How Do We Best Address The Needs of Sexually Abused Men?
First, let’s start with some biases people hold:
Despite the rise in awareness of sexual harassment due to many high-profile cases in the news over the last several years, leading to the #me-too movement, research on male victims remains limited. Overall, the topic of male victims of rape is downplayed, with many people still believing one of the several widespread and completely false myths related to male rape victims.
Here Are Some Commonly Held Myths:
Myth: Men can’t be victims of sexual assault. Men can defend themselves.
Truth: Any man, regardless of size, age, or strength, can be sexually assaulted. Rape is not often about strength but power.
Myth: Only gay men are raped.
Truth: Rape is not about sexual preference. Anyone can be a victim regardless of how they identify.
Myth: Men cannot be sexually assaulted by women.
Truth: While it is true that the vast majority of assaults on men are by other men, women can assault a man. Assault is not about overpowering someone with physical strength, but rather can be accomplished through emotional manipulation, or a man can be coerced by a woman with power and authority over the man.
Myth: Erection or ejaculation during a sexual assault mean that the man “really wanted it” or consented to it.
Truth: Erection and ejaculation are physiological responses to a stimulus. An erection can also be achieved with the right sort of pressure on the prostate gland, a fact most people who commit sexual assault are aware of. The sad truth is that this myth has been used to successfully defend sexual abusers through the years. It is also a source of confusion and embarrassment for the victims who themselves do not understand the physiology and might even believe that they might have wanted to be attacked deep down.
Now some facts:
A whole host of myths related to male sexual assault victims have further muddied the waters of prosecuting those who perpetrate rape on a man.
Reactions by men and boys who were raped can experience similar aftereffects as women who were raped. Some of the reactions to having been assaulted include (this is not a complete list):
Post-traumatic stress disorder
Avoiding people or places that remind you of the assault or abuse
Concerns or questions about sexual orientation
Fear of the worst happening and having a sense of a shortened future
Feeling like “less of a man” or that you no longer have control over your own body
Feeling on-edge, being unable to relax, and having difficulty sleeping
Sense of blame or shame over not being able to stop the assault or abuse, especially if you experienced an erection or ejaculation
Withdrawal from relationships or friendships and an increased sense of isolation
Worrying about disclosing for fear of judgment or disbelief
Issues with anger
It is important to note that men who were abused as a child or as teenagers may react differently than those who were assaulted as adults.
While there are many modalities, and there is no one right answer for which approach will be effective for a given individual, there is one form of therapy that can be extremely beneficial for many, if not most, victims: group therapy.
We live in a male-dominated society where men are viewed as strong, self-reliant, and self-sufficient. Male victims may be very hesitant to discuss their experiences, and they may feel that they are alone or showing weakness. Group therapy, first and foremost, allows men to realize they are not alone in their experiences, bodily reactions, distorted sense of self-body image, feelings, fears, or anxieties.
In a group, a man, who may otherwise convince himself to push down and ignore his feelings, has the potential to listen to and talk to other men who are facing the same experiences and emotions. With an experienced psychotherapist leading and managing the group, every group member can discuss their experiences, what they are feeling and how they are dealing with the aftermath. Others put words to that they have no words for. Sometimes they can begin to feel compassion for group members as they listen. This has the potential to slowly begin to seep in and, over time, can be incorporated into self-compassion.
Listening to experiences similar to their own, new members often become more comfortable in the group, seeing their defensive strategies and slowly recognizing that they no longer serve them. People who contribute in a group setting are doing two separate excellent things at the same time: 1 – they are dealing with their own issues, and 2 – they are inspiring others in the group to acknowledge and deal with their own pain and emotions.
Survivors of sexual assault, more often than not, blame themselves for their assault. They feel like they should have been stronger, or they should have known better than to have worn those clothes, had that last drink, or a host of other distortions. Assault is not about the actions of the victim. Assault is solely related to the actions of the person assaulting someone else. Listening to the experiences of others in a group setting holds the potential to break through those barriers and allow victims to realize that they are truly survivors and begin the process of healing with that realization.