The Myths Surrounding Male Victims of Sexual Assault

Published on The Daily Femme – Monday, Oct. 11, 2010

Contributed by Annamarya

Last week, Clutch, a magazine directed towards young, contemporary women of color, published a blog post that struck a very deep chord with me: “What If Your Man Was Sexually Abused?” The post, written by Shahida Muhammad, addressed primarily the double-standard often applied to sexual abuse against men, and suggested that we, as women, use our “womanly intuition and support” to help men we know who are victims of sexual violence “heal and seek the best way to move forward.”

While the piece centered on men of color, its author raised an excellent point that transcends color lines and deserves serious attention.  Noting that famous women, like Monique and Queen Latifah, who have publicly shared sexual violence stories were met with “compassion and sympathy,” Muhammad wonders why was Lil’ Wayne’s story of sexual abuse, which he shared onJimmy Kimmel Live, as well as in his documentary, The Carter, “met with laughter rather than shock or sympathy?”In response to her question, she offers a theory: While women sexually abused by men are “usually viewed as victims of a serious crime,” the molestation of men by women “can be viewed as a rite of passage,” and, when a man experiences sexual abuse by another man, it comes with a “significant level of taboo, hush-hush, shame, scandal and dismay.”

She isn’t wrong— According to the Rape, Abuse, Incest National Network (RAINN), which reports that one in 33 men have experienced an attempted or completed rape in their lifetime, (2.78 million American men were sexual assault or rape victims), several ill-bred myths & stereotypes exist concerning male survivors of sexual violence such as: Men are immune to victimization; Men should be able to fight off attacks; Men shouldn’t express emotion; Men enjoy all sex, so they must have enjoyed the assault; Male survivors are more likely to become sexual predators. And, as Muhammad pointed out, RAINN found that these myths can lead to particular psychological and behavioral outcomes that are shared equally by female victims and include severe self-esteem loss, sexual difficulties, feelings of ignominy, culpability, anxiety, alienation, helplessness, rage, magnified self-blame, and self-destruction by way of drugs, drinking and aggression. In addition, according to the Ohio State University Rape Education and Prevention Program, male victims also experience confusion about their sexuality and homophobia.

Muhammad calls on women to have the same compassion, understanding and sensitivity towards male victims of sexual abuse as we would expect to receive if we were to reveal a sexual violent past. Specifically, she says, we shouldn’t “further victimize the victim” and their “sense of shame or guilt,” especially in a society “that irresponsibly promotes irrational ideas of hyper-masculinity and macho-ism.” I couldn’t agree more. While we should keep in my mind the fact that women make up a higher percentage of sexual assault survivors (1 in 6 American women has experienced an attempted or completed rape in her lifetime), and continue to fiercely combat sexual violence against women, we cannot ignore that men can be victims of sexual abuse as well and must extend services to them. If we were to give in to those aforementioned taboos and place blame on male victims as so often happens with female victims, then we would not be fully engaged in the fight against sexual abuse. We need to work as hard to remove those stigmas that are attached to male victims so we can support them in their healing as we would female survivors because, in the end, a victim is a victim no matter the sex.


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4 thoughts on “The Myths Surrounding Male Victims of Sexual Assault

  1. My thanks are to you, Annamaryas, not the other way around. I know this is not a site for men so I won’t take up a lot of your time. Mostly I wanted to let you know there are those of us who have found very little support even in the community of male survivors. I went and checked out http://www.1in6.org which was in the post above excited to find a new resource. I mean no disrespect to the site, it is a well needed group for men but once again I have found a segregated pool. Designed and built for child sexual assault. No mention or inclusion for men who were raped as men. I understand the need for CSA’s to have a place to meet and talk but I’m floored at how difficult it has been to find a place that takes the ASA, if they are men, seriously. Many of the issues we deal with are very different and to be left on our own feels, well, sucky comes to mind. Please know that your article touched my heart and I’m sure others which helps in the ongoing trudge towards this elusive thing called healing. Earlybird53

  2. As a male who was gang raped at the age of eighteen, who hid it for twenty years then after coming forward has spent another twenty years working through the issues of internal shame, guilt, fear and rage your article means the world to me. Too often we, as men, feel alone and abandoned when it comes to Adult Sexual Assault, Thank you.

  3. Annamarya

    Thanks for this wonderful piece on men who experienced sexual abuse. Great job! Important topic, all to often ignored or denied! Your encouraging voice, as a woman, is extremely helpful. Men so often get blocked in their healing by feelings of shame and reluctance to admit they weren’t in control. With safety, men can also make incredible strides toward healing.

    At http://www.1in6.org, we have a rich, carefully constructed resource for men who have had abusive or unwanted sexual experiences in childhood that allows men and those close to them to consider the issue at a slow and measured pace.

    Sadly, the totals for both men and women may be higher than the ones you quote. But whatever the frequency, for those involved, their lives have been affected, often in ways they don’t realize and frequently don’t connect with the abuse – until they begin to talk about it. Unfortunately, until then, the reaction for men sometimes can include, substance abuse, failed relationships, violence or self-destructive risk taking.

    Thank you for raising an issue many – both men and women – don’t want to face. Facing it is the first step to healing and a better life.

    Peter Pollard
    Director of Community Education and Outreach
    1in6, Inc.

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