Sexual assault occurs when one person engages in sexual activity with another person, without the consent of the other individual. These acts can be a physical or verbal in nature.
Sexual assault can be perpetrated in various ways – it can involve strangers or people who know one another, individuals or groups of people. Positions of authority, blackmail, weapons, or drugs may be used to encourage the submission of the victim. In cases such as sexual harassment in the workplace, the victim is subjected to a hostile work environment with genderized standards and/or unwelcome sexual discourse.
It is important to remember that, no matter what the circumstances, sexual assault is never the fault or responsibility of the victim, no matter the gender.
Breaking Down Myths about Male Sexual Assault:
Myth: Men cannot be sexually assaulted by women.
Reality: Men are sexually assaulted by women (although most perpetrators of male sexual assault are men).
Myth: Men cannot be sexually assaulted by men.
Reality: Men are sexually assaulted by other men, regardless of sexual orientation.
Myth: Men cannot be sexually assaulted.
Reality: Men ARE sexually assaulted. Men of any sexual orientation, size, appearance, or strength can be sexually assaulted.
Myth: Only gay men are sexually assaulted.
Reality: Heterosexual, bisexual, and gay men are equally likely to be sexually assaulted. It has nothing to do with sexual orientation.
Myth: Only gay men sexually assault other men.
Reality: Most men who sexually assault other men identify themselves as straight. Sexual assault is about anger, violence, and control, not necessarily about lust or sexual attraction.
Myth: Erections or ejaculation during a sexual assault means you consented to the assault, or “liked it.”
Reality: Erection and ejaculation are physical responses to an assault (over which there is very little control), and these do not imply enjoyment or pleasure. However, these responses can confuse and manipulate a victim of sexual assault into the false believe that they did, in fact, consent to the experience. They did not.
How Common is Male Sexual Assault?
Rates of male sexual assault, similar to female sexual assault, are said to be grossly under-reported. In fact, it is believed that 10% of all sexual assault victims in the US are male and that 10-20% of all men will be sexually assaulted in their lifetime (www.mscasa.org). This number includes boys who are sexually assaulted in childhood.
In recent years, perhaps due to economic decline, reports of sexual assault on males have increased.
The issue of male sexual assault is complicated by society’s beliefs about male sexuality. Many people may believe that it is impossible for a man to be sexually abused due to their size and strength. This is absolutely untrue.
There is also a myth that all men enjoy all sexual contact, thus making the victim “lucky” to have engaged in sexual activity. This myth is particularly damaging and false.
Males who have experienced sexual abuse can sometimes respond in a physical way – by becoming erect, which can lead to feelings of guilt or shame. It should be noted that a physical response to abuse does not, in any way, indicate acceptance or willingness to participate in sexual activity. It is merely a physiological response to a stimulus.
These responses do not mean that the sexual activity was not assaulted and cannot be prosecuted as such.
Effects of Sexual Assault:
Men and boys who have been abused may experience any, all, or none of the following, in response to their abuse:
- Decreased self-esteem, self-confidence, or development of negative body image
- Feelings of shame, anger, guilt, and self-blame
- Difficulties trusting others, especially those who share the gender of their abuser
- Sexual difficulties
- Difficulties with intimacy
- Self-destructive impulses
- Confusion or questions about sexual identity and masculinity
- Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder
These issues can be effectively addressed with therapy. Men may be particularly unwilling to undergo therapy, believing that they can tough it out. Many men identify with the stereotypical strong, quiet man and don’t wish to call attention to their abuse; however, support is essential for the recovery of any sexual abuse victim, and therapy should be encouraged.
Certain medications may also be administered if the victim sufferers from disruptive mood disorders or trauma-related problems.
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 behaviour. 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.
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 counsellor – 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.
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 counselling
- 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 an anonymous post at https://www.healthyplace.com/
How To Help Someone Who Has Been Sexually Assaulted:
- First, get your friend or family member some medical help
- Listen to him – don’t judge him
- Let him stay with you or offer to stay with him
- Give some comfort
- Suggest that he get some professional help
- Don’t offer quick-fix ideas for healing. They don’t help
- Accept his choices for dealing with the sexual assault
- Get some counselling for yourself if you can’t handle your own feelings