In our society, discussions surrounding sexual assault predominantly center around female survivors. As a result, the experiences of male survivors are concealed under layers of silence and social stigmatization.
However, the prevalence of sexual violence against men is more common than you may think. According to RAINN, 1 of every 10 victims of sexual assault are men. Unfortunately, many of these stories are frequently overlooked, leaving countless men feeling isolated in the shadows of their traumatic experiences.
It’s time to break the silence and shed light on the untold narratives of male survivors. Read on as we explore the intricacies of sexual assault on men from childhood to later life experiences, the importance of therapy on the journey to healing, and where to find resources for support.
Sexual abuse or assault can happen to anyone, no matter your age, gender identity, or sexual orientation. Within the broader conversation of sexual assault, the issues surrounding young boys often remain overlooked.
One of the major barriers that hinder men from coming forward about their experiences of childhood sexual assault is the weight of societal expectations and traditional gender norms. These societal pressures discourage boys and young men from disclosing their traumatic experiences due to fear of being ridiculed, disbelieved, or burdened with shame. The harmful notion that masculinity equates to invincibility and an inability to be victimized further exacerbates the challenges male survivors face.
Studies suggest 1 in 6 boys are victimized prior to age 18. These experiences can have lasting effects on boys, shaping how they perceive themselves, form relationships, and experience the world around them.
According to research, the most common symptoms that stem from childhood sexual assault include:
Similar to childhood survivors of sexual assault, men may also be victimized later in life.
Oftentimes, male survivors of sexual assault later in life are discouraged to come forward based on the prevalence of societal stereotypes surrounding male strength. In other words, the expectation that men should be able to protect themselves can lead to a ‘victim-blaming’ mentality, making it difficult if not impossible to seek support. This can further intensify the emotional burden male survivors carry in silence.
The perpetrator may be of any gender identity, sexual orientation, or age. According to CDC Violence and Prevention statistics, 1 in 3 men have experienced contact with sexual violence, physical violence, and/or stalking by their partners.
In the instance of partnered abuse, men face challenges in having their experiences validated due to the perception that men are always willing and eager for sexual activity. Oftentimes, male survivors are victims of non-consensual acts. It’s important to note that consent is always necessary, regardless of a person’s sexual orientation or gender identity.
In most cases, these experiences can have profound psychological and emotional consequences for adult male survivors.
Symptoms may include:
Therapy plays a crucial role in the healing process for male survivors. Given the appropriate tools, support, and guidance, male survivors are capable of coping with the psychological and emotional impact of their trauma.
The therapeutic process allows an individual the opportunity to create a safe place to process through and heal from their experience. Therapy empowers individuals to own their stories and reduce the power their traumatic memories have over them.
There are many effective methods for treating trauma within therapy. Within my own practice, I utilize both Trauma-Focused Cognitive Behavioural Therapy (TF-CBT) and Internal Family Systems (IFS) when treating clients with trauma. Additionally, treatments such as eye movement desensitization and reprocessing (EMDR) and group therapy can also be highly effective.
This evidence-based therapeutic approach focuses on addressing the cognitive and emotional aspects of trauma. TF-CBT is shown to help individuals process their experiences, challenge negative beliefs, and improve coping responses.
According to research, TF-CBT is shown to help survivors work through the guilt that surrounds their trauma with patience, kindness, and optimism. TF-CBT has shown incredible results in reducing symptoms of trauma, improving functioning, and enhancing resilience.
IFS therapy is an integrative approach in therapy that focuses on understanding the inner workings of different “parts” or sub-personalities within ourselves, each embodying its own emotions, experiences, and beliefs.
In the context of trauma, the IFS approach helps survivors develop a compassionate and non-judgmental relationship with their internal parts– especially those that have been created as a result of sexual abuse. IFS aims to restore balance and promote healing, empowering survivors to explore their trauma and develop a sense of self-awareness, self-compassion, and personal growth.
Eye movement desensitization and reprocessing, better known as EDMR therapy, is a highly effective treatment for trauma. Combining elements of cognitive therapy, exposure therapy, and bilateral stimulation, EMDR helps individuals process traumatic memories and reduce symptoms of distress.
The use of EMDR in therapy can help individuals heal, improve their sense of worth and self-esteem, and regain control of their lives.
Searching for support can be daunting. We want to simplify your search so that you can receive the support necessary to begin your healing journey. These resources not only understand the unique challenges male survivors face but they are also created to provide a sense of belonging and validation for your individual experiences.
This informational booklet aims to provide valuable insights into the lasting impact of sexual abuse on your present life. It offers guidance and support in coming to terms with past childhood experiences and facilitates the healing process.
The Ending Violence Association of Canada is a nationwide organization dedicated to amplifying the collective voice of individuals and groups committed to putting an end to violence. They work towards creating awareness, advocating for change, and supporting initiatives aimed at preventing and addressing all forms of violence across Canada.
The Support Services for Male Survivors of Sexual Abuse program, offered by the Government of Ontario, aims to provide assistance to male survivors of sexual abuse. This program is designed to offer support, resources, and services tailored to the unique needs and experiences of male survivors, helping them on their journey toward healing and recovery.
"Find a Helpline" is a service or platform that helps individuals locate and access helpline services in their province. This can include helplines for mental health, crisis intervention, domestic violence, substance abuse, suicide prevention, and other related issues. The purpose of this platform is to connect individuals in need with the appropriate helpline services that can provide the support they require.
This non-profit organization focuses on providing support, resources, and education for male survivors of sexual abuse. The organization's mission is to help men who have experienced unwanted or abusive sexual experiences live healthier and happier lives. 1in6 offers a range of services, including online support groups, a helpline, and educational materials.
It is imperative to recognize and address the experiences of male survivors of sexual assault, which are often overlooked and stigmatized in our society. In doing so, we can come together to understand the unique challenges faced and promote accessible resources and support that cater to men’s specific needs.
It is our collective responsibility to de-stigmatize sexual assault against men, provide support, and encourage individuals to seek therapy as they begin their journey to healing. Together, we can foster a more inclusive, compassionate, and empathetic society that supports all survivors.
If you have experienced sexual assault, it is important to remember that you are not to blame. Consider scheduling an appointment with a counsellor and discover relief from your pain. Click here to book a free 30-minute consultation today.
Written by Cassandra Wolfe, MA, RP, LPC, CAADC