Unwanted or abusive sexual experiences happen to men. It’s not always called rape, but its effects can be devastating.
Sexual victimization of anyone leaves the person feeling vulnerable, ashamed, guilty and fearful with the abuse often going unreported for those very reasons.
Boys and men can be sexually abused by straight or gay men or by women who take advantage of vulnerability. A common myth is that sexual abuse of a boy can contribute to his sexual orientation later in life. However, studies show that a man’s own sexual orientation is neither the cause nor the result of sexual abuse. By focusing on the abusive nature of the interaction rather than the sexual aspects, it becomes easier to understand that sexual abuse has nothing to do with a victim’s own sexual orientation.
Because society views males as protectors, the myth persists that males can’t be victims. Regardless of our individual definitions of masculinity, boys and men are vulnerable to those who use greater size, strength, knowledge and authority to coerce or force them into unwanted sexual experiences and then to remain silent.
Authority figures and admired family members, athletes or social leaders who are predators often use special attention and privileges, money or other gifts, promises, bribes or even threats to reduce resistance. The fact that the victim experiences arousal during the interaction does not make it alright if the experience is not wanted. And, sexual predators are known to seek out lonely and isolated young people to exploit.
Sexual abuse is no less harmful to men than it is to women. And, the harm increases if adults who could help them are reluctant or refuse to acknowledge what happened. This leads many survivors to believe they are at fault and on their own, and they stay silent and suffer shame for years instead of being able to get help and heal.
Another myth is that boys who are sexually abused will go on to abuse others. While it is true that some abusers have histories of being sexually abused, themselves, the majority of boys who are victimized do not become sexually abusive as adolescents or adults.
Sexual abuse is never the fault of the victim, but predators are skilled at getting those they abuse to take on a responsibility that is theirs alone.
Studies indicate that male victims of unwanted sexual experience often feel an intense anger and a fear of losing control of that anger; they feel confused about their male-ness, betrayed by those who violated their trust and ultimately abandoned and unsafe. Untreated, they feel helpless, they are unable to trust others and therefore to make deep connections. And, they are often unable to set boundaries. With no one to talk to, these feelings intensify, leading to a profound sense of alienation and the loss of childhood or a whole chapter of one’s life. Some are driven by a need to always prove their manhood through playing super-aggressive sports, having a number of sexual conquests, picking fights, reckless driving, daredevil stunts -- protecting themselves from further attack, and precluding any challenge to their manliness by being tough.
As a community, we can do much better for men. We need to better understand how sexual assault happens in the first place and raise everyone’s awareness of prevention. And when a guy acknowledges he’s been assaulted, we must have the supports and resources available that each individual needs to heal. We can start by never blaming the victim and by always holding the abuser accountable.
OUR TURN is a public service series made available by Turning Points Network in celebration of its 40th anniversary of providing violence-prevention education programs in our schools, services for survivors of domestic and sexual violence, and helping people move from the darkness of abuse toward the light of respect, healing and hope. For information contact 1.800.639.3130 or www.turningpointsnetwork.org or find us on Facebook.