A message to male sexual assault survivors: you are not alone

‘What, are you gay now?’ I just said ‘I’m not gay, I was raped’. But at that moment I knew that disclosing the event and opening a case would be a waste of time because, if my friends thought it was a joke, other people would probably also make fun of me.”

What is it that makes people uncomfortable  talking about  sexual assault on men ? We are rightly  so conscientized to the hideous epidemic of violence against women. We even have the whole month of August dedicated to women. But what of the men who have been sexually assaulted ?

This is a blog dedicated to these men. Men  who survived . Men who have held silence . Men who feel alone. Men who continue to live with this secret.  And it is a dastardly secret to hold as the consequences are so harmful. Consider these facts:  Male survivors have a much higher risk of depression and PTSD, alcohol and drug abuse, and suicide than other men.  The U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs reports that in  male survivors  “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.” I wonder how many health care providers enquire about the possibility of male sexual assault when a man presents with one or more of these symptoms?

Now the interesting fact about male sexual abuse is that it spills over and is deeply influenced by Masculinity.  Toxic masculinity. Just like sexual assault, rape and sexual harassment of women , is all about Power , not Sex, so it is that  the  discomfort ,  silence and stigma  that resides in male sexual survivors,  is largely due to this masculinity.

Male messages mess with male survivors courage to report and talk about their abuse, no matter the age of the survivor. The organization MaleSurvivor.org reports that the average length of time between male sexual abuse and disclosure is twenty years, and this number does not account for abuses that are never reported.  Add to this , is the experience that when men do  disclose, their story is  met with disdain and disbelief . And men know this is what will happen as they are part of the cultural machine of toxic masculinity.

Man Rules dictate that  men dont cry, men  are invulnerable and feel no pain.  Toughness is rewarded and  boys are punished and shamed  for emotional displays. Basically we tell them that power and having power is central to being a man. This means it’s against the rules for men to acknowledge trauma. So  traumatized men spend a lot of time telling themselves  that whatever it is that happened  wasn’t painful, that they’re  not suffering. He absorbs the message that he is less of a man,  judged for his weakness , for not defending himself.

And so the silence is kept– and the psychological pain is traumatised and symptomised.

Instead of talking about their experience and dissipating the power of what happened, men bury it and ignore it until it rots and festers and creates depression, anxiety, addictions.  If men disclose,  something about them appears weak, deserving of the pain,  feminine… gay.

Lets’ pause right here. Lets deconstruct and tear apart one of the most damaging  myths that haunt men who survive sexual abuse. Homophobia. It too rears its ugly head . I hope you’re counting the many points of pain that male survivors experience. In addition to  toxic masculinity  , we add in homophobia .

Lets not forget that due to homophobia,  there is a criminal element to men disclosing In countries where anti gay laws or sentiments exist ,  it is dangerous , so further preventing men disclosing abuse. Plus the risk of HIV/AIDS if there has  been unprotected penetrative anal intercourse. Going to a clinic and requesting ARV”s seems a far cry for a man sexually assaulted by another man .

As if being gay is a curse any man will want to avoid #justsaying.   Lets get this straight : Whether he is gay, straight or bisexual, a boy’s sexual orientation is neither the cause nor the result of sexual abuse. By focusing on the abusive nature of sexual abuse rather than the sexual aspects of the interaction, it becomes easier to understand that sexual abuse has nothing to do with a boy’s sexual orientation.

Silence perpetrates ignorance. Men who are sexually abused may be ignorant of something called “sexual abuse disorientation” . This leads to so much psychological trauma that the shame and silence is exacerbated.

Sexual abuse disorientation means that the  victim may experience erections or even ejaculation during abuse or rape, as a matter of reflex.  First of all , survivors need to be reassured that an erection or ejaculation is not the same as giving consent for sexual abuse. And secondly that  it says nothing about his sexual orientation.

A further educational tip from my colleague  Dr Joe Kortmemories about the abuse from another male can become eroticized for a man, which then compels him to seek out same-sex encounters or porn. This does not mean that he is gay or bisexual, though he may have enduring fantasies about gay sex.It also  may lead a man to again and again seek out sexual encounters with men in an unconscious effort to resolve the guilt and shame he feels around the original encounter.

Let’s look at FACTS . I plan to shock you. So take heed as I roll out the statistics. There are some good studies from South Africa. After all we need to investigate why we have  the world’s highest incidence of sexual violence against women – and men.

The Optimus Study was conducted by the Centre for Justice and Crime Prevention and the University of Cape Town’s  Gender, Health and Justice Research Unit as well as its psychology department. The study found that 35.4% of the young people interviewed in schools had been sexually abused at some point in their lives. as many boys (36.8%) as girls (33.9%) reported some form of sexual abuse.

The survey was  carried out in 1 200 schools across the country and  asked 127 000 boys aged between 10 and 19 if they had ever been sexually abused and, if so, by whom. Be aware that the numbers are underestimated . Results show :

*  One in five adult males are the victims in sexual offences and this figure could be much higher as a male is 10 times less likely to report a sexual violation than a woman. This could mean that South Africa could have the highest number of adult male victims in the world,

  • Forty-four percent of the 18-year-olds said they had been forced to have sex in their lives and half reported consensual sex.
  • About a third said they had been abused by males, 41 percent by females and 27 percent said they had been raped by both males and females.
  • Abuse by fellow males was more common in rural areas, while attacks by women happened mainly in cities,.

For the men who wonder if they have been sexually assaulted, go through this list and tick off what pertains to you. Perhaps it will give you the confidence to know that you are not alone . And you may decide to talk to someone after doing this tick list.

Questions asked by Optimus Study researchers:

Sexual victimisation with physical contact:

  1. Did a grown-up (adult) you know touch your private parts when they shouldn’t have or make you touch their private parts or force you to have sex?
  2. Did a grown-up (adult) you did not know touch your private parts when they shouldn’t have, make you touch their private parts or force you to have sex?

Sexual victimisation without physical contact:

  1. Did another child or teen make you do sexual things against your will?
  2. Did anyone try to force you to have sex, that is sexual intercourse of any kind, even if it didn’t happen?
  3. Did anyone make you look at their private parts by using force or surprise, force you to watch them masturbate, view nude pictures or pornographic videos (pictures and videos about sex), or by “flashing” you?
  4. Did anyone hurt your feelings by saying or writing something sexual about you or your body?
  5. Other than previous incidents you may have already mentioned, at any time in your life, did you do sexual things with anyone 18 or older, even things you both wanted?

If a child answered yes to any of these questions, they were considered to have been sexually abused.

GLOBAL  FACTS: 

  • At least 1 in 6 boys are sexually abused in childhood and 1 out of every 4 males will experience some form of sexual trauma in their lives :
  • 7.8% of boys aged 10-17 (and caregivers of boys under 10 years of age) reported in a telephone survey that they had experienced some form of sexual victimization in their lifetime. Of boys ages 14-17, over 20% reported experiencing some form of sexual victimization.
  • 1 in 20 prisoners are raped or sexually assaulted.
  • Men with disabilities are at a heightened risk for lifetime and current sexual violence victimization.
  • 50% of the commercially sexually exploited children in the U.S. are boys.
  • As many as 1 in 4 males will be sexually abused in their lifetime.
  • Boys and men can be significantly traumatized by sexual abuse.
  • Most sexual abuse of boys is perpetrated by persons they know.
  • Both male and female perpetrators commit acts of sexual abuse against males.

BREAKING THE MYTHS WITH FACTS:

    1. Boys and men can be sexually used or abused, and it has nothing to do with how masculine they are.
    2. If a boy liked the attention he was getting, or got sexually aroused during the abuse, or even sometimes wanted the attention or sexual contact, this does not mean he wanted or liked being manipulated or abused, or that any part of what happened, in any way, was his responsibility or fault.
    3. Sexual abuse and assault harms boys/men and girls/women in ways that are similar and different, but equally harmful.
    4. Boys can be sexually abused by both straight and gay men and women. Sexual abuse is the result of abusive behavior that takes advantage of a child’s vulnerability and is in no way related to the sexual orientation of the abusive person.
    5. Girls and women can sexually abuse or assault boys and men. The boys and men are not “lucky,” but exploited and harmed.
    6. Most boys and men who are sexually abused or assaulted will not go on to sexually abuse or assault others. In other words, abused men do not  become abusers. This  “The Vampire Myth ” must go! Research is clear:  the vast majority of survivors of sexual abuse, regardless of gender, will never become abusers. YOU ARE NOT ALONE : TALK TO  SOMEONE :
  1.  Read Something Terrible  
  2. South African Male Survivors of Sexual Abuse (www.samsosa.org)
  3. Rape Crisis Centre 
  4. SADAG 
  5. www.dreve.co.za