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Overview and Statistics
Although sexual assault is most often a crime against women, men can also be victims. From 1995 to 2010, approximately 9% of all rape or sexual assault victimizations recorded in the National Crime Victimization Survey involved male victims (Planty et al., 2013). Men and boys are sexually assaulted and molested every day in the United States. It is estimated that 1 in 6 boys experience sexual abuse (Prevent Child Abuse America; 1in 6). The West Virginia Behavioral Risk Factor Surveillance System Survey estimates that 1 in 21 men (18 and older) in West Virginia will be a victim of attempted or completed forcible rape in his lifetime (WV Health Statistics Center, 2008). The Center for Disease Control and Prevention (2008) found that of males who experience rape, 41% are under the age of 12 and 28% are between the ages of 12 and 17 at the time of their first rape.
Young boys are most likely to be abused by someone they know and trust, including fathers, mothers, stepparents, uncles, neighbors, spiritual leaders and camp counselors. The perpetrator is a male and not related to the child in over 50% of cases (RAINN). Overall, 93% of child victims know their perpetrators (RAINN).
Barriers to Reporting and Seeking Services:
The socialization of males in Western culture historically has encouraged the repression of feelings of vulnerability and promoted the unrealistic expectation that males can protect themselves from any kind of attack. A male victim may be reluctant to report and seek services due to the following:
- Fear of being judged
- Fear of his sexuality and/or masculinity being questioned
- If threats were made against his family by the offender
- To protect his family against societal scrutiny
- Intense feelings of shame, guilt or humiliation
- Confusion if he was physically aroused
- Stigma associated with stereotypes that "males are not victims"
- Unsure of available services or if services are available for males
- Fear of being "outed" if he is gay, bisexual or transgender
It is important to note that just because a victim's body may have had a physiological response during the assault does not mean that he enjoyed the abuse. Erections and ejaculation are physiological responses that can occur even in traumatic or stressful situations. Perpetrators often use the victim's feelings of confusion and shame to maintain control and discourage reporting of the crime.
A gay, bisexual or transgender male may feel that he is to blame for the assault because of his sexual orientation or gender identity. Homo/bi/transphobia—fear or hatred of lesbian, gay and bisexual and transgender (LGBT) people—keeps many male survivors from reporting the assault and seeking services. One of the most persistent myths about sexual assault—that it is a sexual act and not an act of power and dominance—is particularly damaging to male survivors because it becomes intertwined with homo/bi/transphobia.
Sexual assault is not the result of a male's sexual orientation nor will it change his orientation afterward.
If you have been victimized:
- Go to a safe place.
- Call someone you trust for emotional support.
- Seek medical attention. You may have internal injuries and medical staff can provide prophylactic treatment for sexually transmitted infections (STIs). Valuable evidence can often be collected by trained hospital personnel.
- In order to preserve evidence, if possible avoid eating, drinking, smoking, combing your hair, showering, urinating or defecating before going to the emergency department.
- Consider reporting the assault to law enforcement. However, forensic evidence can be still collected at a licensed medical facility without contacting law enforcement (in non-mandatory reporting situations).
- Get help from a trained advocate or counselor.
Emotional Reactions to Sexual Assault
Males who have been victimized may experience some or all of the following reactions:
- Profound anxiety, fear, helplessness and identity confusion
- Rage, anger and guilt
- Difficulty with intimacy
- Self-blame, extreme mood changes and depression
- Anxiety, numbness and withdrawal
- Nightmares and flashbacks
In addition, males who are gay, bisexual or transgender may feel that they were:
- Being "punished" for their sexual orientation or identity; or
- Targeted as a member of the LGBT community and withdraw from that community.
Male and female victims can experience many of the same emotional reactions to sexual assault. These feelings are normal responses to a traumatic event. There is no "right way" to feel.
No two people react in exactly the same way. Emotions may be frequent and strong for one person, less intense for another. Some victims may briefly experience a period of intense emotions after the assault. Others may appear to have healed emotionally, only to have the feelings return at a later time.
Immediately after a sexual assault, victims may feel:
- Disorganized and confused
- Unable to talk about it
- Repressed emotions, wanting to forget it ever happened
- Emotionally upset and tearful
- Distrustful of others
- Guilt or blame
Later, victims may feel:
- Angry and/or suspicious of others
- Alone, isolated
Some victims may wonder if they are going crazy because of the strong feelings they have. They may experience extreme changes in mood, thinking that they have lost control. It is important to remember that this is a common response to a very stressful and traumatic event.
Male victims may also feel ashamed, embarrassed, guilty and/or particularly disturbed by the fact that they were unable to protect themselves from the assault. They may fear that others will discover that they have been sexually assaulted.
Victims may ask "Why me?" or "What did I do to cause this to happen?" It is as important for males as it is for females to be reassured that they were victims of a violent crime that was not their fault. The responsibility for the assault lies with the perpetrator. Sexual assault has nothing to do with the way someone looked, walked or dressed. It is a crime of aggression, humiliation and power.
Help is available for all victims.
Call 1-800-656-HOPE to connect with the local rape crisis center in your area for free, confidential help and support.
Supporting Male Victims
- Believe him. Try to understand what he is experiencing.
- Listen to him. Let him know he can confidentially talk to you when he is ready. When he does talk, be supportive. Don't judge or blame, regardless of where he was or what he was doing. Clearly tell him "It was not your fault."
- Accept his decisions. Help him explore options, but don't offer your opinions on what he should do. Be patient and allow him to choose his own path to recovery. Respect his choices.
- Help him identify people in his life that can be a safe support network.
- Help him to recognize that he is a victim of a crime. Help him understand that it was not his behavior that caused the assault. The responsibility is that of the attacker who perpetrated violence against him.
- Make referrals based on the victim's needs and wants.
Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, (2008). Sexual violence facts at a glance. Atlanta, GA: National Center for Injury Prevention and Control.
Jane Doe Inc. (Revised 2009). Supporting survivors of sexual assault: A journey to justice, health and healing. The Massachusetts Coalition Against Sexual Assault and Domestic Violence.
Planty, M. et al. (2013). Female victims of sexual violence, 1994-2010. Washington, D.C.: U.S. Department of Justice, Bureau of Justice Statistics.
Prevent Child Abuse America. Fact sheet: Sexual abuse of boys. Original source: Hopper, J (1998). Prevalence of the sexual abuse of boys. Child abuse: Statistics, research and resources.
Rape Abuse and Incest National Network (RAINN). Statistics: Who are the victims? Original source: Synder, H. (2000). Sexual assault of young children as reported to law Enforcement. Washington, D.C.: U.S. Department of Justice, Bureau of Justice Statistics.
West Virginia Bureau for Public Health, Health Statistics Center. (2008). Behavioral risk factor surveillance system survey. Charleston, WV: Department of Health and Human Resources. See www.wvdhhr.org/bph/hsc/.
1 in 6. The 1 in 6 statistic.
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