personal reactions, all of which are different and valid. Sexual assault is a crime of violence and therefore impacts all survivors to some extent.|
|Myth:||Males are only assaulted and abused by homosexual men.|
|Fact:||Some male perpetrators are homosexual; however, the reality is that most perpetrators are not homosexual but heterosexual, and the motivation is control and humiliation, not sex. Females can also be perpetrators of sexual assault, especially when survivors are children.|
|Myth:||Males assaulted by another male are or become homosexual as a result of the sexual assault.|
|Fact:||The sexual orientation of a male survivor of sexual assault does not change as a result of his assault experience. Essentially, there is no connection between sexual assault and the sexual orientation of the survivor. Although some men may experience physical arousal during an assault by another man, it is purely a physiological reaction and does not mean that he wanted the abuse.|
|Myth:||Males can protect themselves from sexual assault.|
|Fact:||Males and females alike are vulnerable to sexual assault. Many male survivors feel ashamed and embarrassed because they were unable to prevent the assault. However, it must be noted that males and females are vulnerable to being coerced by someone in authority or who is trusted, or who they are in a relationship with. The coercion may contribute to the silence and suppression experienced by male survivors.|
|Males always want and are ready for sex.|
|Fact:||Many males who have been assaulted by women, or who experienced a physical response during the assault, struggle with this myth; however, regardless of who the perpetrator is, sexual assault is not about sex, it is a crime of violence. In addition, many believe that it is almost impossible to sexually assault a man because men always want sex. Yet, men do not always want sex, and they definitely do want the option of choosing when they have sex and who they have sex with. Sexual assault takes these choices away from them.|
Reactions to Sexual Violence
- As mentioned previously, all survivors of sexual violence have individual reactions to sexual assault. Although there are some notable similarities experienced by all survivors, there are also some distinct complexities in the male survivor’s response to sexual assault. This includes:
Confusion about Sexual Identity
- Many survivors of sexual assault may find themselves asking whether they are heterosexual, gay, or bisexual, and wonder if the assault has influenced their sexuality. Males who have been sexually assaulted often grapple with a number of questions depending on whether the perpetrator was a male or female.
Difficulties with Physical Functioning
- It is very common for male survivors of sexual assault to experience problems with sexual functioning. Painful erections, difficulty maintaining erections, premature ejaculation, lack of desire, or an obsession with sex may all stem from the males’ sexual assault experience. There experiences stem from the fact that the survivor has learned to associate sex with their sexual assault, and that which is sexual has become a trigger for them. Working through the sexual assault will help a survivor overcome these issues.
Difficulties with Intimacy
- It is quite normal for men to have difficulties with trusting others after being sexually violated. This distrust might transfer to co-workers, friends, family, those in authority, and more generally to any intimate relationship. To be sexually assaulted is a violation of trust, especially if the perpetrator was known to the survivor.
Anger and Shame
- As a result of societal misconceptions and beliefs, males are “restricted” to a certain array of emotions. Socially, it is quite acceptable for males to express and even act out their anger. It may even seem “healthy” for a mal survivor to express these intense emotions of anger; however, if emotional responses are limited to only anger, this may result in the suppression of other relevant and valid feelings. In addition, males are socialized not to show or share their emotions, and are often teased and criticized if they do so. As a male survivor, expressing any other emotions other than anger may not seem comfortable. However, it is extremely important, that as supporters of sexual assault survivors, we accept and not force the survivor to disclose feelings he is not ready for, or judge a survivor by their emotional expressions.
- Shame is also an underlying emotion experienced by many sexually assaulted men. In our society, males are socialized to be strong, tough, and courageous. However, a male survivor may experience shame if they feel that they have not lived up to society’s ideas of “manhood”. The survivor may also feel shame if he blames himself for the assault, or if he feels that he could have stopped it. Also, a common feeling of shame may arise if there was a physiological response to sexual stimulation and activity. In essence, it is normal to experience physical arousal to stimulation; however, many male survivors may interpret this as if they had enjoyed, and did not prevent, the assault.
- As education on sexual assault becomes more prevalent, and as more male survivors of sexual assault come forward, more and more individuals and agencies are welcoming male survivors. This support and acknowledgement will aid in their recovery processes and will help in the fight to end sexual violence against everyone.
Books for Survivors:
- Crossing the Line, Laura Robinson, 1998
- Victims No Longer, Mick Lew, 1996
Books for Volunteers:
- Speaking Our Truth, Neal King, 1995
- Betrayed as Boys, Richard B. Gartner, 2001