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Male Survivors of Sexual Abuse (Part 2): Myths, Experiences, and Challenges

In our ongoing exploration of the experiences of male survivors of sexual abuse, we dive even deeper into the heart of a complex and often overlooked issue in our society. In Part 1, we looked into the experiences of male sexual assault victims, both from the perspective of childhood experiences and assault later in life, as well as the importance of therapy and community resources.

In this second part, we turn our attention to the myths, personal experiences, and unique challenges faced by male survivors in the hopes of dispelling misconceptions and amplifying the voices of survivors.

Read on to learn more and share this link with others who you feel would benefit from reading this article, whether a male survivor of sexual abuse or not.

Myths and Misconceptions of Male Survivors of Sexual Abuse

Before we go down the path of understanding the realities of male sexual abuse survivors, it’s important to first expose some of the prominent myths and misconceptions that these men face.

Here are the top 3 myths of male sexual abuse survivors.

Myth 1: "Men can't be victims of sexual abuse"

This idea perpetuates a misconception that sexual assault is a crime or traumatic experience that solely affects women, rather than men. It suggests that men are somehow either immune to sexual abuse or that they are less vulnerable to such experiences.

According to research, one of the leading myths in this area assumes that straight men can not be raped. Instead, the myth extends to explain how both male victims of rape and their offenders must be gay.

Not only is this myth false, but it’s also vastly harmful by means of undermining the reality of these experiences and voices of male survivors of abuse.

Things to Consider:

  • Sexual assault is not gender exclusive: Sexual assault can happen to anyone, regardless of their gender or sexual expression.
  • Male sexual assault is vastly underreported: Due to the belief that men can’t be victims of sexual assault, numerous male survivors are reluctant to come forward and report their assaults, leading to underreporting of cases.
  • Emotional and psychological outcomes: Male survivors often face unique challenges when dealing with this trauma, leading many to lack the optimal level of support or validation for their emotional and psychological sufferings.

Myth 2: "Men should be able to protect themselves"

This myth is another common assumption that revolves around the idea or expectation that men are inherently ‘stronger’ and ‘more capable’ of defending themselves from any form of harm, including sexual assault.

Research reports that there is a trend in police being less likely to take male sexual victimization seriously – specifically in the case where the sexual assault perpetrator was female.

Things to Consider:

  • Pressure to conform to traditional masculinity: Men are forced to adhere to traditional masculine norms, which involve being resilient to trauma, lacking vulnerability, and being independent. When it comes to sexual assault, male survivors’ self-perception is influenced by failing to not “act masculine” and resisting the female perpetrator.
  • Perpetuates victim-blaming: Believing that men should be able to protect themselves is a victim-blaming mentality that discourages survivors from seeking help or reporting their crimes.
  • Ignoring vulnerability: Every person has the right to be vulnerable to their trauma, regardless of gender. Ignoring vulnerability not only exacerbates the silence surrounding male abuse, but it fails to acknowledge the trauma that was endured.

Myth 3: "It's not as traumatic for men as it is for women"

This myth suggests that when men experience sexual abuse, it is somehow less traumatic or emotionally damaging than when women experience the same crime.

This myth downplays the severity of male survivors’ experiences, minimizing the emotional and psychological impact of sexual assault on them. Not only can this delegitimize their pain, but it can deter them from seeking help, let alone telling anyone about their trauma.

Things to Consider:

  • Individual responses may vary: The emotional and psychological response to sexual abuse can vary significantly among men and women. What may be highly traumatic for one person may not be for another.
  • Social stigmatization: The myth perpetuates the social stigma surrounding male survivorship, reinforcing the stereotypes about masculinity and emotional resilience
  • Importance of validation: It’s essential to validate the experiences of all survivors, regardless of gender, as a part of the healing process. Dismissing or downplaying trauma can hinder anyone’s recovery and worsen their emotional distress.

Experiences of Male Survivors

When individuals experience something profoundly traumatic, it tends to play a role in how they view themselves and the world around them. Sexual assault can shape an individual’s psychological and emotional well-being, interpersonal relationships, and overall outlook on life.

According to a 2022 study on the experiences of rape victims, participants in this study provided an account of both their short and long-term psychological outcomes following their experience with abuse. They emphasized the role of self-perceptions of masculinity in the development of unhealthy or unfavourable coping mechanisms.

Common unhealthy coping mechanisms include:

  • Avoidance and denial: Some male survivors may avoid thinking or talking about abuse as a way to shield themselves from the painful memories
  • Emotional suppression: Survivors may suppress their emotions, seeking solace in the belief that expressing their pain could be perceived as a sign of vulnerability
  • Substance abuse: Alcohol or drugs are common self-medication techniques to numb the emotional pain associated with trauma
  • Isolation: Survivors could be withdrawing from their social interactions to avoid triggers
  • Dissociation: Survivors may escape the feelings by disassociating from their bodies or emotions to distance themselves from their trauma
  • Sexual dysfunction: Difficulties with sexual function, such as decreased interest or difficulties with intimacy are common following trauma
  • Control issues: Survivors may become controlling of their relationships or daily life as a way to counteract the loss of control they experienced during their assault

It’s important to note that coping mechanisms are often adaptive in the short term. However, with time, they may become problematic if they hinder an individual’s ability to heal. In many cases, these unhealthy coping behaviours can lead to further harm.

Unique Challenges Faced by Male Survivors

Male survivors of sexual abuse are faced with a range of unique challenges, each of which can profoundly impact their experiences and recovery.

Here are 3 of the common challenges experienced by male survivors.

1.   Societal Expectations and Gender Norms as Barriers

Society perpetuates the narrative that sexual assault only happens to women. As a result, men experience the pressure to conform to traditional masculinity roles, such as being brave, strong, and invulnerable in fear of being ridiculed, disbelieved, or shamed.

2.   Victim Blaming and Reluctance to Seek Help

Similar to female survivors, male survivors face victim-blaming attitudes where they are made to feel responsible for their own assaults. When a survivor, no matter their gender, feels that society blames them for the abuse, they will not feel safe to come forward and speak about their abuse.

Oftentimes, this causes men to withdraw themselves from the light, making them less willing to access resources or seek professional help.

3.   The ‘Real Men Don’t Complain’ Mentality

Similar to the idea that males must fall into their traditional masculinity roles, male survivors may experience shame or guilt for their pain and want to be viewed as strong and avoid complaining about it.

These men might internalize the belief that “real men” don’t complain or show weakness. This mentality can be incredibly harmful to recovery, preventing men from acknowledging the emotional and psychological impact of the assault altogether.

According to research, male survivors of sexual abuse attempt to regain their status as men by engaging in what is deemed to be ‘stereotypically masculine behaviours’. This may include acting out aggressively or violently, engaging in risky sexual behaviours, or drinking excessively.

The Bottom Line

Much like female survivors, male survivors of sexual abuse should never have to bear the burden of shame or silence. If you or someone you know is a male survivor of sexual abuse, reach out for professional support.

This can certainly feel daunting and overwhelming, especially considering the preconceived notions society places on men and women regarding how they should react to sexual abuse, as well as the lingering feelings that survivors may experience even years later. It is crucial to remember that the journey to healing doesn't have to be undertaken in solitude.

By seeking therapy and building a support system, individuals can start to overcome the sense of isolation. Through therapy, clients have the opportunity to process their trauma and reclaim their narrative.

Click here to sign up for a complimentary consultation today.

Together, we can create a society that provides a safe and empathetic space for survivors to share their stories and discover the support they deserve.






Cassandra Wolfe - On Your Mind Counselling

Written by Cassandra Wolfe MA, RP, LPC, CAADC

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