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Male Sexual Assault – The Unacknowledged Violation

Written by: Sam Mishra, Executive Contributor

Executive Contributors at Brainz Magazine are handpicked and invited to contribute because of their knowledge and valuable insight within their area of expertise.

 
Executive Contributor Sam Mishra

I can attest from personal and professional experience to the range of complex feelings that accompany sexual assault. As a trauma practitioner who has assisted victims of rape and abuse in infancy, I have seen firsthand the disparities in attitudes towards and views of male and female victims.


Gray scale photo of young man with duct tape on his mouth

Regretfully, there is still a misconception that sexual assault exclusively affects women. However, according to data from the Crime Survey for England and Wales (2022 and 2023), 1.2% of men over 16 (or 275,000) reported having experienced some form of sexual assault, compared to 3.3% of women (or 798,000). Since these statistics only take into account sexual assaults that are reported, at least 25% of cases had victims who were men.


According to the Rape Crisis Centre, 1.34 million adult men in England and Wales have experienced sexual abuse or rape, accounting for one in every eighteen of these cases.


Just 2.2% of the 68,109 rape cases that were reported to the police last year resulted in the perpetrator being charged; even fewer were found guilty. Given that adult rape cases typically take more than two years to complete and that there are currently over 9500 sexual assault cases awaiting trial, it is reasonable for any victim of sexual assault to doubt if taking legal action is the right course of action for them. In actuality, only 1 in 5 male rape victims actually report the crime to the police, compared to 1 in 6 female victims. These low numbers are typically caused by the victim's embarrassment, their belief that the police are powerless to assist them, and their expectation that they will suffer more just to be painted as a liar.


Gender can affect how someone experiences trauma, as I have discussed previously. Unresolved trauma, even if it is from early childhood and may not be remembered, can lead to mental health illnesses, including depression and anxiety. This is due to the behavioural expectations that culture and society may have for men, and the extent to which these expectations affect how a man views his trauma as well as how he perceives himself is the main cause of this. These variables account for the fact that male suffering is frequently disregarded, and it is precisely this toxic masculinity that suggests males ought to be immune to trauma and capable of withstanding any hardship. This is a contributing element to the high incidence of male suicide and the reason why many guys shut down.


Thomas & Kopel (2023) define the perception of masculinity as someone who suppresses his feelings of vulnerability or fear, allowing them to fester and eventually explode as rage. Unlike shame, fear, and guilt, which are perceived as weak and are believed to arouse revulsion in others, anger and aggression are considered stronger, more male traits. In addition to producing toxic masculinity, these more "acceptable" traits may also be to blame for others' feelings of fear and uncertainty as a means of asserting dominance in an effort to make up for those less socially acceptable actions.


Considerations for men who have been sexually assaulted


Trauma specifics


Men are far more likely than women to be victims of violence, and the trauma they suffer from is more likely to be connected to military service or severe physical assault—both of which are major contributors to PTSD in men. Between 8 to 29% of men report having experienced childhood sexual abuse; nonetheless, this percentage is considerably lower than that of women.


Men are more likely than women to be harmed by strangers, but even in situations where they know the abuser—as in the case of childhood abuse—this might make it hard for them to feel secure in their ability to assess who is trustworthy.


Disclosure and power differentials


Because of gender role expectations, males frequently struggle to disclose trauma. This is because victim ideologies don't align with the stereotypes of men that society has created about them, such as the idea that men are physically strong and can exert control over situations to defend themselves. A man may have feelings of shame from any incident that renders him a victim if he grows up believing this.


Men frequently keep sexual abuse by other men from them because they feel ashamed, but when a woman abuses a man, it may initially be seen favourably since women are socialised to think that having sex is a good thing. When a guy experiences early childhood abuse, confusion frequently develops later because he finds it difficult to recognise the abuse until they may have a child that is the same age as they were at the time of the abuse.


Self-worth


Men are less likely than women to have a poor self-image following trauma; therefore, gender socialisation may be beneficial for recovery, although it still occurs.


Alexithymia in men


Suppression of emotional expression brought on by societally imposed beliefs is known as alexithymia. Boys are frequently socialised from a young age to avoid expressing their feelings by their family and other authority figures. Men then experience extreme difficulty processing the range of emotional reactions to trauma, which results in hyperarousal symptoms instead of emotional reactions like worry or melancholy.


Males may find it difficult to accept their anxiety because society teaches them that men are strong and should not experience fear. Over time, this can cause issues, especially in relationships. It is common for men to be afraid of how they will react to a trigger.


It also makes sense that males find anger the easiest emotion to express because gender socialisation teaches them that anger is a sign of strength and power. As a result, anger may be a disguise for other feelings, including grief, frustration, fear, and worry. Men may require assistance in understanding the repressed feelings that underlie their anger in order to recover and find healthy methods to express it, since they may be terrified of their own anger because it may be explosive and used to push people close to them away.


Sexual dysfunction and challenges with intimacy


Male sexuality can face challenges from society, culture, and social media; these issues are exacerbated when sexual abuse is involved. Men who struggle with emotional connection in relationships may confuse closeness with sex.


Support


Men are more likely to respond to goal- and task-oriented therapies since they may not be as ready to disclose their needs or feelings. Some men feel better at ease writing about their feelings than talking about them face-to-face.


Taking these things into account, it becomes clear why men may conceal the impacts of trauma at a young age. It is likely because they don't feel safe or at ease expressing their emotions and instead feel ashamed that they weren't able to fight back. A man gains control over his trauma if he learns to conceal his feelings about it. Shame is most frequently experienced after sexual abuse, in part because the offender is frequently a family member, which instills feelings of guilt and shame, and in part because the victim is socialised to be a strong man.


Of course, adult males can experience physical abuse, but it frequently starts in infancy, when the guy was a defenceless youngster, and continues into adulthood with verbal threats to keep it a secret. Although victims of abuse in their early years frequently do not remember the trauma that occurred, this does not lessen the impact of the trauma.


Unresolved trauma can cause depression or anxiety, as I have previously covered in other writings. If the trauma is not treated, the symptoms will worsen and impact the person's relationships and self-esteem. It is easy to believe that the trauma has shaped who they are, and an inability to deal with the emotions that follow can lead to harmful habits and poor decision-making.


Long-term Impacts on male sexual abuse victims


Due to societal attitudes and expectations about men and masculinity, men who have experienced sexual abuse as children may face certain unique obstacles in addition to the many repercussions that affect women. Those who experienced sexual abuse as boys or teenagers could react differently from those who experienced it as adults.


Though it shouldn't be assumed that the existence of these symptoms is a result of sexual abuse, the following are some of the more typical experiences that men who have experienced sexual assault share.


A range of feelings, including rage, fear, embarrassment (especially if an erection or ejaculation occurred during the attack), guilt, and self-blame, might erupt unexpectedly or be equally suppressed. As a coping mechanism, losing control might result in other problems like substance misuse or eating disorders. There may also be feelings of powerlessness and loss. Intimate relationships may be impacted by the victim's development of negative schemas not only about himself but also about other people. These schemas may include feelings of being "less of a man" or lacking control over his own body, concerns about sexual orientation and homosexuality, and problems with masculinity. Fear of being judged or disbelieved can also damage friendships, leading to withdrawal as a coping strategy that only serves to heighten feelings of loneliness.


Fear of the worst happening again can result in the avoidance of specific persons or places that act as a reminder of the assault, owing to anxiety, depression, post-traumatic stress disorder, and flashbacks. The victim may experience persistent anxiety, difficulties unwinding, and trouble falling asleep as a result of this.


Helping yourself as a male survivor of sexual assault


Although overcoming the range of emotions that follow a sexual assault can be difficult, realising that these feelings are normal and experienced by other male survivors might give you the strength to seek help. Additionally, there are certain things you can do to support the healing process.


Recognise that there is no one appropriate response to shock


Following rape, symptoms might include depression, anxiety, flashbacks, dissociation, amnesia, sexual dysfunction, relationship challenges, low self-esteem, alcohol abuse, eating disorders, somatic disorders, and alcohol abuse. If the trauma is buried, these symptoms can persist for years. After a sexual attack, it is not unusual for males to go into total denial or experience memory loss. Numbing, dissociation, and denial all imply that you might not be emotionally prepared to handle the experience just yet.


Permit yourself to feel your emotions


Due to social conditioning and occasionally cultural expectations, men frequently find it difficult to recognise and communicate their emotions following a sexual assault. This is because toxic masculinity—the idea that men should be strong, independent, and emotionally resilient—exists and suggests that men should be physically strong. Regretfully, these acquired practices may indicate that males struggle to deal with the fallout from sexual trauma. There are support programmes available if you find it too difficult to talk to someone in your social group.


Keep talking


The choice to tell others about what has happened is entirely yours, and while many people opt not to, it may feel relieving to finally let it all out. There are several choices if you decide on disclosing. As long as you believe they will respect your feelings, of course, you can talk to friends and family. However, in addition, there are a number of support services, counsellors, and law enforcement officials who can connect you to an advocacy service that provides assistance to those navigating the criminal justice system. These Independent Sexual Violence Advocates (ISVAs) can accompany you to court, provide support during your testimony, speak with the police on your behalf, and assist you in getting access to counselling or sexual health tests. It can be simpler to talk to someone you don't already know who is not in your social circle.


You can feel less alone and regain control of your life by talking to other people who have experienced the same trauma as you, instead of letting the trauma define you. Speaking with other males who have experienced similar things can be rather uplifting. When we internalise our trauma, we frequently get into a poisonous, repeated loop where it feels like the abuse is happening over and over again.


It's okay to be angry


While repressing all emotions, including anger, is a perfectly reasonable reaction to sexual assault, projecting your thoughts onto other people can be harmful. Talking to someone is crucial because it can prevent aggressive conduct, self-hatred, and self-harm. If talking to someone is too tough, consider writing down your feelings. You may even discover an outlet for any pent-up emotions you may have, like going to the gym or doing art therapy.


Not only men abuse


Although males can be abused by both men and women, toxic masculinity, which promotes the idea that men should be powerful, makes it frequently more difficult for men to report abuse when it involves a woman. Even though the law only recognises rape that occurs through penile penetration, many men fear that they will be laughed at or perceived as weak. However, the ramifications of a male attacking a woman can be just as harmful.


This was not your fault, and you should not be ashamed of what happened to you


In addition to the demeaning nature of sexual assault, it is not unusual for the perpetrator to attempt to disgrace their victim. It's easy to see why men could believe they did something wrong or that they are somehow to blame for what happened when you combine this with toxic masculinity and social conditioning. It is critical to acknowledge that the offender is at fault since, frequently, they have employed physical force, emotional blackmail, or degrading remarks like "You know you liked it," which can lead the victim to doubt herself either consciously or unconsciously. It is the offender who should feel ashamed.


Who you are is not defined by your trauma


Some men may begin to doubt their sexuality due to the belief that men shouldn't be sexually assaulted because they should be able to defend themselves, as well as the possibility that they may display unconscious behaviours like ejaculating or becoming erect during the assault, which could indicate that they are satisfied with the experience. This may exacerbate feelings of guilt and shame in certain people. It can be easier to discern that the victim was the victim of sexual assault rather than someone who participated in it if one knows that the offender uses it as a control tactic.


Give yourself some time


It's crucial to take some time to focus on yourself and make sure you are working at your own pace rather than what other people expect of you since sexual assault can make you feel like you have lost control of your life and negatively impact your physical and mental welfare. Exercise and diet can help with improving sleep, and activities like breathwork, massage, meditation, and vagus nerve toning (all of which I offer) can help to not only calm the mind but also regulate the nervous system. Other activities, like the gym and art therapy, may also be helpful in releasing pent-up emotions.


Advice for helping a male sexual assault victim


It can be challenging for a male survivor to tell someone they know about their abuse if they are able to get past toxic masculinity stereotypes, feelings of shame, and the fear of not being believed.


It can be difficult for the person they disclose to to know what to say, but being able to provide resources or assistance in the form of police records or medical evaluations, together with a non-judgmental approach, can help a lot.


Engaging in active listening


It can be easy for someone who has experienced abuse to feel alone and that no one else can relate to what they are going through. Sometimes, it doesn't even matter what words to use—just being there and giving them your full attention can make them feel vulnerable.


Acknowledge the experiences they have had


It is not beneficial to tell someone that they should or shouldn't feel a certain way or that things will get better soon. Instead, make statements that affirm their words and feelings and give them credit for their bravery in telling you what happened. As someone who has personally been sexually assaulted, I can attest that facing rejection from some people while coming forward with the information was the most difficult aspect. When you take that step out of fear of the repercussions and uncertainty about whether you will be taken seriously and someone doesn't believe you, it can make you feel even more humiliated by what happened and make you retreat even farther. Since everyone reacts to trauma in different ways, it doesn't matter if you disclose something later or in a composed way—the occurrence still happened. Getting told, "I believe you," is most likely the strongest kind of encouragement.


Express your unwavering support for them


When we experience such severe trauma, we frequently feel like a burden if we seek assistance. Therefore, letting someone know up front that you love them, will support them in any way you can, and that they are not alone can have a profound impact. Tell them you're open to hearing anything they have to say, but if they feel unable to share, perhaps you can provide some assistance. It is up to the individual whether or not they want to discuss the specifics of the assault, and it is not your responsibility to press for them to. If they do, however, you need to act nonjudgmentally and assure them that anything they say to you is private. This cannot be fixed; that is not your responsibility. Taking a compassionate stance and acknowledging the impact this incident must have had on them while informing them that what happened wasn't their fault and shouldn't have happened are the best things you can do.


Assisting them after the initial phase


Traumatic events don't have a time limit on how long they take to heal, and just because someone stops talking about it doesn't mean it doesn't still impact them. It's important to keep your non-judgmental attitude and recognise that rehabilitation will take whatever time it takes without feeling compelled to move on. It's a good idea to periodically check in.


If you are in Kent, UK and have just experienced rape you may be able to access my sexual assault service. Please contact me directly at sam@medicalmassagelady.Com or on 07736104738


Oganisations


Survivors UK is a national charity for male survivors of rape and sexual assault with self-help information, a helpline and more here.


The Male Survivors Partnership has a directory to make it easier for boys and men to find services local to them.


RAINN. Chat anonymously and confidentially with a support specialist.


National Helpline for male survivors. 0808 800 5005


Follow me on Facebook, Instagram, LinkedIn, and visit my website for more info!


Sam Mishra Brainz Magazine
 

Sam Mishra, Executive Contributor Brainz Magazine

Sam Mishra (The Medical Massage Lady), is a multi-award winning massage therapist, aromatherapist, accredited course tutor, oncology practitioner, trauma practitioner and breathwork facilitator. Her medical background as a nurse and a midwife, combined with her own experiences of childhood disability and abuse, have resulted in a diverse and specialised service. She is motivated by the adversity she has faced, using it as a driving force in her charity work and in offering the vulnerable a means of support. Her aim is to educate about medical conditions using easily understood language, to avoid inappropriate treatments being carried out and for health promotion purposes in the general public.

 

References:


  • Bullock C.M. & Beckson M. (2011) Male victims of sexual assault: Phenomenology psychology, physiology. Journal of the American Academy of Psychiatry and the Law. 2011;39:197–205

  • Chapleau K.M., Oswald D.L. & Russell B.L. (2008) Male Rape Myths. Journal of Interpersonal Violence. 23:600–615

  • Donne M.D., DeLuca J., Pleskach P., Bromson C., Mosley M.P., Perez E.T., Mathews S.G., Stephenson R. & Frye V. (2017) Barriers to and Facilitators of Help-Seeking Behavior Among Men Who Experience Sexual Violence. American Journal of Men’s Health. 12:189–201

  • Lowe M. & Rogers P. (2017) The scope of male rape: A selective review of research, policy and practice. Aggression and Violent Behaviour. 35:38–43

  • Monk-Turner E. & Light D. (2010) Male Sexual Assault and Rape: Who Seeks Counselling? Sexual Abuse 22:255–265

  • Pearson J. & Barker D. (2018) Male rape: What we know, don’t know and need to find out—A critical review. Crime Psychology Review. 4:72–94

  • Peterson Z.D., Voller E.K., Polusny M.A. & Murdoch M. (2011) Prevalence and consequences of adult sexual assault of men: Review of empirical findings and state of the literature. Clinical Psychology Review 31:1–24.

  • Spruin E. (2018) An Exploration into the Acceptance of Male Rape Myths within the UK. Journal of Forensic Sciences and Criminal Investigation. 

  • Thomas JC & Kopel J. (2023) Male Victims of Sexual Assault: A Review of the Literature. Behavioural Science. Apr 3;13(4):304

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