“Our Culture provides no room for a man as a victim. Men are simply not supposed to be victimized. A “real” man is expected to protect himself in any situation.” -- Mike Lew, author of “Victims No Longer.”
Sexual assault can totally upset a male’s belief that his world is a safe place, and that he is in control of his sexuality and his body. Boys are taught that their maleness is rooted in their ability to achieve and sustain personal, economic and sexual power at all times. Most men who are survivors of sexual violence have a lot of questions about their sexuality and masculinity. Sexual assault is not about sex or sexual orientation, it is a crime of violence motivated by a need for power and control. Sex is used as a weapon to humiliate and degrade the victim. If you are a survivor of sexual violence, you are not alone, however it may feel like you are alone if you keep it to yourself.
A significant number of sex crime victims are men. These are not men in prison cells; they are husbands, boyfriends and sons. Anyone, regardless of their gender, strength, or ability to take care of themselves can be a victim of sexual assault. One out of every six males is sexually assaulted before the age of 18 and 27.8% of men were age 10 or younger at the time of their first rape/victimization. Only 1 in 33 men report sexual violence due to the fear of ridicule or not being believed. Men may rather deny what happened than risk being labeled helpless or weak. From an early age, boys are taught that men are not victims; they need to be strong to protect themselves and others. They may feel guilt or shame at the inability to “fight” off the perpetrator or be manipulated into submission.
Some men and boys have questions about their sexuality after surviving a sexual assault. This can be especially true if they experienced an erection or ejaculation during the assault. Physiological responses like an erection are involuntary, you have no control over them. An erection or ejaculation doesn’t condone a sexual assault. Sometimes perpetrators will use these physiological responses to control the victim and maintain secrecy by using phrases like, “you know you liked it.” If the male had some basic emotional needs met by the perpetrator or was physically aroused by the sexual assault, it is likely that he will be confused about relationships. This can be true for any man, whether or not their orientation is gay, straight, bisexual, and/or undeclared.
If the perpetrator was a female, the male may see the abuse as an expected or normal sexual experience rather than sexual violence. Males may consider this as a form of flirtation or initiation. Trauma and shame are triggered when men are conflicted between personal choice and societal male stigmas or peer pressure. Generally, the abuser is someone the victim knows and trusts, or a person in a position of authority. However, adolescent boys and adult males are more likely to be sexually assaulted by a stranger.
As a result of the sexual abuse, the victim may experience some of the following reactions: anger, powerlessness, confusion about roles/sexuality, amnesia, addictive behaviors, flashbacks or nightmares, and difficulty with trust and intimacy. If you have been sexually assaulted, it is not your fault. If you are a male victim of sexual violence, contact Support Within Reach for a confidential listening ear, learn about options and resources, and more.
Ashli Lyseng is a program supervisor with Support Within Reach.