Society has become increasingly accepting of the fact that boys, as well as girls, are the victims of sexual assault. However, aside from prison rape, there remains a general denial that adolescent and adult men are also susceptible to victimization. This invisibility creates some unique challenges for the 10% or more of male survivors who are trying to heal.
The following are some common responses and feelings to sexual assault experienced by both men and women:
- Self-blame. It’s very easy in hindsight to review a situation and see where one may have acted differently and the outcome may have been changed. This leads to inappropriately putting the responsibility for the assault on oneself rather than on the perpetrator, where it belongs.
- Disbelief. Initially, many people become numb or go into a mild state of shock and try to ‘bury’ the incident. This is particularly true when the victim knew the attacker in some capacity. As the majority of sexual assault is between acquaintances, and often within a trusted relationship, this is a common response and contributes to the low reporting rate in the country.
- Powerlessness. During an assault, the victim has lost control of their life and body. This feeling often carries over into other aspects of one’s life after the assault is over, leaving one feeling weak and unsafe.
- Shame, guilt. Men, in particular, may feel they should have been able to protect themselves. This is our cultural expectation. Many factors may contribute to a heightened sense of responsibility and embarrassment; use of substances, trusting someone not well known, not heeding a warning, and so on.
- Intimacy issues. Most survivors withdraw from others for a period of time following an assault. It is not uncommon to experience sexual difficulties with partners due to flashbacks and memories.
- Lowered self-esteem. People often feel tainted in some way after being victimized. They may wonder if others will want to be with them. For those with little sexual experience, the violence of an assault is very confusing and may get tied to their future sexual development.
- Anger. At some point, most victims become angry. This is a normal and appropriate response, but may get played out in self-destructive ways.
- Anxiety, depression. It is normal for survivors to experience psychological challenges following an assault. This often results in sleep and eating disturbances. Men may find it harder to seek help than women, but all survivors have a right to support and healing.
- Physical preoccupation. For survivors who do not seek medical treatment, (and even some who do), worry about one’s health can become obsessive. Individuals fear they have contracted HIV or other serious sexually transmitted infections and look for signs to confirm this.
Additional issues that may be experienced by men:
It’s not easy to come to terms with being victimized, and this is particularly true for men who are raised to believe they should be able to protect one self and others. This challenge to one’s masculinity goes deep and can leave one feeling inadequate on a very core level.
A Gay or Bisexual Men
- May tie the assault to his sexual orientation and view this as deserved in some way or a punishment.
- May be reluctant to report due to the potential backlash on the gay community and enhanced homophobia. He may also be worried about being treated insensitively by law enforcement or health care professionals.
- May have experienced particularly severe and damaging violence if this was a hate crime.
- May well feel targeted and less safe within his community if the assault was perpetrated by another gay man.
- May worry he is broadcasting his “secret sexual identity” to others if he is not yet out of the closet.
A Heterosexual "Straight" Man
- May question his sexuality and how he is perceived by other men if he was assaulted by another mam. This could result in a “homosexual panic” in which he fears the assault will change his orientation. This worry may be enhanced if the victim became aroused at any point during the assault. There is absolutely no evidence supporting this fear. Rape is primarily prompted by anger or a desire to harm, intimidate or dominate, rather than by sexual attraction or a rapist's assumption about his intended victim's sexual preference. Because of society's confusion about the role that attraction plays in sexual assault and about whether victims are responsible for provoking an assault, even heterosexual male survivors may worry that they somehow gave off "gay vibes" that the rapist picked up and acted upon.
- May not know how to talk about his experience if he was assaulted by a woman. Although the majority of sexual assault is perpetrated by men, a small % of women are also assailants. Often there is an age differential in these cases (older woman to a boy or adolescent), but not always. View this article to learn more about the range of female to male assault and its impact.
- May find it difficult to seek support out of embarrassment, and worry about being judged. This is also true for those who are LGBT.
Research is limited, but there is evidence that the rate of sexual assault upon this community is very high. It is often part of a hate crime with a high degree of violence that may cause serious injury. Here are some resources for further information:
- One out of 4 or 5 undergraduate women will experience rape or attempted rape by men while in college. 9 out of 10 of the men who do this will be current or ex boyfriends, classmates, residents in shared living space, acquaintances, coworkers or professors---that is, someone the survivor already knows. For this reason, nearly half of the survivors may not be able to admit or name that what took place was rape. But it is, and it’s likely to have on-going impact for the woman.
- Think about whether you really want to have sex with someone who doesn’t want to have sex with you; how will you feel afterwards if your partner tells you she didn’t want to have sex?
- If you are getting a double message from a woman, speak up and clarify what she wants. If you find yourself in a situation with a woman who is unsure about having sex or is saying “no,” back off, talk about it.
- Be sensitive to women who are unsure whether they want to have sex. If you put pressure on them, you might be forcing them through coercion, not seduction.
- Due to the frequency of sexual assault among college-age women, your potential partner may have already experienced non-consensual sex in her life. She may be unsure about or afraid of sex or worried about being victimized again. She also may not be ready to tell you because she doesn’t feel safe enough or may feel too ashamed or may feel it is not your business to know. This will require you to go at her pace; to honor her privacy; to make yourself a safe person to be with; and to respect, without question, her physical boundaries.
- Do not assume you both want the same degree of intimacy. She might be interested in some sexual contact other than intercourse. There may be sexual activity you might mutually agree to share.
- Stay in touch with your sexual desires and communicate them honestly and as early as possible. Ask yourself if you are really hearing what she wants. Do not let your desires control your actions.
- Do not assume her desire for affection is the same as a desire for sex.
- A woman who turns you down for sex is not necessarily rejecting you as a person; she is expressing her decision not to participate in a single act at that time.
- No one asks to be raped. No matter how a woman behaves, she does not deserve to have her body used in ways she does not want.
- Taking sexual advantage of a person who is mentally or physically incapable of giving consent is rape. If a woman has had too much to drink and has passed out or is not in control of herself, having sex with her is rape, by law.
- Not having sex or not ‘scoring’ does not mean you are any less of a man. It is okay not to ‘score.’
- The fact that one is intoxicated is not a legal defense for rape. You are responsible for your actions, whether drunk or sober.
There are many web resources, here are a few to get you started.
- RAINN-Rape, Abuse and Incest National Network
- Male Survivor
- For Men Only: For Male Survivors of Sexual Assault
- Men Can Stop Rape, a strong political organizing group in Washington, D.C.
- Minnesota Center Against Violence and Abuse
- Men for Change from Nova Scotia, Canada
Campus and Community Resources For Sexual Assault
How You Can Help a Friend Who Has Been Sexually Assaulted/Raped
How Advisers and Faculty Can Help a Student Who Has Been Assaulted/Raped
Sexual Assault/Rape: Alcohol and Other Drugs
Sexual Assault/Rape: Medical, Counseling and Educational Services
Disclaimer: The information provided here is not intended to diagnose, treat or provide a second opinion on any health problem or disease. It is meant to support, not replace, the relationship that exists between an individual and his/her clinician.
Last Revised: April 2010