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 assault?
- Those who sexually assault
men or boys differ in a number of ways from
those who assault only females.
- 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
- 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
- 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 with women.
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
- 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
- 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
- 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
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
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
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
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 sexually assaulted?
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 and men.
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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