What Is Male Sexual Abuse And Assault?
Male rape is not a form of sexual abuse or rape commonly discussed in the media, but does that mean that male rape is non-existent. Hardly. Approximately 1 in every 6 men has or will experience a rape or child sexual abuse in their lifetime. That’s no small number. Male sexual rape is under-reported and wildly misunderstood. Here’s the truth:
Sexual assault can happen to anyone, no matter your age, sexual orientation, or gender identity. Men and boys who have been sexually assaulted or abused may have many of the same feelings and reactions as other survivors of sexual assault, but they may also face some additional challenges because of social attitudes and stereotypes about men and masculinity.
It is a myth that men are not sexually assaulted, or that they are only sexually assaulted in prisons.
In fact, in between 9-10% of all rape survivors outside of criminal institutions are male according to the U.S. Department of Justice. Estimates of male rape from the U.S. Centers for Disease control reported that 16% of men experienced sexual abuse by the age of 18.
It’s incredibly likely that these reports are underestimates due to the barriers male survivors face in the reporting process: the U.S. Department of Justice records an average of greater than 12,000 reported sexual assaults of men annually, and predicts that if unreported assaults are included, the actual number of men who are sexually assaulted in the United States each year is approximately 60,000.
While these numbers include only males over the age of 12, the Department of Justice records that a male’s age of greatest risk of sexual assault is age 4. It is important to note, that unfortunately very few studies have been done to document the sexual abuse or sexual assault of men and boys.
It’s estimated that male survivors report sexual assault and abuse even less frequently than female survivors, and so it is difficult to make an accurate estimate of the number of men and boys who are being assaulted and abused.
Please note that researchers use “child sexual abuse” to describe experiences in which children are subjected to unwanted sexual contact involving force, threats, or a large age difference between the child and the other person (which involves a big power differential and exploitation).
How Do I Know If I Was Sexually Assaulted Or Abused?
From 1in6.org, for most guys, this is hard to figure out. For some men, it may not even be a helpful question to ask, at least not at first.
Why? Because of what a “yes” answer could mean, or appear to mean, for you and anyone else involved in those childhood or teenage experiences.
Labels like “abuse” can, in some situations, get in the way of understanding oneself and what’s going to be helpful going forward.
That’s why we suggest a (greater) focus on:
- Whether an experience is having unwanted effects on you now.
- How to understand those effects in the most helpful ways.
- How to overcome those effects to achieve your goals in life
“Unwanted or abusive sexual experiences” is how we most broadly refer to past sexual experiences that can cause a variety of problems, long after they happened.
Our words are carefully chosen, because we strive to:
- Respect every man’s experience and point of view.
- When possible, avoid definitions or labels that could drive away a man sorting through his own unique experiences and options.
We also want to emphasize what “unwanted or abusive sexual experiences” does not mean…
By “unwanted” we do not mean that the experience had to be unwanted when it happened. For example, a boy may feel that he wants sexual contact with an adult (especially if the adult has manipulated him). Instead, when we say “unwanted,” we mean:
- Looking back, is that an experience you wanted to have happened, to be part of your life?
- Do you want to be having negative thoughts and feelings and behaviors that, looking back now, you suspect or believe are (at least partly) caused by that experience?
The “or” in “unwanted or abusive” does not imply that any unwanted sexual experience was also “abusive.” We don’t believe this is true. We’re just hoping that “unwanted” works well enough when it comes to describing past sexual experiences that may have contributed to problems you have now.
For some of you, that’s why you’re here right now. You’re trying to sort out, on your own terms:
- “What was that past sexual experience really about?”
- “What effects has that experience had on me?”
- “Is that a reason why I’m struggling with _________?”
The question, “What was that sexual experience really about?” may be the most basic, and may take a while to process and understand as it implies other questions, like:
- Was the other person in a position of power or authority over me?
- Was I manipulated into doing sexual things, or into believing I wanted to, even when I really didn’t?
- Did sexual activity change what had been a positive relationship into one that involved secrecy and shame?
- Was the other person using me and not really considering my experience or my needs?
- Did the other person take advantage of vulnerabilities I had at the time – feeling isolated and lonely, feeling excited and curious but ignorant about sex?
These questions speak to possible exploitation, betrayal, and disregard for your well-being – experiences that can cause a variety of problems, right away and moving forward.
If you were a child, these questions apply to experiences with other children or teenagers, not just adults. No matter how old the other person was, if dominance, manipulation, exploitation, betrayal or disregard for your well-being were involved, the experiences(s) may have contributed to problems in your life now.
This idea here is not to push anyone to condemn – or even to label the other person or people involved – who may also have been good to you, and who you may still like, even love. Such experiences may have involved attention, affection and physical sensations that, at the time, you found pleasurable and in some way wanted (e.g., in a confused way mixed up with shame).
The point of trying to sort things out, if you choose to do so, is to understand whether – and if so, why and how – the sexual experience(s) may have helped to cause some problems you have now (like problems with shame, anger, addiction, or depression).
Ultimately, maybe no definition or label can address the needs or concerns behind your question. It may be that what’s most helpful to you is sorting it out with someone who has the experience, knowledge, and attitude to help you find your own personal answers and meanings.
Unique Issues Faced By Male Sexual Assault Survivors:
Society wrongly denies that men get sexually assaulted. With the exception of a prison joke, most people don’t even think about male sexual assault. When most people think of rape or sexual assault, they think of women. There’s a stigma that “real men” can fight off any attacker or that men are immune to sexual assault – and the issue that most people think that men, due to the nature of erections, cannot be forced into sex. These stigmas allow for men to feel safe from sexual assault.
Until it happens to them.
It’s really no wonder that men don’t seek help or report sexual assault. The percentage of men who report sexual assault is less than 5% – because they feel shame, isolation, and like they’re somehow “less of a man,” if they admit to being sexually assaulted.
For guys, the idea of being a victim is hard to accept. I mean, guys grow up believing they can defend themselves against ANYTHING. Dudes are supposed to believe that they can fight – TO THE DEATH – something like an unwanted sexual advance. Those masculine feelings are deeply rooted for most men – which can lead to guilt, shame and inadequacy for male sexual assault survivors.
Lots of male sexual assault survivors question whether or not it WAS sexual assault. Maybe they wanted it! Maybe they deserved it! I mean, they did fail to defend themselves…right? Male sexual assault survivors often become disgusted with themselves for not fighting back. The feelings are normal of any rape survivor, but the thoughts are flawed. Men who’ve been assaulted were just doing the best they could to survive. There’s NO shame in that.
Thanks to the guilt and shame spiral, a lot of male survivors punish themselves for the assault by engaging in self-destructive behavior. Drug or alcohol use and abuse. Picking fights. Social isolation. This is why male sexual assault survivors are at a higher risk for depression, work problems, and drug or alcohol addiction.
Sexual insecurities are common following a sexual assault are common. It may be hard to have sex or have a relationship with someone because any sexual contact may trigger a flashback. So if you’ve been the victim of male sexual assault, please just go easy on yourself and take some time to recover.
When heterosexual men are assaulted, they may question their sexuality, as though the assault may have made him gay, especially if the perpetrator accused the victim of enjoying himself. Sexual assault, though, is about power, anger, and control – not about sexuality. A sexual assault cannot “make someone gay.”
Gay men who have been sexually assaulted may feel self-loathing and self-blame, as though their sexuality caused it. In fact, some sexual assaults ARE the result of gay-bashing, motivated by fear of homosexuals. Remember that NO ONE deserves to be sexually assaulted.
What To Do If You’ve Been Assaulted:
Men who have been sexually assaulted should first get to a safe place and then call a friend and/or the police for help. Victims should refrain from showering or otherwise destroying physical evidence that may help convict the offender.
Remember, victims are not to blame for the assault.
By raising awareness about the prevalence of male sexual assault, we have hope that more and more men will feel comfortable reaching out for the help they need and deserve after surviving sexual assault.
How Do Men React To Sexual Abuse and Rape?
Men have many of the same reactions to sexual assault that people of other gender identities do. For all gender identity survivors: anger, anxiety, fear, confusion, self-blame, shame, depression, and even suicidal thoughts are all common reactions for someone who has experienced a sexual assault. Men, however, are more likely than women to initially respond with anger, or to try to minimize the importance or severity of the assault. Male survivors are also more likely to use or abuse alcohol or other drugs as a means to try and cope with the experience and the after-effects.
Men and boys who have been sexually assaulted may experience the same effects of sexual assault as other survivors, and they may face other challenges that are more unique to their experience.
Some men who have survived sexual assault as adults feel shame or self-doubt, believing that they should have been “strong enough” to fight off the perpetrator.
Men who were sexually abused as boys or teens may also respond differently than men who were sexually assaulted as adults. This list includes some of the common experiences shared by men and boys who have survived sexual assault. It is not a complete list, by any means, but it may help you to know that other people are having similar experiences:
- Mental health concerns include, anxiety, depression, PTSD (post-traumatic stress disorder), flashbacks, and eating disorders
- Being afraid of the worst case scenario always occurring
- Avoidance of people, sounds, smells, or places that trigger memories of the assault or abuse
- New concerns or questions about their actual sexual orientation
- Men commonly believe that being raped makes you “less of a man,” which is not true.
- Bursts of anger, feeling on edge all of the time, trouble sleeping, and being unable to relax
- Withdrawal from friendships and relationships, preferring to isolate themselves to avoid feelings
- Feeling shame or self-blame because you couldn’t stop the sexual assault or abuse – especially if you had an erection or ejaculated
- Feeling scared that disclosing the rape or abuse won’t be believed; other people may judge them for it.
Male physiological reactions during a sexual assault may also make it more difficult for a male survivor to recognize that he was sexually assaulted. Some men may have an erection or may ejaculate during a sexual assault, and may later feel confused that perhaps it means that they enjoyed the sexual assault, or that others will not believe that they were sexually assaulted.
However, erections and ejaculations are purely physiological responses, sometimes caused by intense fear or pain.
In fact, some sadistic rape perpetrators will deliberately manipulate their victim to orgasm, out of a desire to have complete control over their victims. Thus, the perpetrator can continue to manipulate the victim even after assault, with the hope of scaring the person from reporting the rape. A physical reaction of an erection or ejaculation during a sexual assault in no way indicates that the man enjoyed the experience or that he did something to cause it or permit it. Many men who experienced an erection or ejaculation during the assault may be confused and wonder what this means. These normal physiological responses do not in any way imply that you wanted, invited, or enjoyed the assault.
If something happened to you, know that it is not your fault and you are NOT alone.
Why Don’t Men Report Sexual Assault and Abuse?
Any victim – male, female, non-binary – has an internal struggle in deciding to report a rape. People are afraid of not being believed, of having their whole sexual life played out in front of the world, and often, people are afraid to show that someone overpowered them. Here are a number of reasons why men don’t report rape, sexual assault, or sexual abuse:
As men are socialized and expected to behave in our society; a male survivor of a sexual assault may feel as if he is not “a real man.”
As men in our society are expected to always be ready for sex and to be the aggressors in sexual relationships, it may be difficult for a man to tell others that he has been sexually assaulted, especially if the perpetrator was a woman. Additionally, either the you or those around him may feel that a “real man” should have been able to protect himself.
Unfortunately, our society expects men to be in control and the survivor, and other people may have difficulty accepting the idea that a man could be a victim to a rape or sexual assault. If your perpetrator is a woman, you may be mocked or feel ashamed that a woman overpowered you. It is common for both men and women to engage in “flight, fight or freeze mode” during a sexual assault, making him or her incapable of physically resisting the perpetrator.
Sexual assault is no sign of your physical weakness.
Homophobia leads men who have experienced a male-on-male rape to avoid disclosing the rape:
If the perpetrator is a man, some may may question their own sexuality, especially if he experienced an erection or ejaculation during the assault. If you identify as gay, bi, or queer, and in the process of coming out, you may question how others perceive your sexual orientation.
You may also fear that you’ll have to disclose his sexual orientation if you tell others about the assault.
Homophobia and gay stereotypes may affect a man’s decision to disclose. Stereotypes on the promiscuity of gay men will often lead to victim-blaming from his support system – either saying the encounter was consensual or that the incident occurred because of their assumed promiscuity. This is simply not true – sexual assault happens due to the perpetrator exerting power and control – and homophobia is a tool that a perpetrator can use and perpetuate in order to maintain this power.
Though most of the perpetrators of sexual assault against men are also men, between 96-98% of sexual assaults against all people are heterosexual men, thus conflating gay, bisexual, or queer men with sexual assault is false.
By denying that males can be sexually assaulted, male survivors feel that they are alone, crazy, or abnormal in some way
Due to the disproportionate number of women who experience sexual assault, it is often seen as a “women’s issue,” as stereotypes cause most people to be more comfortable with the image of a woman being deprived of her power in a sexual assault than a man. Men and people of all genders also experience this form of violence. Many hospitals are not familiar with or prepared to look for signs of male sexual assault, and even some police departments still do not collect statistics on its frequency. National organizations like 1 in 6 and Band Back Together provide important resources for male survivors to normalize their response to trauma, reduce isolation, and seek support.
They feel shame:
Shame involves thoughts and feelings about who you are. It involves feeling unworthy of respect or positive consideration by others, feeling like you deserve to be judged or criticized, and feeling embarrassed in front of others. Shame may arise from the following societal-driven myths.
- Males are not supposed to be dominated, let alone victims—especially sexually.
- Males are not supposed to have sexual contact with other males (if this was the case for you).
- Males are not supposed to experience vulnerable emotions, especially fear and sadness.
- And males especially aren’t supposed to feel ashamed. (This one can create a vicious cycle of ‘shame over feeling ashamed’ that can seem impossible to escape.)
For many, the shameful sense of not being a “real man” because of what happened is a huge burden in their lives. It affects what and how they think and feel about themselves. It leaves them fearing how others would see them if they knew what happened. (Sometimes they can’t shake the belief that others must know and, in turn, see them as “not a real man.”)
There may be deeper, and unrecognized, sources of shame.
This shame is felt to some extent by just about every man who had unwanted or abusive sexual experiences. Yet it can be overcome, and many, many men have managed to do so.
But for many men who experience extreme shame – shame so intense that it drives many of their thoughts and behaviors, including always trying to “prove themselves” – there are other, deeper, and older sources of shame.
They feel guilt:
Guilt has to do with thoughts and feelings about things you’ve done. It involves feeling regret, and usually feeling critical or judgmental toward yourself, for having done something wrong or bad – something that conflicts with your values and with your view of being a good person, and may include beating up on yourself, for recent actions or things you did a long time ago.
For men who had unwanted or abusive sexual experiences, there can be extreme guilt about ways they responded to sexual experiences and the people involved.
It’s common to feel guilty about:
- Not saying “no” or physically resisting.
- “Letting” another person take advantage of sexual ignorance and curiosity.
- Becoming sexually aroused or experiencing sexual pleasure, even when they didn’t want or like what was happening.
- Having engaged in sexual activity with other children, even if manipulated or forced by others.
- Not protecting a brother, sister, friend, or other child from someone doing the same things to them.
Thankfully, as with even the worst shame, it is entirely possible to overcome such deeply ingrained, “irrational,” and extreme guilt.
It can take time, and some people need considerable help, including professional help, along the way. But it can happen.
Many other men with histories of unwanted or abusive sexual experiences have learned to stop beating up on themselves for things that weren’t their fault. Many other men like you have learned how to make amends when they can and, when it’s an appropriate response, to truly forgive themselves
Does Sexual Assault Change Your Sexual Orientation?
Many men wonder, especially if they reached ejaculation, orgasm, or an erection, if that means that their sexual orientation has changed. This is untrue. Sexual assault is in no way related to the sexual orientation of the perpetrator or the survivor, and a person’s sexual orientation cannot be caused by sexual abuse or assault.
Some men and boys have questions about their sexuality after surviving an assault or abuse – and that’s understandable. This can be especially true if you experienced an erection or ejaculation during the assault. Physiological responses like an erection are involuntary, meaning you have no control over them.
If the sexual experiences involved another male (or males), they may have thoughts and confusion about whether they are gay.
It’s very common to ask yourself:
- Did it happen because I’m (really) gay?
- Am I gay because it happened?
- If anyone finds out, will they think I’m gay?
- Can I ever be a “real man” if I was sexual with another male?
Sometimes perpetrators, especially adults who sexually abuse boys, will use these physiological responses to maintain secrecy by using phrases such as, “You know you liked it.” If you have been sexually abused or assaulted, it is not your fault.
In no way does an erection invite unwanted sexual activity, and ejaculation in no way condones an assault.
Dispelling Myths of Male Sexual Assault and Abuse:
When it comes to rape and sexual assault, there are a great number of myths swirling around; a woman “asked for it” because she got drunk in a bar, a woman “deserved it” for walking home alone at night, “if she hadn’t worn those clothes,” she wouldn’t have been raped. In pure stark reality, in the light of day, you can see that these myths about female sexual assault are bullshit.
However, men have an even more challenging set of misconstrued myths that may lead them to keep their abuse or assault silent. Let’s explore:
Myth: Child Sexual Abuse Is More Harmful For Girls Than Boys
Studies consistently show that long-term effects of child sexual abuse can be very damaging for BOTH girls and boys. The CDC discovered that sexual abuse of boys is more likely to involve penetration (of some sort), which is associated with far greater psychological harm.
Most studies show that the long term effects of sexual abuse and assault can be quite damaging for both males and females. One large study, conducted by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control, found that the sexual abuse of boys was more likely to involve penetration of some kind, which is associated with greater psychological harm.
The harm caused by sexual abuse or assault mostly depends on things not determined by gender, including: the abuser’s identity, the duration of the abuse, whether the child told anyone at the time, and if so, whether the child was believed and helped.
Many boys suffer harm because adults who could believe them and help are reluctant, or refuse, to acknowledge what happened and the harm it caused. This increases the harm, especially the shame felt by boys and men, and leads many to believe they have to “tough it out” on their own. And that, of course, makes it harder to seek needed help in the midst of the abuse, or even years later when help is still needed.
Myth: Most Men Who Sexually Abuse Boys Are Gay.
Studies about this myth suggest that men who have sexually abused a boy most often identify as heterosexual and often are involved in adult heterosexual relationships at the time of abusive interaction.
There is absolutely no indication that a gay man is more likely to engage in sexually abusive behavior than a straight man; some studies even suggest it is less likely.
Remember though, sexual abuse is not an actual sexual “relationship,” – it’s an assault and the sexual orientation of the perpetrator isn’t ACTUALLY relevant to the abuse. A man who sexually abuses or exploits boys is not engaging in a homosexual interaction – any more than men who sexually abuse or exploit girls are engaging in heterosexual behaviors.
A child sexual abuser (often called “pedophile”) is a deeply confused individual who, for various reasons, desires to sexually use or abuse a child, and has acted on that desire.
Myth: Boys Abused By Men Have, Themselves, Attracted The Abuse Because They Are Gay (Or Become Gay As A Result):
While theories abound about how sexual orientation develops exist, experts do not believe that sexual abuse – or premature sexual experiences – play any role in the development of sexual orientation. No evidence exists that someone can “turn” or “make” somebody gay OR straight. Sexual orientation is a complex issue, and research does not explain why someone becomes homosexual, heterosexual, bi-sexual, pan-sexual, or any sexual behavior on the spectrum.
Commonly, boys and men who’ve been abused become confused about their sexual identity and orientation, no matter how their sexual orientation identifies them. Some men who’ve identified as heterosexual fear that they may really be homosexual due to the abuse they suffered as boys, believing that the abuse precludes them from being a Real Man in society. Even men who clearly identify as heterosexual, who project very traditional heterosexual traits, fear that others will “find them out” as gay or not Real Men.
Men who identify as gay or bi-sexual may wonder if their sexual orientation was influenced in any way by their childhood sexual abusive experience or even have caused their orientation.
Many boys abused by males wonder if something about them sexually attracted the person who abused them and will unknowingly attract other males who will use and abuse them. While understandable fears, they are not true.
One of the great tragedies of childhood sexual abuse is how it robs a person’s right to discover his own sexuality in his own time.
It is very important to remember that abuse comes from the abusive perpetrator’s failure to develop and maintain healthy adult sexual relationships, and his or her willingness to sexually use and abuse kids, not from desire.
Abuse has nothing to do with the preferences or desires of the child who is abused, and cannot determine a person’s natural sexual identity.
Myth: Boys and Men Who Are Sexually Assaulted Will Become Perpetrators
This myth can be especially damaging for the fear this puts in men and boys who’ve been sexually abused. They may fear becoming just like their abuser and some will believe that they’re a danger to children.
Unfortunately, this is due to society’s belief that being abused creates a terrible likelihood that men and boys who have been raped or abused sexually will become perpetrators themselves. This also means that people aren’t as supportive of a man or a boy’s sexual assault than others when they need support the most.
While some of the men who’ve sexually abused others suffered histories of sexual abused, it is NOT TRUE that most become abusers. Most boys do not go on to be sexually abusive as adults; even those who perpetrate as teens can get help when they are young and don’t usually abuse children as adults.
The best available research suggests that 75% or more of those who commit acts of sexual or physical abuse against others were themselves abused as children. However, the research also indicates that:
The vast majority of children who are sexually abused do not go on to abuse others.
Myth: Boys Can’t Be Sexually Abused or Raped, and If He Is? He Can’t Ever Be A “Real Man.”
From very early on in life, the boy child is seen as a manly guy, encouraged not to cry, to suppress his emotions, or even become a victim; if he is sexually abused as a child, or raped as a young man, he cannot become a Real Man. Our society expects that men cannot be victims, men should be able to protect themselves, and if you’re a “successful” male, you will never be physically or emotionally vulnerable.
Whether you agree with that definition of masculinity or not, boys are children; weaker and more vulnerable than those who sexually abuse or exploit them. Those who use their greater size, strength and knowledge to manipulate, force, or coerce boys into unwanted sexual experiences and while the victim remains silent. This is usually done from a position of authority -, coach, teacher, religious leader – or status – older cousin, admired athlete, social leader – using whatever means are available, called child grooming, to reduce resistance. Ways a perpetrator grooms his prey include attention, special privileges, money or other gifts, promises or bribes, even outright threats.
What happened to us as children does not need to define us as adults – male OR female. 1 in every 6 boys are sexually abused before the age of 18, and these boys – with support and healing – can grow into strong, powerful, courageous, healthy men.
Myth: If a Man or Boy Experiences Sexual Arousal During the Abuse and Assault, he enjoyed it – which makes it the victim’s fault
Many people – men and women alike – believe this myth is true and carry feelings of guilt and shame especially if they were physically aroused during the abuse.
Physiologically, it’s important to understand that boys and men can respond to sexual stimulation with an erection or even an orgasm – even in sexual situations that are traumatic or painful.
That’s just how male bodies and brains work.
The people who sexually use and abuse boys understand this and use it to continue to perpetrate the abuse – telling the child “you wanted it,” and “you liked it. That does NOT make it true; no child wants to be sexually exploited and abused. None.
Unfortunately, because the predator is able to spot the type of children susceptible to grooming and abuse, many boys are able to be manipulated into sexual abuse that they may not understand and do not like.
There are often situations in which a boy, after being gradually manipulated with attention (child grooming), affection and gifts, feels like he wants such attention and sexual experiences. In an otherwise lonely life, the attention and pleasure of sexual contact from someone the boy admires can feel good.
In reality, this sexual abuse is still about a boy who was vulnerable to manipulation by a predator and groomed accordingly. It’s still about a boy who was betrayed by someone who selfishly exploited the boy’s needs for attention and affection to use him sexually.
Myth: If A Man or Boy Is Abused By A Female, He Was “Lucky”
This myth claims that not only can males not be sexually assaulted or abused, but that any experience with girls and women – especially older women – is proof that he is, indeed, a Real Man. Confusion arises from focusing on the sexual aspect of the incident rather than the abusive one; a man or boy has been violated, exploited, and betrayed by someone who has more power, or someone he trusts or admires.
Coerced, premature, or otherwise sexually exploited sexual experiences are NOT positive – no matter who imposes them (someone in a position of power over the boy or man. At its bones, being sexually exploited by a female causes insecurity, confusion, and harm the person’s capacity for trust and intimacy.
Someone who is homosexual and experienced arousal during abuse from a female perpetrator may become confused by his sexual identity.
Being a child or man who has been sexually used or abused, whether by males or females, causes a variety of other emotional and psychological problems. Unfortunately, boys and men often don’t recognize the connections between what happened with the abuse and rape with problems they experience later in life. Being abused as a sexual object by a more powerful person, male or female, is never a good thing, and can cause lasting harm.
Tips for Taking Care of Yourself:
Get some support. Find people who understand what you’re feeling and those who love you just as you are. Don’t isolate yourself.
- Engage in some hard exercise or some relaxation techniques.
- Talk about the assault – express your feelings. Doesn’t have to be with everyone, just people you trust.
- Get some counseling.
- Remind yourself that you’re safe now – no one can hurt you.
- Let out some of your anger in safe, healthy ways like writing or reading.
- Write a post for Band Back Together. Remember: you can be anonymous!
Supporting Male Sexual Assault and Abuse Survivors:
It can be hard to tell someone that you have experienced sexual assault or abuse as you may fear that others will not believe you and will instead judge you. Stereotypes about masculinity can also make it hard to disclose to friends, family, the police, or the community.
Men and boys who’ve experience rape and sexual abuse also may face challenges in actually believing that it is possible for them to be victims of sexual violence, especially when perpetrated by a woman. Below are a few suggestions on how you can support a man or boy who discloses to you that he has experienced sexual assault or abuse.
Listen. Many people in crisis are certain that no one could possibly understand them or take them seriously. Show them they matter by giving your undivided attention. It is hard for many survivors to disclose assault or abuse, especially if they fear not being believed.
Validate feelings. Avoid making overly positive statements like “It will get better” or trying to manage their emotions, like “Snap out of it” or “You shouldn’t feel so bad.” Instead say “I believe you” or “That sounds like a really hard thing to go through,” and “I’m so sorry this happened to you.”
Express concern. Tell them in a direct way that you care about them by saying something like “I care about you” or “I am here for you.” Offer to help them in any way you possibly can.
Do not ask about details of the assault. Even if you are curious about what happened and feel that you want to fully understand it, avoid asking for details of how the assault occurred. However, if a survivor chooses to share those details with you, try your best to listen in a supportive and non-judgmental way.
Provide appropriate resources. There may be other aspects in men’s lives that could limit their ability to access resources and services after experiencing sexual assault or abuse. For example, trans men may face barriers when navigating medical care or black men may have concerns about reaching out to law enforcement. Be sensitive to these worries, and when supporting a survivor try your best to suggest resources you feel will be most helpful.
For those struggling, here are some things that might help you begin to heal.
Coping with problems associated with sexual violence
In more recent years, people have become aware of the horrors of child sexual abuse or sexual assault, and the significant impact that it can have on someone’s life. When seeking to acknowledge some of the difficulties that men can face as a result of sexual violence, care needs to be taken to recognize men’s capacity to lead full and rewarding lives.
Do not fall into the trap of making experiences of sexual abuse or sexual assault the explanation for all life’s problems.
When talking with men about issues related to child sexual abuse or sexual assault, Jim Hopper suggests it is useful to keep in mind that:
- All human beings suffer painful experiences, and some of these occur in childhood.
- Being sexually abused is one of many painful and potentially harmful events that a man may experience.
- Whether and to what extent childhood sexual abuse and sexual assault (or other painful experiences) negatively affect our lives depends on a variety of factors .
- Child sexual abuse or sexual assault, in itself, does not “doom” people to lives of horrible suffering.
- If a person has been sexually abused and experiences some problems or symptoms, the abuse is not necessarily the primary (let alone only) reason for these challenges.
- All caregivers of children are sometimes unable to protect children from painful experiences.
- We all need love and support to deal with the effects of painful experiences.
- Everyone must find ways to acknowledge and deal with emotions generated by painful experiences – whether or not we receive support from others.
- Many coping or self-regulation strategies work in some ways, but also limit us in other ways.
- Following an experience of child sexual abuse or sexual assault, it is not unusual for people’s lives to become closely connected with problems related to that experience. However, seeing the person as the problem and all of his current difficulties as a result of sexual abuse or sexual assault can be counter-productive.
Please also visit Helping Someone Heal From Sexual Assault and Rape
What Are The Long-Term Negative Outcomes For Male Sexual Assault Victims?
Men dealing with the effects of childhood sexual abuse and sexual assault
There is no prescribed way of how people are affected by sexual abuse or sexual assault; everyone is different. However, we do know sexual violence can have profound effects on men’s lives. Below is a list of some common problematic responses which are associated with an experience of sexual violence, including childhood sexual abuse or sexual assault. These have been identified through research, and through talking directly with men.
- Use of alcohol or other drugs.
- Suicidal thoughts and behavior.
- Flashbacks and invasive thoughts.
- Nightmares and insomnia.
- Anxiety and fear.
- Mood swings.
- Mental health difficulties.
- Self blame.
- Difficult feelings of guilt, shame or humiliation.
- Sense of loss, grief.
- Helplessness, isolation and alienation.
- Low self–esteem, self doubt, diminished self belief.
- Difficulties with relationships and intimacy.
- Problems related to masculinity and gender identity.
- Questions and difficulties related to sexuality.
Problems related to “being a man”
Unfortunately, men who have experienced sexual violence have another set of difficulties to deal with; difficulties created by our society’s expectations and assumptions of gender. Dealing with sexual violence often means dealing with a lot of ideas around ‘being a man.’
Below is a list of problems that men who have been subjected to sexual violence often confront. These relate to the expectations of what a man ‘should’ do or be in our community. Child sexual abuse or sexual assault can lead to:
- Pressure to “prove” his manhood:
- Physically – by becoming bigger, stronger and meaner, by engaging in dangerous or violent behavior.
- Sexually – by having multiple female sexual partners, by always appearing ‘up for it’ and sexually in control.
- Confusion over gender and sexual identity.
- Sense of being inadequate as a man.
- Sense of lost power, control, and confidence in relation to manhood.
- Problems with closeness and intimacy.
- Sexual problems.
- Fear that the sexual abuse has caused or will cause him to become ‘homosexual’ or ‘gay.’
- Homophobia – fear or intolerance of any form of ‘homosexuality.’
As is apparent from the above list, some problems are specifically related to gender expectations and the social world in which a man lives. In sorting out any of these difficulties, it is therefore important to acknowledge the social and relational parts of the identified problems.
Other Factors That Influence The Impact of Sexual Assault
The more we learn about child sexual abuse, the more we understand the multiple factors which can influence how much it impacts upon men’s lives.
Research has shown that what occurred, who was involved, and how the man was responded to, all influence the types and degree of problems a man has to deal with.
Factors which have been found to be significant are:
- The age at which the abuse began – earlier onset is linked to greater impact.
- The duration and frequency of the abuse – the longer it goes on for, and the more often it occurs, the greater the impact.
- The type of activities which constituted the abuse – if there is penetration, use of violence, and emotional manipulation all result in greater impact.
- The nature of the relationship with the person perpetrating the abuse – if the person is a close family member, or someone who was previously trusted, the impact is greater.
- The number of persons involved in the abuse.
- How disclosure of the abuse occurred, and how it was responded to – if a man is confronted with disbelief and lack of support, it can create further difficulties. 
Although the above factors have been found to influence the extent of problems related to an experience of sexual violence, none of the identified factors automatically damn a man to a life of misery and pain.
Research suggests the following three factors can also influence the degree of impact sexual violence has on a man’s life:
- The basic constitutional characteristics of the child (for example, temperament, sense of self-esteem and sense of personal control).
- A supportive family environment (warmth, nurturing, organization and so on).
- A supportive individual or agency that provides positive support that assists the child.
Unfortunately, research suggests that currently men are less likely to access and receive support from family, friends and specialized sexual assault services than women are. It is therefore important that, when men do come forward and seek assistance, their friends, family and service professionals take time to listen to the man and link him in with appropriate support.
Reclaiming Your Life:
It’s important for all male sexual assault survivors to remember that their feelings and reactions are both normal and temporary. Fear and confusion will lessen, but the trauma of a sexual assault may disrupt things awhile. Some feelings will happen out of the blue and are related to the sexual assault – you’re not going crazy.
It’s hard to want to talk about your feelings – you probably just want to get over it and move on with your life. Eventually, you’ll have to deal with those feelings to heal and gain control of your life again. So talk to a friend, a therapist, a hotline counselor – anyone you trust – to work through those feelings. It’s a key part of reclaiming your life after a sexual assault.
Remember – you won’t be functioning 100% after the assault. It’s normal to feel tired, forgetful or irritable – be kind to yourself. Allow yourself to feel how you feel.
Hotlines for Male Sexual Assault:
Rainn: 800.656.HOPE (4673)
Additional Male Sexual Assault Resources
Rape and Incest National Network (RAINN) – A site dedicated to raising awareness and offering support for those who have been sexually abused. Includes information on female and male survivors of sexual assault.
1in6 For Men – A site that includes an online support group that is available simply by clicking a link on the site. An excellent place for survivors to find support from the security of their own homes.
Mississippi Coalition Against Sexual Assault (MCASA) – A site that explores and debunks myths regarding male sexual assault.
ManKind Initiative – A UK-based site that centers on men in abusive relationships. The site’s mission is broad and includes all forms of domestic violence, including sexual abuse. There is information on legal support and local resources.
National Organization for Men Against Sexism (NOMAS) – An activist organization that is “pro-feminist, gay affirmative, anti-racist, dedicated to enhancing men’s lives, and committed to justice on a broad range of social issues including class, age, religion, and physical abilities.”
Band Back Together’s How To Heal From A Rape or Sexual Assault Page helps those affected by sexual violence, rape, and sexual abuse, not only for the survivor but also for his or her loved ones.
Last audited 10/2018