Male Survivors of Sexual Assault
Many people believe that sexual assault is only committed by men against women. The majority of sexual assaults are perpetrated by men, but the fact is that 1 out of every 10 men is sexually assaulted at some point in their lifetime. Because our society fails to see that men can be sexually assaulted, men often have a difficult time accepting their own victimization and delay seeking help and support. This page offers information about the sexual assault of men, talks about the barriers male survivors often face, and offers a list of resources male survivors can contact to connect with a counselor or others who have been sexually assaulted.
Understanding sexual assault of men
Sexual assault is any unwanted sexual contact. It can be committed by the use of threats or force or when someone takes advantage of circumstances that render a person incapable of giving consent, such as intoxication. Sexual assault of men can include unwanted touching, fondling, or groping of a male's body including the penis, scrotum or buttocks, even through his clothes. Rape of a man is any kind of sexual assault that involves forced oral or anal sex, including any amount of penetration of the anus or mouth with a body part or any other object.
Many people don't take sexual assault of men seriously. This is one of the reasons why men have a difficult time reporting what happened and why the rates of male sexual assault are thought to be significantly underreported. If a male survivor's friends think that male sexual assault is a joke, he will feel isolated and afraid to tell anyone. Sexual assault is a painful, traumatic experience for any victim.
Who can be a perpetrator of male sexual assault?
Anyone, regardless of gender or gender identity, can sexually assault a man. However, most sexual assaults against men are committed by other men, who actually identify themselves as heterosexual. It's important not to jump to the conclusion that man-against-man sexual assault only happens between men who are gay. Sexual assault is not about sexual desire or sexual orientation; it's about violence, control, and humiliation.
What are some of the feelings a male survivor may experience?
There are common feelings and effects that any survivor of sexual assault may experience, but male survivors may experience these feelings in a different way:
- Self-blame. It’s very easy in hindsight to review a situation and see where one may have acted differently and the outcome may have been changed. This leads to inappropriately putting the responsibility for the assault on oneself rather than on the perpetrator, where it belongs. Also see Was It My Fault?
- Disbelief. Initially, many people become numb or go into a mild state of shock and try to ‘bury’ the incident. This is particularly true when the victim knew the attacker in some capacity. As the majority of sexual assault is between acquaintances, and often within a trusted relationship, this is a common response and contributes to the low reporting rate in the country.
- Powerlessness. During an assault, the victim has lost control of their life and body. This feeling often carries over into other aspects of one’s life after the assault is over, leaving one feeling weak and unsafe.
- Shame, guilt. Men, in particular, may feel they should have been able to protect themselves and may feel that being assaulted makes him "dirty," "weak," or less of a "real man." These feelings are in part due to societal, gender and cultural expectations we erroneously ascribe to men.
- Intimacy issues. Most survivors withdraw from others for a period of time following an assault. It is not uncommon to experience sexual difficulties with partners due to flashbacks and memories.
- Isolation. Male survivors may feel increased pressure to deny and hide their experiences due to cultural stigma and lack of awareness of male assaults. They may also fear being blamed, judged, laughed at, or not believed.
- Lowered self-esteem. People often feel tainted in some way after being victimized. They may wonder if others will want to be with them. For those with little sexual experience, the violence of an assault is very confusing and may get tied to their future sexual development.
- Anger. At some point, most victims become angry. This is a normal and appropriate response, but may get played out in self-destructive ways.
- Anxiety, depression. It is normal for survivors to experience psychological challenges following an assault. Including feeling depressed, worthless, powerless; withdrawing from friends, family, and usual activities; sleep and eating disturbances; some victims even consider suicide. Men may find it harder to seek help than women, but all survivors have a right to support and healing.
- Physical preoccupation. For survivors who do not seek medical treatment, (and even some who do), worry about one’s health can become obsessive. Individuals may fear they have contracted HIV or other serious sexually transmitted infections and look for signs to confirm this.
Additional issues that may be experienced by men:
- Challenges to One’s Masculinity or Sexuality: It’s not easy to come to terms with being victimized, and this is particularly true for men who are raised to believe they should be able to protect themselves and others. This challenge to one’s masculinity goes deep and can leave one feeling inadequate at a very core level. A heterosexual man may even question his sexuality and how he is perceived by other men if he was assaulted by another man. This could result in a “homosexual panic” in which he fears the assault will change his orientation. There is absolutely no evidence supporting this fear. Rape is primarily prompted by anger or a desire to harm, intimidate or dominate, rather than by sexual attraction or a rapist's assumption about his intended victim's sexual orientation. Because of society's confusion about the role that attraction plays in sexual assault and about whether victims are responsible for provoking an assault, even heterosexual male survivors may worry that they somehow gave off "gay vibes" that the rapist picked up and acted upon.
- Sexual Arousal: If a man became sexually aroused, had an erection, or ejaculated during the sexual assault, he may not believe that he was raped. These are involuntary physiological reactions. They do not mean that the person wanted to be sexually assaulted, or that they enjoyed the traumatic experience. Just as with women, a sexual response does not mean there was consent.
- Confusion if Assailant is a Woman: A man may not know how to talk about his experience if he was assaulted by a woman. Although the majority of sexual assault is perpetrated by men, a small percentage of women are also assailants. Often there is an age differential in these cases (older woman to a boy or adolescent), but not always.
- Shame, stigma and/or lack of resources for men. Some men may find it difficult to seek support out of embarrassment, shame, fear and worry about being judged. This is also true for those who are LGBT. In addition, some rape crisis centers do not have adequate training or resources for male survivors.
Where to Go For Help
See the "What to do If You Are Sexually Assaulted" pages in the left hand side box on this page to learn more about on and off campus resources available to you.
Additional Online Resources
There are many web resources, here are a few to get you started.
For Male Survivors: Men who have been the victims of sexual abuse/assault as children or adults
- RAINN-Rape, Abuse and Incest National Network
- Male Survivor
- 1:6 For Men
- For Men Only: For Male Survivors of Sexual Assault
- Pandora's Box, Male Survivors of Rape and Sexual Abuse
For Men As Allies: Men dedicated towards promoting positive masculinity and ending sexism and violence. See also Men As Allies
- Men Can Stop Rape
This program empowers male youth and the institutions that serve them to work as allies with women in preventing rape and other forms of men's violence. Through awareness-to-action education and community organizing, they promote gender equity and build men's capacity to be strong without being violent. This site offers information on men's involvement in the prevention of sexual assault and describes their media campaign, "My Strength Is Not For Hurting."
Mentors in Violence Prevention (MVP)
This program is a gender violence prevention and education program based at Northeastern University's Center for the Study of Sport in Society. The multiracial, mixed-gender MVP team is the first large-scale attempt to enlist high school, collegiate and professional athletes in the effort to prevent all forms of men's violence against women. Utilizing a unique bystander approach to gender violence prevention, the MVP Program views student athletes and student leaders not as potential perpetrators or victims, but as empowered bystanders who can confront abusive peers.
Men Stopping Violence
MSV is a social change organization dedicated to ending men's violence against women. This program offers trainings and resources that examine sexist belief systems, social structures, and institutional practices that oppress women and children and dehumanize men themselves. On this site you can find articles on why men batter, information on how to work towards ending violence against women, and information on MSV training dates and resource materials.