REALITY CHECK: Men are Victims of Sexual Violence Too.
REALITY CHECK: Men are victims of sexual violence too.
That is a hard pill to swallow for many people, and even laughable for some. But sexual crimes against men happen every single day. All types of men are affected, and cases occur in just about every place imaginable.
Most statistics say about 10-20 percent of males in this country experience some form of sexual assault in their lifetime. However, numbers are probably much higher in reality. Men who experience sexual violence typically choose to never disclose their encounter, not even to close family members and friends. They often find themselves battling repercussions alone buried in secrecy and shame.
“Males have the added burden of facing a society that doesn’t believe [sexual assault] can happen to them,” says psychotherapist Elizabeth Donovan in a recent interview for CNN. “Men are viewed as those who seek sexual conquests instead of those who fend them off.”
For years the national conversation surrounding sexual violence has seldom included male victims. Even rarer has been the number of support services geared toward helping them recover.
“Because of pervasive myths about who ‘can’ and ‘cannot’ be a victim, male survivors often aren’t provided the same remedies and protections as female survivors,” says Dana Bolger, co-founder of Know Your Title IX, in an article for Inside Higher Ed.
Research shows that sexual assault victims, regardless of gender, require a considerable amount of post emotional and psychological help to move forward successfully. Experts say that if left untreated victims can suffer from anxiety, depression, substance abuse, avoidance of intimacy, isolation, rage, hyper-sexuality and problems sleeping.
In many ways socialization is to blame for the public’s passive approach toward this issue. Socialization also plays a significant role in the silence of male victims. Cultural norms do not encourage or support male survivors in coming forward to seek help and justice. And because masculinity has never been synonymous with vulnerability, there is an expectation of manhood that often denies consolation.
“We [men] are conditioned to believe that we cannot be victimized in such a way.” says former Marine James Landrith as he recounts his rape experience to CNN.
Such a climate makes it overwhelming difficult for a man to admit he has been a victim of sexual crime. And in those instances where a enough courage is mustered up to seek justice, he will more times than not encounter a system that is ill-equipped to handle his case.
According to Health Services at Brown University, sexual assault in its most basic definition is any unwelcome or unwanted sexual contact. For men that can include touching, fondling, or groping intimate body parts such as the genitals and buttocks. It can also include rape which involves forced oral and anal penetration with a body part or an object. Many times a perpetrator will use threats, force, or take advantage of a situation that leaves the victim incapable of giving consent, e.g., intoxication.
Landrith, whose rape happened at 19, found himself in the latter position after a night of partying. He had been drinking and ended up in a motel room the next morning dazed and confused. The perpetrator was female.
Female-on-male sexual violence is more prevalent than imagined. However for many, the notion of a woman coercing a man into sex can not only seem like a paradox, but also anatomically impossible.
“I want people to understand that it’s not about how physically strong you are,” says Landrith.
Another discrepancy that arises is the fact that many men are still capable of performing sexually, even climaxing, while being raped.
According to the Campus Advocacy Network at UIC, an erection does not qualify as consent. Some men have involuntary erections and can ejaculate during an assault. The response is generally brought on by extreme stress, fear, and stimulation. In much the same way a sneeze or yawn is involuntary, an erection while being assaulted is nothing more than physiological.
Curtis St. John of MaleSurvivor, a national group for men who have experienced sexual trauma, tells CNN a common question asked to male victims is ‘were you aroused?’.
“You don’t hear it with female rape victims,” says St. John. “It’s an interesting question that men get asked.”
Last year GQ magazine published a gripping article about male rape in the military. The story offered an informative and very candid look at sexual violence against men, particularly when committed by other men.
James Asbrand, an expert in post-traumatic stress disorder, tells GQ that a vast majority of men who sexually assault other men usually identify as heterosexual.
“One of the myths is that perpetrators identify as gay, which is by and large not the case,” says Asbrand.
For many of these offenders sexual violence is not about lust or attraction. Targeting other men offers a greater feeling of power and control over assaulting a woman.
When the perpetrator is another man heterosexual male victims often believe their assault makes them gay, or that they will be viewed as gay.
“My first sexual experience ever was being raped by these guys,” says one of the military officials interviewed by GQ. “It screwed me up.”
Gay males on the other hand find themselves at higher risk of sexual assault due to intimate partner violence and hate crimes. They also tend to reduce their encounter to just a bad sexual experience, and in most cases, blame themselves entirely. Many gay male victims later struggle with romantic relationships because of an inability to trust.
“I’m gay and I’m terrified of men,” says another military official.
Trust for a number of male survivors, gay and straight, is also hard to extend to their family, friends, and surrounding community. The same level of compassion and advocacy granted to other victims is simply not forwarded to them. Much work remains to break down these misconceived ideas. However, the most pertinent concept to grasp is that sexual violence against men is real. Men are suffering in great numbers, and need support to heal properly. The issue can no longer be swept under the rug.
While resources are few and far between, there are a select group of organizations dedicated to helping men move past their sexual assault experience. Two of the most prominent groups are 1in6 and the previously mentioned MaleSurvivor. If you need help, please reach out.
by Deon Newsom