Male Survivors of Sexual Abuse and Assault Awareness Month
With all of the talk about rape culture and sexual assault survivors, we often focus on one specific dynamic of this crime: female victims/male perpetrators. While this may represent a larger portion of these offences, it is not, by any means, the whole picture.
Last night, I had the opportunity to speak with Don Wright about the myths and misconceptions surrounding male survivors of sexual abuse and assault. While a lot of our conversation dealt with childhood sexual abuse (CSA), adult males can also fall prey to sexual abuse or assault (ASA). Don is the Founder and Executive Director of the BC-Society for Male Survivors of Sexual Abuse, the first of its kind in Canada. It is currently still only one of three organisations that exclusively provide counselling for males who are recovering from the trauma of being sexually abused or assaulted.
During the conversation, we discussed some of the common misconceptions about male survivors that might prevent a victim from coming forward and reporting the crime or seeking help. This is compounded by the fact that programs dedicated to male survivors are scarce.
While sexual assault can be traumatic for both men and women, men also face additional stigma as a result of being victimised. Here are some of the misconceptions we addressed during the show (these myths were pulled from 1in6.org):
Boys & Men can’t be sexually used or abused, and if one is, he can never be a “real man“.
This myth speaks to some of the core beliefs society holds about men, or “real men“. Men are strong. They can’t be victimised (especially by women). If they do fall prey, then they aren’t the strong and virile beings that they ought to be. They are sissies or wimps. “Real Men” are always ready, willing and able to have sex.
If a male experienced sexual arousal during abuse, he wanted and/or enjoyed it.
Sexual arousal is an autonomic response. This myth falls in line with a recent outcry about “legitimate rape” and pregnancy. You may recall that Rep. Todd Akin stated that an assault that resulted in a pregnancy wasn’t a legitimate rape because the female body has a mechanism to shut-down pregnancy under those circumstances. A stimulated body will respond to the stimulus, regardless of consent and enjoyment.
Sexual abuse is less harmful to boys than girls.
Again, men are stronger. Men have less emotions than women. Or, so this line of thinking would have us believe. In reality, male-bodied individuals experience the full range of emotions, just like females do. How they express these emotions is largely shaped by those old stereotypes of how a man is supposed to be stronger, and therefore, in more control of this emotional expression.
Most men who sexually abuse boys are gay.
Ah, homophobia at its finest! Do gay men assault other men? Yes. Are they the only ones? Not by a long-shot. Heterosexual men assault men and boys. Women assault men and boys. In a recent study published in Science Direct called Sexually violent women: The PID-5, everyday sadism, and adversarial sexual attitudes predict female sexual aggression and coercion against male victims that asked women if they have ever committed sexual violence against a man, 10% of the respondents admitted to being sexually aggressive with a male at some point in their lives.
Boys abused by males must have attracted the abuse because they are gay or they become gay as a result.
This myth supposes that only men assault boys and men, which is false in itself. However, it also assumes a cause-and-effect connection that does not exist. Homosexuality (just like masochism) is not a result of past trauma. What can happen, especially with pubescent males, is they may be confused and question their orientation. “Don’t tell anyone, you don’t want them to know you are gay, do you?” sort of programming.
If a female used or abused a boy, he was “lucky,” and if he doesn’t feel that way, there is something wrong with him.
Oh, yes. Lucky boy! This is a theme that has even made its way into Hollywood scripts. Consider these movies: Summer of ’44 and American Pie. Both feature lucky young men becoming sexually involved with older women in inappropriate relationships.
Boys who are sexually abused will become abusers.
When is the last time that a woman lost her parental rights because she had been abused in the past? Don shared an anecdote of one of his clients who disclosed his childhood history to his wife and she told him he had to leave (so he wouldn’t abuse their children). Presumably, he had been a good father prior to that point and felt secure enough in their relationship to share his childhood sexual abuse history.
There are no clear statistics on how many abused men grow to be abusers themselves. Don estimated that the number is around 10%, but we also know that women who have experienced CSA can also grow to become abusers themselves. We also know that people who were never abused can cross consensual lines and commit sexual assault.
We also had a brief tangent into one of my pet peeves: Those who are into BDSM or fetish sex are only doing so because they are reliving their historical abuse patterns.
Don intimated that there is a difference between being sexually creative (or experimental, or interested in alternative sexual practices) and those who have a prescribed script on how they can get-off. Even for those who do require a specific manner of having sex in order to reach orgasm, they may not be reliving a past trauma. All it indicates is that there could be an underlying issue that might be explored in a therapeutic setting.
Ultimately, I wish that we weren’t having conversations about sexual abuse and assault at all. Not that I want to silence victims and survivors but because I would like to see this crime become a footnote in the history of humans. Until we get to that place in time, I would like to see a shift in how we talk about Sexual Abuse and Assault. It is not a gender issue and should not be treated as such.
The truth is:
- Males and Females can be victims and survivors.
- Males and Females can be predators.
- Sexual Abuse and assault can impact the lives of any gender identity (I use “male” to denote those with a penis and “female” as those with a vagina, however, there are now infinite gender identities on the spectrum.)
- Heterosexuals, Bisexuals and Homosexuals can be victims or perpetrators.
- Males and Females need the resources and support to process and heal.
- Males and Females need to be able to report crimes committed against them without the stigma/attitude of being a lesser human (either through questioning their manhood or slut-shaming or any of the other societal mechanisms that prevent people from seeking the help they need).