The Male Survivor

In Therapy on June 30, 2011 at 6:55 am

Male survivors of sexual assault/abuse experience many of the same reactions and symptoms as females: guilt, shame, and anger.  They too engage in self-destructive behavior such as using alcohol or drugs and other self injurious behavior.  Male survivors also tend to exhibit increased aggressiveness toward others, such as getting in physical fights as well as isolating in relationships.  Unfortunately for the male survivor, many of these symptoms often get brushed off by society as “just being guys”.   This means the male survivor may not get recognized as exhibiting symptoms from trauma and so therefore may not be engaged in therapy.

And then we as providers need to ask:  are all men the same?  And how well does your program recognize this?

Gay men have some reactions and pressures from sexual assault different from the heterosexual male and transgender have more unique concerns to address.   Heterosexual men who are sexually assaulted may fear they are gay or will “turn gay”, they may experience confusion about or question their sexuality, they may believe sexual assault changes their sexual identity, and feel encumbered by myths about masculinity that prohibits them from reporting and/or seeking prosecution.   Gay man may feel they deserved to be assaulted as the price for their sexual orientation, they may experience increased internal conflict about their sexuality and are less likely to report than non-gay males due to reactions from society.  Additionally sexual assault is often a part of hate crimes against gay, bisexual and transgendered individuals.  Transgender may be more at risk for sexual violence and have more obstacles to reporting.  Transgender are often misgendered to incorrect services and the increased discrimination they experience in society often results in reduced access to jobs, housing, income, and insurance that impacts their ability to access services.

Cultural differences also impact the male survivor of sexual assault.  Latino-American males report higher mental health issues from sexual assault than other ethnic groups.  Honor and shame are central concepts in many Latino cultures that result in inhibition to reporting sexual violence.  In America, Latinos have many barriers to accessing services such as language differences, lack of income equality, and lack of transportation that creates a community without effective access to law enforcement, social services, and mental health services.

African-American males have a history of sexual victimization from slave days.  This has resulted in learned behavior of bravado passed down culturally to minimize and mask the reality of sexual abuse.  In the African-American community in the US, there remains a long standing history of distrust of social institutions, that results in a community that, too, has ineffective access to law enforcement, social services, and mental health services.

Males, generally, who have been abused, are more likely to be seen in the criminal justice system than the mental health system.  Again this puts the male survivor in a situation that only reinforces the barriers to appropriate services, encourages the continuation of disabling or harmful symptoms, and encourages the use of inappropriate externalization of rage.

As centers, it’s time to turn a focused lens on the male survivor and develop the needed programs to outreach them, to identify their specific needs, and to provide the appropriate services.   RCASA is starting a peer supervision group for rape crisis centers who serve male survivors of violence.

Contact RCASA at counselingservices@rcasa.org  or 540-371-5502  Contact person is Megan Jaquith.


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