Prioritizing the Mental Health of Male Survivors Of Sexual Assault
The #MeToo movement has provided support, advocacy, education and resources to survivors, but there continues to be an underrepresentation of male survivor’s of sexual assault. Men and boys who are sexually assaulted may experience a range of emotions and reactions similar to other survivors, but face unique challenges because of social attitudes and stereotypes about men and masculinity.
Break the stigma
Sexual assault can affect individuals of all genders, ages, and backgrounds. However, it is not openly discussed, and often the conversation around sexual assault focuses on female survivors. Sexual assault against men and boys is a topic that is not as widely spoken about, yet it has far-reaching effects on the survivors.
According to the National Sexual Violence Resource Center, one out of six men in the United States have experienced sexual assault or abuse. This number is believed to be much higher, but because of the stigma and shame associated with being a male survivor of sexual violence, men and boys are less likely to report an assault.
COMMON REACTIONS OF MALE SURVIVORS
Sexual assault survivors may experience feelings of fear, anxiety, depression, and symptoms of post-traumatic stress disorder. They may also have a sense of shame and self-doubt, feeling that they were not strong enough to fight off the perpetrator. Furthermore, they may be confused about their physical reactions during the assault, such as having an erection or ejaculation. However, it is important to note that these responses are physiological and do not imply any consent or enjoyment of the assault.
Men and boys who were sexually assaulted as children or teenagers may have different responses than those who were assaulted as adults. They may develop eating disorders, avoid places or people that remind them of the abuse, experience anxiety and depression, and withdraw from relationships or friendships. They may also struggle with their sexual identity and may report feeling emasculated. These experiences may leave survivors feeling powerless and alone. It is essential to acknowledge their pain and provide them with support.
Myths Surrounding Male Survivors of Sexual Assault or Abuse
“Perpetrators who assault men and boys can only do so if they are “stronger”
Sexual assault against men and boys can be committed by anyone, regardless of their gender, sexual orientation, or age. Perpetrators may use physical force coercion tactics to abuse their victims. Like all perpetrators, they take advantage of their victims’ vulnerabilities, whether it be through grooming, manipulation, or threats. It is important to note that the majority of sexual assaults are committed by someone familiar to the victim or is committed by a person who is in a position of power.
“Sexual assault can impact the survivor’s sexual orientation”
Sexual assault is not related to, nor can it change, the sexual orientation of the perpetrator or the survivor. It is a traumatic experience that can leave survivors with many questions, including concerns about their sexuality. Survivors may wonder if their involuntary physical reactions during the assault imply a change in their sexual identity. However, these responses are beyond the individual’s control and do not imply any consent to the assault. Sexual abuse does not cause a change in sexual orientation.
How to Be a Good Support
It can be difficult for survivors to open up about their experience, especially if they fear not being believed. Show that you care by giving them your full attention and letting them know that they are not alone.
Validate their feelings
Avoid minimizing their experience or trying to fix their emotions. Instead, acknowledge their pain and show empathy by saying things like “I believe you” or “I can only imagine how difficult this must be for you.”
Show your concern
Let them know that you care about them and want to support them. Simple statements like “I’m here for you” or “I care about you” can go a long way.
Avoid prying for details
While you may be curious about what happened, it’s important to respect their boundaries and avoid asking for specific details about the assault. If they choose to share this information with you, listen in a supportive and non-judgmental way.
Offer appropriate resources.
Accessing resources and services can be difficult for some survivors, depending on their individual circumstances.
Be mindful of any barriers they may face, and suggest resources that you feel would be most helpful.
Being a support to anyone who has experienced a trauma can feel intimidating and often people feel unsure how to be a good support. In cases of male sexual assault, friends and loved ones may feel unsure about how to be a good support because of the stigma and stereotypes associated with masculinity. Men and boys may feel hesitant to disclose their experiences for fear of being judged, disbelieved, or seen as weak.
If you or a loved one has experienced sexual assault or abuse, it’s important to seek professional support. Mind by Design Counseling is here to help. Our trained therapists are experienced in working with survivors of trauma, and can provide a safe and supportive space for healing and growth. Don’t hesitate to reach out to us today to schedule a session and begin your journey towards healing.
If you are in danger or need immediate assistance, please call 911.
You deserve to live a life free from the burden of trauma.
we’re here to help you get there.