Male Sexual Assault

Just as women have historically been denied permission to be powerful, assertive, and in control of their bodies, men are expected to embody these attributes at all times.  Thus, the very rules that oppress women set up a dynamic where it is assumed men cannot be sexually victimized.

No one is prepared for the role of sexual assault victim.  Thus, the survivor is taken totally off guard, further adding to the trauma.  This lack of anticipating the possibility that a man can be a rape victim not only prevents him from having considered options but also minimizes the actual options available to him.  The same gender role socialization that has molded his own beliefs has occurred in the very environment that has molded other individuals as well.  Thus, while the male survivor struggles to integrate the experience of a sexual assault with his gender-stereotyped notions that such things do not happen to men, those who wish to offer him help struggle with the same issues. 

A number of issues are similar for most survivors: fear, shame, guilt, helplessness, and anger, among others.  How these particular concerns are experienced by the male survivor and how he communicates them to others, however, may be significantly different.  Additionally, there are many issues unique to male survivors and some that are of particular relevance to gay survivors.

Men who are sexually victimized often assume that they are the only ones, an idea that is reinforced by the secrecy that other male survivors maintain and that is in turn fostered by the massive denial about male sexual victimization in general.  For the man assaulted by another man, this leads to such questions as, “Is there something wrong with me, that I’m the only man it happened to?” This in turn leads to questions about whether the assault will have an effect on the survivor’s sexual orientation and whether he was singled out because the assailant thought he was gay.  For the heterosexual survivor, fears of “becoming gay” could emerge. 

Survivors need to know that the assault was an act of power and that the sex was just used as the weapon.  Finally, for the male survivor of sexual abuse by either gender, concern arises about his inability to be a “man,” that is, one who is never vulnerable.  Obviously, this is an impossible standard to uphold.

Survivors of male-on-male rape experience rape trauma syndrome reactions. The primary difference in reactions is that males are more affected by the sexual aspects of the victimization, which includes the issues of homophobia and loss of manhood. This is experienced as a devastating vulnerability; men, even more than women, do not believe rape will happen to them. Men may not accept their inability to have protected themselves and struggle with internalized homophobia. Depression may set in, masking low self-esteem and anger, accompanied by somatic reactions and phobias. Male survivors also suffer a secondary trauma: the stigmatization of being a victim of sexual assault. Male survivors often experience a greater lack of support, which in part is due to the fear of others' reactions and their own difficulty in discussing feelings and emotions. Systems, such as law enforcement and medical, may not respond in a sensitive, non-judgmental fashion. Friends may react in ways that subtly or blatantly suggest that as a man you should have been able to protect yourself or that it was not rape.

STSM provides services to male survivors as well as their family and friends.  We also offer a male survivor support group.  For more information about these services please call our office at (803) 790-8208.