Thursday: Male victims of sexual assault and how it can vary from the victimization of females

In Sexual Assault Awareness on February 3, 2011 at 9:04 am

Most statistical analyses hypothesize that somewhere between 20 and 30% of American females will be victimized by sexual assault at some point in their lives; similar studies states that around 10% of males will be victims of sexual violence.  There is some argument as to whether or not these numbers are skewed due to the decreased likelihood that male victims will come forward following an assault, but for arguments sake let’s say that these percentages are close to accurate.    However, when observing the rates of males who seek therapy to heal after a sexual assault, these numbers plummet even further.  In my years of working with victims of sexual violence I have worked with hundreds of female survivors; from responding to those in the hospital immediately following assaults, to support groups aimed at processing childhood abuse, to individual therapy settings.  In that same time frame I have worked with nine males; only one of whom sought therapy specifically for the abuse. 

After countless hours spent studying the difference between males and females in graduate school and learning about the impact of society’s gender roles and stereotypes it appears as though one of the most obvious differences is how the genders are taught they should be.  Women in America are told from a young age that they can be vulnerable to such attacks; probably why my mother sent me to college with a rape whistle, pepper spray, and the sound advice of places to kick before running like crazy.  Men, however, seem to be taught that being like women can be a sign of weakness, and therefore if they are victimized in the same way as a woman then it can be like an attack on their sense of manhood.  This, combined with the same societal norms telling men that they should not talk about their feelings, could certainly be contributing to the large gap in male victims who seek therapy. 

Fresh out of college I was wanting to use this knowledge to change how we raise boys in America, and while there might be a need for cultural change I want to use this opportunity to simply say that there is no shame in wanting to heal, and if therapy might assist with that then all I can say is taking that step is brave…funny, because bravery is one of those labels in our culture that our men are ‘supposed’ to be.

  1. Thank you for writing this post. As a male rape survivor of a female rapist, I can shed some light on the topic.

    Rigid gender norms and social stereotypes play a major role in keeping male survivors silent. Men are expected to say nothing, feel nothing and think nothing about sexual contact other than that they liked it. When I spoke out about my own rape, I was treated to victim-blaming phraseology such as “buyer’s remorse”, “what’s wrong with you?” and outright disbelief due to the common ‘truth’ that all men want sex all the time from all women regardless of the circumstance. Alpha male wannabes also play a role in silencing male survivors as they like to police the herd and make sure that any potential “weakness” is stomped on and kept silent through intimidation or mockery. Then there were the excuses and outright denial made about my female rapist – from other women. Ugly stuff all around.

    Compounding the social biases and belief systems male survivors also encounter apathy, disbelief and mockery from some of the institutions and advocates who should be there to provide assistance. We also have to deal with the added bonus of denial of service by organizations who receive state taxpayer funds (also contributed to by male survivors) based on their promise to assist female and male survivors. Then, if we are fortunate enough to find a crisis center willing to help, we have to deal with sideways glances and being treated like a potential perp by both staff and fellow survivors.

    Throw into the mix angry bloggers and media stories that almost always use gender specific pronouns when discussing survivors. Using such pronouns is proper when discussing specific individuals or when intentionally concentrating on a specific demographic of survivors. However, using such gender based pronouns when speaking generally sends the message that woman = victim and perp = man. This practice communicates to men that they are not truly welcomed into the survivor community and healing resources, as they are not actually considered “real” survivors.

    That said, there are many wonderful and compassionate organizations and advocates who truly care about male survivors and treat as equals our female counterparts. Unfortunately, that seems to be the exception, rather than the rule.

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