Boys & Men & Sexual Violence
May is sexual violence awareness month. This week we're talking about male survivors of sexual violence. It's common for male victims of sexual assault to be forgotten or neglected due to shame, stigma, societal expectations, and gender socialization. However, it's estimated that at least 1 in 6 boys is sexually abused before their 18th birthday and that 1 in 4 men experience unwanted sexual violence at some point in their lifetime.
For many of us, seeing men as the targets of sexual violence can be difficult to accept - not only for health care professionals, law enforcement, & our friends and family, but also for men themselves. Boys and men are socialized to see themselves as strong, tough, & self-sufficient. Acknowledging feelings & disclosing vulnerabilities goes against traditional gender roles. Men also frequently feel shame, having internalized the blame for sexual experiences they did not consent to. When they do disclose, they are often met with disbelief, such as “A man can’t be raped.” Or with victim-blaming such as, “How could you let that happen?”*
Men who have been sexually assaulted may have concerns about their masculinity as well as their sexual orientation; they can struggle intensely with shame or self-blame. They are less likely to report sexual abuse, to identify experiences they have had as abusive, and/or to seek support or formal treatment for these experiences. And yet the impact of sexual violence is often long lasting trauma & psychological symptoms.
There are many dangerous myths that exist when it comes to male victims of sexual violence. We would like to try & dispel some of them here.
MYTH #1: If a boy got a hard on or orgasmed during abuse, he wanted and/or enjoyed it and that the violence was his fault.
Many boys and men believe this myth and feel lots of guilt and shame because they got physically aroused during the abuse. It is important to understand that males can respond to sexual stimulation with an erection or even an orgasm – even in sexual situations that are traumatic or painful.Those who sexually use & abuse boys know this and will often attempt to take advantage of a child's biological sexual response to make him believe he was a willing participant: “You wanted it. You liked it,” they say. But that doesn’t make it true. Boys are not seeking to be sexually abused. They can be manipulated into thinking they consented to experiences they do not like, or even understand but like we talked about in our blog about consent, that's not how consent works.
MYTH #2: If a female used or abused a boy, he was “lucky,” and every guy wants what he got to experience.
This myth comes from the idea that not only that males can’t be sexually abused, but that any sexual experience with girls & women, especially older ones, is evidence that he’s a “real man.” A boy can find a girl or woman attractive & maybe even fantasize about a sexual experience with them or about them. That doesn't equal consent. It is always abuse when someone who is more powerful, trusted, or admired, tries to manipulate or coerce you into sexual acts that you are not comfortable with or can't consent to. Whether they are perpetrated by an older sister of a friend, baby sitter, neighbour, aunt, mother, or any other female in a position of power, it's sexual violence. Because of the way boys & men are socialized, they may minimize, deny, or bury their feelings of shame, confusion, insecurity, and guilt and not disclose what's happened to them or even believe that what happened to them was abuse. But it's absolutely possible and happens far more than we tend to acknowledge or admit.
MYTH #3: Boys abused by males attracted the abuse because they are gay or they become gay as a result.
It is very important to remember that abuse arises from an abuser's failure to develop & maintain healthy adult sexual relationships, and his/her/their willingness to sexually use & abuse kids. It has nothing to do with the preferences or desires of the child who is abused, and therefore cannot determine a person’s natural sexual identity. Despite this, many boys abused by males wonder if something about them sexually attracted the person who abused them & will unknowingly attract other males who will misuse them. While these are understandable fears, they are not true. One of the great tragedies of childhood sexual abuse is how it robs a person’s natural right to discover his own sexuality in his own time.
The best thing we can do when boys and men come forward with their own stories of sexual violence is to:
Believe Them. Support Them. Accept Their Story.
There are some great resources online if you've been sexually assaulted or experienced sexual violence in some way. If you're a male survivor of sexual violence, please reach out for help from someone you feel safe with or one of the agencies that will believe you and will support you. You are not alone. Asking for help is an act of courage. You can do it.
Association of Alberta Sexual Assault Services Alberta 1 Line (9 am to 9 pm)
call or text: 1-866-403-8000 or visit their website: IBelieveYou.info
* Sources from: https://www.psychiatrictimes.com/view/other-me-too-male-sexual-abuse-survivors