Male Adult Victims
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10 Daily Affirmations for Male Survivors
Recovery is absolutely possible and achievable for me.
I will practice being disloyal to dysfunction and loyal to functionality.
I give myself permission to connect to loving, affirmative, strong, sensitive, accepting men and women in my community.
I release and forgive myself for any responsibility I have accepted in the past for my abuse.
The abuser (s) from the past chose to hurt me; I will stop repeating the lie that it just happened to me.
Offering myself daily compassion is necessary for my healing and growth.
I commit to connecting to the boy inside me today so we can play, laugh and experience joy together, even if just for a minute or two.
I believe deep inside me I possess the ability to face the truth of my abuse and to learn to use new tools for healing.
I have the right and the ability to speak the truth of my abuse and deserve to be heard, understood, believed and supported.
Feeling is healing; as I heal, I develop the ability to experience a wider range of emotions to enhance my health and connections to others.
Howard Fradkin, Ph.D., LICDC, Co-Chairperson, MaleSurvivor Weekends of Recovery
Male Sexual Assault
Can men be sexually assaulted?
Men and boys are often the victims of the crimes of sexual assault, sexual abuse, and rape. In fact, in the U.S., about 10% of all victims are male.1 The term sexual assault refers to a number of different crimes, ranging from unwanted sexual touching to forced penetration. Male survivors and others affected by sexual violence can receive free, confidential, live help through RAINN's National Sexual Assault Hotline, 24/7. Call 1.800.656.HOPE to be connected to a local rape crisis center in your area, or visit the National Sexual Assault Online Hotline to get live help in an instant-messaging format.
Although it can be difficult for male survivors to seek help for fear of how others will react, there are support resources available. Survivors can receive live help through RAINN's National Sexual Assault Hotline, 24/7.
Sometimes male survivors find it easier to first tell an anonymous hotline staffer rather than a loved one. This allows the survivor to speak to someone who is impartial and trained to listen and help. Many male survivors find that talking to the hotline first makes it easier to tell friends and family later.
What concerns do male survivors have when seeking support for a sexual assault?
Often, perpetrators use force or threats to prevent a survivor from seeking help. RAINN has tips and resources to help survivors stay safe. In addition, survivors can find local sexual assault service providers here on RAINN’s website. These organizations may be able to offer additional safety options and support in their local communities. The hotlines are also available to educate survivors about the resources available (1-800-656-HOPE and online.rainn.org).
Sexual assault is a very personal crime. Many survivors do not wish to share what happened to them publicly and fear that disclosing or reporting the attack may require them to talk publicly about their assault. There are several ways to learn more about recovery and resources anonymously by using the National Sexual Assault Hotlines (1-800-656-HOPE and online.rainn.org), which are free and confidential.
Male survivors may blame themselves for the assault, believing they were not ‘strong enough’ to fight off the perpetrator. Many are confused by the fact that they became physically aroused during the attack, despite the assault or abuse they endured. However, these normal physiological responses do not in any way imply that the victim ‘wanted’ or ‘liked’ the assault.
Is it normal to feel this way?
While not every male survivor of sexual assault reacts in the same way, many reactions are quite common. If left untreated, these effects can have a long-term impact on a survivor’s well-being.
What are some possible effects of sexual assault on a male survivor?
Sense of self and concept of "reality" are disrupted.
Profound anxiety, depression, fearfulness.
Concern about sexual orientation.
Development of phobias related to the assault setting.
Fear of the worst happening and having a sense of a shortened future.
Withdrawal from interpersonal contact and a heightened sense of alienation.
Stress-induced reactions (problems sleeping, increased startle response, being unable to relax).
Psychological outcomes can be severe for men because men are socialized to believe that they are immune to sexual assault and because societal reactions to these assaults can be more isolating.
Heterosexual Male Survivors
May experience a fear that the assault will make them gay.
May feel that they are “less of a man.”
Homosexual Male Survivors
May feel the crime is “punishment” for their sexual orientation.
May worry that the assault affected their sexual orientation.
May fear they were targeted because they are gay. This fear may lead to withdrawal from the community.
May develop self-loathing related to their sexual orientation.
Relationships / Intimacy
Relationships may be disrupted by the assault.
Relationships may be disrupted by others’ reactions to the assault, such as a lack of belief/support.
Relationships may be disrupted by the survivor’s reaction to or coping with the assault.
Anger about the assault, leading to outward- and inward-focused hostility.
Avoidance of emotions or emotional situations, stemming from the overwhelming feelings that come with surviving a sexual assault.
If you, or someone you know, is experiencing any of the thoughts or feelings listed above, please contact The National Sexual Assault Hotline, either online or by phone at 1-800-656-HOPE to speak with a trained staffer.
Male Survivors of Sexual Assault
It is only a myth in our society that men are not sexually assaulted, or that they are only sexually assaulted in prisons. In fact, 9% of all rape victims outside of criminal institutions are male (U.S. Department of Justice, 1994). Men face unique challenges in dealing with sexual assault. Read more about male survivors here.
Sexual assault is not uncommon for males.
It is only a myth in our society that men are not sexually assaulted, or that they are only sexually assaulted in prisons. In fact, 9% of all rape victims outside of criminal institutions are male (U.S. Department of Justice, 1994). It is important to note, however, that very few studies have been done to document the sexual abuse or sexual assault of males. Furthermore, it is estimated that male survivors report sexual assault and abuse even less frequently than female survivors, and so it is difficult to make an accurate estimate of the number of men and boys who are being assaulted and abused.
Male survivors have many of the same reactions to sexual assault that women do.
For both male and female survivors, anger, anxiety, fear, confusion, self-blame, shame, depression, and even suicidal thoughts are all common reactions for someone who has experienced a sexual assault. Men, however, are more likely than women to initially respond with anger, or to try to minimize the importance or severity of the assault. Male survivors are also more likely to experience substance abuse to try to cope with the assault. Additionally, a survivor of a male-on-male rape may question his sexuality, or how others perceive his sexuality.
Ideas in our society prevent male survivors from speaking out about sexual assault. Because of how men are socialized and expected to behave in our society, a male survivor of sexual assault may feel as if he is not a "real man" Because men are often expected to always be ready for sex and to be the aggressors in sexual relationships, it may be difficult for a man to tell people that he has been sexually assaulted. Also, there are some beliefs that male survivors, especially if abused as a child, will go on to become offenders themselves. This stigma may negatively impact a male survivor's social experiences, and it may also lead male survivors to avoid disclosure.
Homophobia causes men who have experienced a male-on-male rape to fear telling their stories. If the perpetrator is a man, the survivor may fear being labeled gay by those he tells of the assault. He may even question his own sexuality, especially if he experienced an erection or ejaculation during the assault. If the survivor identifies as homosexual, and in the process of coming out, he may question how others perceive his sexual orientation. He may also fear that he will have to disclose his sexual orientation if he tells others about the assault. Homophobia and gay stereotypes may affect a man’s decision to disclose. For example, the stereotype that gay men are promiscuous can lead people to believe the encounter was consensual. Also, because of these stereotypes, some people may think that they recklessly place themselves in situations to be assaulted, resulting in victim-blaming attitudes.
By denying that males can be sexually assaulted, male survivors are made to feel that they are alone or abnormal. Despite the evidence of male sexual assault, rape is still predominantly viewed as a "women’s issue". This may be because stereotypes cause most people to be more comfortable with the image of a woman being deprived of her power in a sexual assault than a man. The degree to which the issue of male sexual assault continues to be swept under the rug is evidenced by the fact that the annual FBI Uniform Crime Report continues to only include female victims under its definition of "forcible rape". Many hospitals are unused to looking for signs of male sexual assault, and some police departments do not even collect statistics on its frequency.
Male Sexual Victimization Myths & Facts
Adapted from a presentation at the 5th International Conference on Incest and Related Problems, Biel, Switzerland, August 14, 1991.
Myth #1 - Boys and men can't be victims.
This myth, instilled through masculine gender socialization and sometimes referred to as the "macho image," declares that males, even young boys, are not supposed to be victims or even vulnerable. We learn very early that males should be able to protect themselves. In truth, boys are children - weaker and more vulnerable than their perpetrators - who cannot really fight back. Why? The perpetrator has greater size, strength, and knowledge. This power is exercised from a position of authority, using resources such as money or other bribes, or outright threats - whatever advantage can be taken to use a child for sexual purposes.
Myth #2 - Most sexual abuse of boys is perpetrated by homosexual males.
Pedophiles who molest boys are not expressing a homosexual orientation any more than pedophiles who molest girls are practicing heterosexual behaviors. While many child molesters have gender and/or age preferences, of those who seek out boys, the vast majority are not homosexual. They are pedophiles.
Myth #3 - If a boy experiences sexual arousal or orgasm from abuse, this means he was a willing participant or enjoyed it. In reality, males can respond physically to stimulation (get an erection) even in traumatic or painful sexual situations. Therapists who work with sexual offenders know that one way a perpetrator can maintain secrecy is to label the child's sexual response as an indication of his willingness to participate. "You liked it, you wanted it," they'll say. Many survivors feel guilt and shame because they experienced physical arousal while being abused. Physical (and visual or auditory) stimulation is likely to happen in a sexual situation. It does not mean that the child wanted the experience or understood what it meant at the time.
Myth #4 - Boys are less traumatized by the abuse experience than girls.
While some studies have found males to be less negatively affected, more studies show that long term effects are quite damaging for either sex. Males may be more damaged by society's refusal or reluctance to accept their victimization, and by their resultant belief that they must "tough it out" in silence.
Myth #5 - Boys abused by males are or will become homosexual.
While there are different theories about how the sexual orientation develops, experts in the human sexuality field do not believe that premature sexual experiences play a significant role in late adolescent or adult sexual orientation. It is unlikely that someone can make another person a homosexual or heterosexual. Sexual orientation is a complex issue and there is no single answer or theory that explains why someone identifies himself as homosexual, heterosexual or bi-sexual. Whether perpetrated by older males or females, boys' or girls' premature sexual experiences are damaging in many ways, including confusion about one's sexual identity and orientation.
Many boys who have been abused by males erroneously believe that something about them sexually attracts males, and that this may mean they are homosexual or effeminate. Again, not true. Pedophiles who are attracted to boys will admit that the lack of body hair and adult sexual features turns them on. The pedophile's inability to develop and maintain a healthy adult sexual relationship is the problem - not the physical features of a sexually immature boy.
Myth #6 - The "Vampire Syndrome"Ñthat is, boys who are sexually abused, like the victims of Count Dracula, go on to "bite" or sexually abuse others. This myth is especially dangerous because it can create a terrible stigma for the child, that he is destined to become an offender. Boys might be treated as potential perpetrators rather than victims who need help. While it is true that most perpetrators have histories of sexual abuse, it is NOT true that most victims go on to become perpetrators. Research by Jane Gilgun, Judith Becker and John Hunter found a primary difference between perpetrators who were sexually abused and sexually abused males who never perpetrated: non-perpetrators told about the abuse, and were believed and supported by significant people in their lives. Again, the majority of victims do not go on to become adolescent or adult perpetrators; and those who do perpetrate in adolescence usually don't perpetrate as adults if they get help when they are young.
Myth #7 - If the perpetrator is female, the boy or adolescent should consider himself fortunate to have been initiated into heterosexual activity. In reality, premature or coerced sex, whether by a mother, aunt, older sister, baby-sitter or other female in a position of power over a boy, causes confusion at best, and rage, depression or other problems in more negative circumstances. To be used as a sexual object by a more powerful person, male or female, is always abusive and often damaging. Believing these myths is dangerous and damaging. So long as society believes these myths, and teaches them to children from their earliest years, sexually abused males will be unlikely to get the recognition and help they need.
So long as society believes these myths, sexually abused males will be more likely join the minority of survivors who perpetuate this suffering by abusing others. So long as boys or men who have been sexually abused believe these myths, they will feel ashamed and angry. And so long as sexually abused males believe these myths they reinforce the power of another devastating myth that all abused children struggle with: that it was their fault. It is never the fault of the child in a sexual situation - though perpetrators can be quite skilled at getting their victims to believe these myths and take on responsibility that is always and only their own.
For any male who has been sexually abused, becoming free of these myths is an essential part of the recovery process.
About Male Sexual Victimization, Richard Gartner
Concern about sexual abuse has nearly always emphasized the victimization of girls and women. This misleadingly implies that sexual abuse among boys and men is rare. Yet , as was stated in an article in the December 2, 1998 issue of the Journal of the American Medical Association, “the sexual abuse of boys is common, underreported, under recognized, and under treated.” The best research indicates that 17% of men were directly victimized sexually by age 16, with another 14% reporting indirect sexual abuse. Thus, approximately one in six boys experiences direct sexual contact with an adult or older child by age sixteen. Often these incidents are misconstrued as “sexual initiation” or as events for which the boy is responsible. Sexual victimization of men is likewise often unacknowledged and misunderstood.
To be identified as a sexual victim makes many boys and men question their masculinity and/or sexual orientation. The shame that accompanies such doubts silences many boys about their experiences. Yet if abuse remains unacknowledged and untreated, it may lead to such personal and societal consequences as depression, anxiety, and other mental health problems, in addition to self-destructive behaviors, substance abuse, and family dysfunction.
Prevailing myths about the sexual abuse of boys often interfere with recognizing and treating the problem. A prime example is the preconception that all abused boys become perpetrators of abuse, when in fact about three quarters of these boys never become sexual offenders. Because of the widespread belief in the myth, however, many men and boys are afraid they will become abusive and/or will be thought to be offenders should they talk about their victimization.
Another complicating myth is that boys sexually abused by men become homosexual. In fact, boys who are sexually abused may grow up to be heterosexual, gay, or bisexual. Most researchers believe that sexual orientation is rooted in factors having nothing to do with sexual victimization, and in most cases has already been well established before a boy is abused. But, while sexual abuse does not determine sexual orientation, many sexually abused boys and men become very confused or feel negatively about both their sexual orientation and their sexual functioning in general.
The aim of the National Organization on Male Sexual Victimization (NOMSV) is to educate about, advocate for, and insure proper treatment is available to sexually victimized boys and men. It is the only non-profit national organization that specifically addresses male sexual victimization. Its mission statement is: “Dedicated to a safe world, we are an organization of diverse individuals, committed through research, education, advocacy and activism to the prevention, treatment and elimination of all forms of sexual victimization of boys and men.”
Since 1988, NOMSV has held national conferences for male survivors, their significant others, and professionals who work with them. These biennial conferences include both educational and healing workshops. The next conference will be held in New York City on October, 2001.
In 1998, NOMSV also began to organize and support regional healing retreats for sexually abused men. Both the conferences and the retreats are needed resources to share practical information and ask questions as well as safe places for some men to acknowledge their own sexual victimization.
In addition, NOMSV maintains a web site www.malesurvivor.org to inform and educate about male sexual victimization. It includes bibliographies, first-person accounts, and articles about male sexual victimization.
Incorporated as a non-profit in 1995, NOMSV was granted Federal tax-exempt status in 1996. Richard B. Gartner, Ph.D, 27 West 72nd Street #708 New York, NY 10023-3498, 212-533-0345 or firstname.lastname@example.org or www.richardgartner.com
Getting Help Now
There are several ways to get help now, by phone or online chat.
1in6 Online SupportLine – 24 Hours a Day, 7 Days a Week
1in6 has partnered with RAINN to offer our ‘Online SupportLine’ for men seeking information and resources related to unwanted or abusive sexual experiences in childhood, and for people who care about them. 1in6 works with RAINN to ensure that all SupportLine staff members are trained to help visitors from 1in6.org. Every staff member knows (1) the effects of unwanted or abusive childhood sexual experiences, (2) issues and concerns specific to men who have had such experiences, and (3) local services that are available. All ‘chats’ are confidential and users are encouraged to remain anonymous.
Sorting Through Priorities and Options
Fortunately, there are many options for finding help. At the same time, let’s admit reality: in many parts of the United States and the rest of the world, it’s still a challenge to find people in your community who really understand and know how to help.
As you sort through the options for finding help, you’ll almost certainly have these 4 questions:
What do I need help with first?
What help is actually available to me?
Am I, or could I be, comfortable doing that?
What’s it going to cost me?
Where should you focus your efforts first? Finding someone who is experienced working with men who had harmful sexual experiences in childhood? Becoming less depressed? Getting your memories of what happened to be much less disturbing? If you have an addiction that’s messing up your life, should you focus on that first? What if you’re being threatening or abusive to others, like a girlfriend or partner, or your children?
Where to focus first may not be obvious. Some things may just feel “too private” or shameful to even think about right now, let alone seek help for them. Or some problems may be extremely disruptive to your life, and you know it makes no sense to start with something else. Someone important to you may be saying, basically, “If you don’t deal with _____, then our relationship is over.”
If you’re feeling confused, and not sure where to start even thinking about getting help, you’re not alone. We understand. However clear or confused you are, our goal is to provide some resources and guidance that increase clarity and help you sort through your options and make some decisions – when you’re ready, at your own pace.
For starters, let’s think about two very different options, reading websites and being in therapy…
There’s a lot of information available on the web right now, for free. But could reading a lot by yourself – with no one to help you to sort out the thoughts, memories and emotions kicked up by what you’re reading – also feel very uncomfortable, even unsafe? Could it be ‘information overload’? Could reading lots leave you feeling more confused and less hopeful than you are now? And what about the language of what you read? Might websites using words like ‘abuse’ and ‘survivor’ put you off, make you want to turn away and bottle everything up again?
Or consider therapy. It’s completely different from reading a web page. On the one hand, maybe you could finally talk to someone who understands what you’re dealing with, who won’t judge or shame you, and could help you achieve your goals in life. On the other hand, you may worry that it would be “too much” to speak about such experiences with someone you don’t know. (Would I feel too ashamed? Would I “lose it” emotionally? Would they be worthy of my trust? Would they be qualified to help me?) Or might it feel like not enough, only to meet with a therapist every week or two for just 45 minutes to an hour? And could you afford it anyway, at least long enough for it to do any good?
As you’ll see, for just about any man interested in finding help, there are several options between reading a web page and being in therapy. And there are many different therapy or counseling options (short vs. long-term, focused on particular current problems vs. “processing” traumatic memories, etc.). And of course, some of you will have more options than others – thanks to where you live, the language you speak, and how much money you have.
Whatever your situation, we do suggest that, at some point, you get some input from another person who has enough knowledge and experience to help you sort through your priorities and options.
It might only be one call to a hotline or helpline, one online chat, one brief exchange on a web bulletin board, or one meeting with a therapist or counselor (with no obligation for a second).
You don’t have to say anything you don’t feel comfortable saying, or reveal anything you don’t feel comfortable revealing.
The idea is simple but powerful: Reach out to a real person, someone who may be able to help you sort through your own options and make some good decisions.
And if you try and the first person isn’t helpful, don’t give up. Try again, when you’re ready, after doing a little more research.
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