By Mary Beth Cunningham, MA, Therapist, The Center for Prevention of Abuse
The term “sexual abuse” refers to a number of different non-consensual sexual acts ranging from sexual exploitation to unwanted sexual touching to forced penetration. It is not about sexual desire or sexual orientation; it is about violence, control, and humiliation.
Sexual violence, by nature, can be a very difficult thing for survivors to disclose. Fear of the abuser retaliating if they disclose and fear of the response they may receive from the person they tell, are not uncommon concerns. Many are nervous they won’t be believed, they did not do enough to stop the abuse, they somehow deserved the abuse, or that they will get in trouble for the abuse. Some have anxiety about how they will be viewed by others after the disclosure, and others dread the thought of being rejected by their loved ones.
Male Sexual Abuse
It is estimated that 1 in 6 males have been victims of sexual abuse. Given the level of fear and anxiety in disclosing sexual abuse, the number of boys and men sexually abused is likely to be much higher.
Combating the Myths
Below are myths we have all absorbed about sexual abuse against males. To combat these myths, also listed are facts as well as suggested responses to help the boys and men in our lives should they disclose that they are survivors of sexual abuse.
Myth: Males cannot be sexually assaulted. They should be able to defend themselves, and, if they become aroused, it must be consensual.
Fact: Males can be and often are sexually assaulted. Similar to female survivors of sexual abuse, the abusers are often people who are known to the victim. Physical arousal is completely separate from mindful consent.
Suggested Response: Remind your loved one that you know that many survivors have the concerns that maybe they could have done more to defend themselves… especially against people who they know. Reassure them that you recognize that this sexual act against them was not consensual, even if they experienced the natural physiological response of an erection and/or ejaculation during the assault.
Myth: A man’s sexuality (gay, straight, bisexual, transgender) can be altered due to sexual assault if the perpetrator is a different gender than the victim’s gender preference.
Fact: Sexual abuse is never the fault of the victim and has no bearing on what a person’s sexual identity will be or should be.
Suggested Response: Reassure the survivor that his sexuality is his own to keep. Remind him that his abuser does not have the power to dictate who he is attracted to, no matter if the abuser was a male, female, gay, or straight. Empower the survivor to freely love the way he feels is right and healthy for him, knowing that no act of sexual violence is going to change his ability to love and be loved.
Myth: There isn’t help for men. Most rape crisis centers only work with women and children.
Fact: Rape crisis centers are open to all survivors of sexual violence, male and female.
Suggested Response: Whether the incident was recent or happened long ago, assure the victim that it is never too late to get help. Offer the survivor the following information: The Center for Prevention of Abuse — 309-691-0551, and the Crisis Hotline — 800-559-SAFE (7233)
For any man harmed by unwanted abusive sexual experiences, and for those who support him, becoming free of the myths surrounding male sexual abuse is necessary to begin the healing process. Believing in these myths keeps male survivors isolated.
For more information, call The Center for Prevention of Abuse at 309-691-0551. The Center provides therapy to survivors and their families of both recent and past sexual abuse.