When you search “sexual assault survivor” in google images, hundreds of faces stare back at you. Almost every single one is a woman. But what about the people we don’t usually see? What about male survivors?
When we are taught about sexual violence and its prevention, it is the norm to discuss it in the context of female victims and male perpetrators. However, this traditional framework largely leaves out male survivors. The reality is that while women and girls are at a higher risk for sexual assault, 1 out of every 6 men has experienced sexual abuse or assault (1in6, 2022). Even more men have experienced some form of sexual violence in their lives, with data reflecting almost 25% (NSVRC, 2022). Overall, 5 to 20% of sexual assault survivors ever report, and men report being assaulted at even lower rates (The University of Tennessee, 2022). Despite the prevalence of sexual violence against men, there are significantly fewer resources and data about it. Due to a lack of social awareness and support, male survivors are also at a higher risk of coping with alcohol and drug abuse (Fredonia, 2022). The evidence is clear: male survivors are all around us, and they deserve just as much support, understanding, and compassion.
Male survivors face a unique set of emotional and social challenges, ones that tend to go undiscussed in conversations surrounding sexual violence. While feelings of confusion, blame, shame, and fear are common among all survivors of sexual assault and violence, there are gender-specific struggles that male survivors may face. Because of toxic masculinity and social stigmas regarding homosexuality, male survivors commonly report feeling emasculated, weak, and confused about their sexualities. This is especially true if their assaulter is another man. Homophobia contributes heavily to heterosexual male survivors being scared to share their stories: the cost of their sexuality being questioned can seem much greater than the potential reward of speaking up.
Homophobia impacts queer men’s struggles too. Stereotypes surrounding male homosexuality can result in a survivor self-loathing, or feeling like their sexual identity is the reason they were assaulted. On top of that, male survivors may face discrimination fueled by homophobia when they seek medical attention or legal action (The University of Tennessee Knoxville, 2022). While male survivors are more likely to be assaulted by another man, women can also be perpetrators. Tropes like “cougars and pool boys” normalize women engaging in predatory assault. The stereotype that men always want sex strips away their sexual agency, making them feel like saying “no” means that there is something wrong with them. Female perpetrators can weaponize this misconception to coerce male survivors into sex, often through manipulation or intoxication. These dynamics are rarely discussed and seldom taught; because of this, many men don’t even realize that they have experienced sexual trauma. They are not given the tools or words to identify why they are left feeling ashamed, angry, hurt, and isolated. And they suffer in silence because of it.
If you identify as male and are a survivor of sexual assault or violence, we are here for you. You are not weak, what happened to you is not your fault, and you are no less of a man for experiencing trauma.
Here are some important ways that we can increase understanding and awareness for male survivors.
We need to change the way we talk about consent.
The way that consent is taught is incredibly gender-specific: men are taught not to rape, and women are taught how to not get raped. Discussions about sexual violence should address the gender-specific challenges of survivors, but emphasize that anyone can be a survivor and anyone can be a perpetrator. Extra attention should be given to dispelling stereotypes about male sexuality as well. A more nuanced approach to discussions of sexual violence and consent can increase awareness for male survivors, hopefully creating a safer climate.
We need to call out language that minimizes the trauma of male survivors.
Jokes like “don’t drop the soap” are harmful: they turn the experiences of male survivors into something funny. Using “gay” as an insult is never okay, especially not in the context of sexual violence. If you hear someone using these phrases, say something! A good technique to use is asking, “why is that funny?”, “what do you mean by that?”, or even just saying “that really isn’t okay to say.” This shuts down harmful language without escalating the situation. Male survivors deserve vocal support that affirms the validity of their experiences and trauma. It’s everyone’s job to speak up.
We need to promote resources for male survivors.
If you identify as male and are a survivor of sexual assault or violence, you are not alone. Here are some organizations dedicated to aiding male survivors in their journey of healing:
- 1in6: 24/7 hotline, online support groups, support for loved ones of survivors, educational resources, etc.
- Male Survivor: support forums, educational resources, and therapist finding services.
- Jim Hopper Ph.D.: educational resources and helpful articles.
- Men Healing: resources for trans and nonbinary survivors, events, retreats, etc.
- RAINN: 24/7 hotline, educational resources, legal information, etc.
We need to listen to male survivors and uplift their stories.
If you identify as male and are a survivor of sexual assault or violence, we support you. Our Wave is dedicated to amplifying the voices of ALL survivors. Regardless of the type of sexual violence you experienced, you are supported and heard here. To anonymously share your story and join our community, click here.