How prevalent is male sexual abuse?
Rape Crisis is a feminist organisation committed to raising awareness and understanding of sexual violence and abuse in all forms. Their website rapecrisis.org presents statistics from the 2017 Crime Survey for England and Wales (CSEW). The survey estimated that 20% of women and 4% of men have experienced some type of sexual assault since the age of 16, equivalent to 3.4 million female and 651,000 male victims. Media discourse around sexual abuse centres predominantly around the vulnerability of women being in danger. Whilst statistics have shown that women experience sexual assault more than men, the CSEW has highlighted that men are also in danger when it comes to this heinous crime.
People of any gender, age, race, class or sexual identity can experience sexual abuse. According to further research, 1 in 6 men have experienced sexual abuse at some point in their lives, including childhood. Perpetrators of male sexual abuse can also be of any gender, age, or background and may use physical force or psychological or emotional coercion tactics. Survivors of male sexual abuse may have many of the same feelings and reactions as other survivors of sexual assault, but they may also face some additional challenges due to the stigma of male mental health and also social attitudes and stereotypes about men and masculinity.
Common reactions to male sexual abuse
People react to trauma in their own complex way. For survivors of male sexual abuse, men and teens may face other challenges due to gender stereotypes. A common feeling for male survivors of sexual assault feel shame following the abuse, believing they should have been “strong enough” to defend themselves from the abuser. Additionally, many male survivors have self-doubt; there is a lot of misinformation surrounding male abuse including the false view that men cannot be subject to rape. This ties into damaging stereotypes of masculinity. Another common reaction to male sexual abuse is that men who experienced an erection or ejaculation during the assault may be confused and wonder what this means. These physiological responses are normal and do not in any way imply that you consented to the abuse. If something happened to you, you are not alone, and it is not your fault.
Men who experienced sexual abuse as boys or teens tend to respond differently than men who encountered sexual assault as adults. The following list includes some of the experiences shared by male sexual abuse survivors:
- Anxiety, depression, PTSD, and eating disorders
- Avoiding people or places that remind you of the assault or abuse
- Concerns and confusion about sexual orientation
- Feeling emasculated
- Feeling a loss of control over your own body
- Being unable to relax and having difficulty sleeping
- Feeling shame over not being able to stop the assault or abuse
- Isolating yourself from relationships or friendships
- Worrying about talking to anyone about the abuse in fear of being judged or ridiculed
How to support survivors of male sexual abuse
Due to societal expectations of men of masculinity, it can be extremely difficult for men and teens to reach out and disclose the abuse they have suffered. Men may be scared to speak to family, friends, and the community for fear of being judged or not believed. The trauma of sexual abuse will stay with survivors for the rest of their lives; it helps to have a non-judgmental person to talk to about what they have gone through. If a man or boy discloses their abuse to you, here are a few suggestions of how you can offer your support:
Give your undivided attention. It is difficult for many survivors to disclose assault or abuse, and having someone there to listen is important.
Validate their feelings and express concern.
Avoid making insensitive comments such as telling them to “snap out of it”.Instead, make statements like “I believe you” or “That is a really hard thing to go through.” You can also tell them that you care about them by saying letting them know that you care for them and are there for them.
Provide appropriate resources.
Other aspects in men’s lives could affect how they navigate resources and services after experiencing sexual assault or abuse. For example, trans men and black men may face barriers that cis men will not experience (especially with regards to health care and law enforcement). When supporting a survivor try your best to come up with resources you feel will be most helpful.
How we can help
If you are a survivor of male sexual assault and want to talk to somebody about your experience, there are various charities including RAINN and safeline that support men and boys following sexual abuse. Alternatively, call +0151 242 5111 for free confidential advice from an experienced and empathetic solicitor today.