How to support male survivors of sexual assault
It can be hard to tell someone that you have experienced sexual assault or abuse; many find it embarrassing to make a report of the abuse. You may fear that you will face judgment or not be believed. For many male survivors, stereotypes about masculinity can also make it hard to disclose to friends, family, or the community. Men and boys also may face challenges believing that it is possible for them to be victims of sexual violence, especially if it is perpetrated by a woman. Below are a few suggestions on how you can support a man or boy who discloses to you that he has experienced sexual assault or abuse.
- Listen. Many people in crisis feel as though no one understands them and that they are not taken seriously. Show them they matter by giving your undivided attention. It is hard for many survivors to disclose assault or abuse, especially if they fear not being believed because of stereotypes about masculinity.
- Validate their feelings. Avoid making overly positive statements like “It will get better” or trying to manage their emotions, like “Snap out of it” or “You shouldn’t feel so bad.” Make statements like “I believe you” or “That sounds like a really hard thing to go through.”
- Express concern. Tell them in a direct way that you care about them by saying something like “I care about you” or “I am here for you.”
- Do not ask about details of the assault. Even if you are curious about what happened and feel that you want to fully understand it, avoid asking for details of how the assault occurred. However, if a survivor chooses to share those details with you, try your best to listen in a supportive and non-judgmental way.
- Provide appropriate resources. There may be other aspects in men’s lives that could limit their ability to access resources and services after experiencing sexual assault or abuse. Be sensitive to these worries, and when supporting a survivor try your best to suggest resources you feel will be most helpful.
Myths and Misconceptions about male sexual abuse:
1. Myth: Men can’t be sexually abused.
Reality: They can. Any man or boy can be sexually assaulted regardless of size, strength, appearance or sexual orientation.
2. Myth: If I was drinking or taking drugs, it was my fault.
Reality: Nothing you do entitles another person to assault you. If you had been drinking or taking drugs and someone sexually abused you, that doesn’t make it your fault or mean that you asked for or deserved what happened.
3. Myth: Only gay men and boys are sexually abused.
Reality: Heterosexual, gay and bisexual men and people who identify as non binary or ‘trans’ are equally likely to be sexually abused. Being sexually abused has nothing to do with your current or future sexual or gender identity.
4. Myth: Only gay men sexually assault other men.
Reality: Sexual assault is about violence, anger, power and control over another person, not lust, desire or sexual attraction.
5. Myth: Sexual abuse makes you gay.
Reality: Sometimes survivors question whether the sexual abuse has had an impact on their sexual orientation. You may worry that you were abused because you were gay, or that the abuse ‘made’ you gay. In our experience, the majority of men sexually abused by other men in childhood identify as heterosexual in adult life. What research there is points to sexual abuse having no significant effect on adult sexual orientation. However, being a survivor can leave you uncomfortable or unsure about your sexual identity.
6. Myth: Men cannot be sexually abused by women.
Reality: Although the majority of perpetrators are male, men can also be sexually abused by women.
7. Myth: Erection or ejaculation during a sexual abuse means you “really wanted it” or consented to it.
Reality: Erection and ejaculation are physiological responses that may result from mere physical contact or even extreme stress. These responses do not imply that you wanted or enjoyed the assault and do not indicate anything about your sexual orientation.
Some perpetrators are aware how erection and ejaculation can confuse a victim of sexual assault — this motivates them to manipulate their victims to the point of erection or ejaculation to increase their feelings of control and to discourage people from telling their story.
8. Myth: Being sexually abused will make you an abuser.
Reality: The vast majority of men who have experienced childhood abuse or adult assault do NOT go on to sexually abuse.
It is important that any person who has been assaulted be aware that there is support available. The process of healing may be difficult and long but you can overcome; you can be a survivor and eventually begin to thrive as you navigate through life. It all begins with breaking the silence surrounding your abuse; trusting and believing that your change is going to come.