least 10% of men in our country have suffered
from trauma as a result of sexual assault. Like
women, men who experience sexual assault may
suffer from depression, PTSD, and other emotional
problems as a result. However, because men and
women have different life experiences due to
their different gender roles, emotional symptoms
following trauma can look different in men than
they do in women.
Who are the perpetrators of male sexual
- Those who sexually assault men or boys differ
in a number of ways from those who assault
- Boys are more likely than girls to be sexually
abused by strangers or by authority figures
in organizations such as schools, the church,
or athletics programs.
- Those who sexually assault males usually
choose young men and male adolescents (the
average age is 17 years old) as their victims
and are more likely to assault many victims,
compared to those who sexually assault females.
- Perpetrators often assault young males
in isolated areas where help is not readily
available. For instance, a perpetrator who
assaults males may pick up a teenage hitchhiker
on a remote road or find some other way to
isolate his intended victim.
- As is true about those who assault and
sexually abuse women and girls, most perpetrators
of males are men. Specifically, men are perpetrators
in about 86% of male victimization cases.
- Despite popular belief that only gay men
would sexually assault men or boys, most male
perpetrators identify themselves as heterosexuals
and often have consensual sexual relationships
What are some symptoms related to
sexual trauma in boys and men?
Particularly when the assailant is a woman,
the impact of sexual assault upon men may be
downplayed by professionals and the public.
However, men who have early sexual experiences
with adults report problems in various areas
at a much higher rate than those who do not.
Men and boys who have been sexually assaulted
are more likely to suffer from PTSD, other anxiety
disorders, and depression than those who have
never been abused sexually.
Men who have been sexually assaulted have a
high incidence of alcohol and drug use. For
example, the probability for alcohol problems
in adulthood is about 80% for men who have experienced
sexual abuse, as compared to 11% for men who
have never been sexually abused.
One study revealed that a percentage of boys
who suffer from encopresis (bowel incontinence)
had been sexually abused.
Risk Taking Behavior
Exposure to sexual trauma can lead to risk-taking
behavior during adolescence, such as running
away and other delinquent behaviors. Having
been sexually assaulted also makes boys more
likely to engage in behaviors that put them
at risk for contracting HIV (such as having
sex without using condoms).
How does male gender socialization
affect the recognition of male sexual assault?
- Men who have not dealt with the symptoms
of their sexual assault may experience confusion
about their sexuality and role as men (their
gender role). This confusion occurs for many
reasons. The traditional gender role for men
in our society dictates that males be strong,
self-reliant, and in control. Our society
often does not recognize that men and boys
can also be victims. Boys and men may be taught
that being victimized implies that they are
weak and, thus, not a man.
- Furthermore, when the perpetrator of a
sexual assault is a man, feelings of shame,
stigmatization, and negative reactions from
others may also result from the social taboos.
- When the perpetrator of a sexual assault
is a woman, some people do not take the assault
seriously, and men may feel as though they
are unheard and unrecognized as victims.
- Parents often know very little about male
sexual assault and may harm their male children
who are sexually abused by downplaying or
denying the experience.
What impact does gender socialization
have upon men who have been sexually assaulted?
Because of their experience of sexual assault,
some men attempt to prove their masculinity
by becoming hyper-masculine. For example, some
men deal with their experience of sexual assault
by having multiple female sexual partners or
engaging in dangerous "macho" behaviors
to prove their masculinity. Parents of boys
who have been sexually abused may inadvertently
encourage this process.
Men who acknowledge their assault may have
to struggle with feeling ignored and invalidated
by others who do not recognize that men can
also be victimized.
Because of ignorance and myths about sexual
abuse, men sometimes fear that the sexual assault
by another man will cause them to become gay.
This belief is false. Sexual assault does not
cause someone to have a particular sexual orientation.
Because of these various gender-related issues,
men are more likely than women to feel ashamed
of the assault, to not talk about it, and to
not seek help from professionals.
Are men who were sexually assaulted
as children more likely to become child molesters?
Another myth that male victims of sexual assault
face is the assumption that they will become
abusers themselves. For instance, they may have
heard that survivors of sexual abuse tend to
repeat the cycle of abuse by abusing children
themselves. Some research has shown that men
who were sexually abused by men during their
childhood have a greater number of sexual thoughts
and fantasies about sexual contact with male
children and adolescents. However, it is important
to know that most male victims of child
sexual abuse do not become sex offenders.
Furthermore, many male perpetrators do not
have a history of child sexual abuse. Rather,
sexual offenders more often grew up in families
where they suffered from several other forms
of abuse, such as physical and emotional. Men
who assault others also have difficulty with
empathy, and thus put their own needs above
the needs of their victims.
Is there help for men who have been
It is important for men who have been sexually
assaulted to understand the connection between
sexual assault and hyper-masculine, aggressive,
and self-destructive behavior. Through therapy,
men often learn to resist myths about what a
"real man" is and adopt a more realistic
model for safe and rewarding living.
It is important for men who have been sexually
assaulted and who are confused about their sexual
orientation to confront misleading societal
ideas about sexual assault and homosexuality.
Men who have been assaulted often feel stigmatized,
which can be the most damaging aspect of the
assault. It is important for men to discuss
the assault with a caring and unbiased support
person, whether that person is a friend, clergyman,
or clinician. However, it is vital that this
person be knowledgeable about sexual assault
A local rape crisis center may be able to refer
men to mental-health practitioners who are well-informed
about the needs of male sexual assault victims.
There is a bias in our culture against viewing
the sexual assault of boys and men as prevalent
and abusive. Because of this bias, there is
a belief that boys and men do not experience
abuse and do not suffer from the same negative
impact that girls and women do. However, research
shows that at least 10% of boys and men are
sexually assaulted and that boys and men can
suffer profoundly from the experience. Because
so few people have information about male sexual
assault, men often suffer from a sense of being
different, which can make it more difficult
for men to seek help. If you are a man
who has been assaulted and you suffer from any
of these difficulties, please seek help from
a mental-health professional who has expertise
working with men who have been sexually assaulted.
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