Men, Social Stigma, and Sexual Trauma

male sexual trauma

Sexual assault, sexual abuse, and rape amongst male victims are the most underreported and under-exposed crime categories in the nation. In fact, according to the US Department of Justice, it is estimated that over 10 percent of sexual assault victims are male – and fewer than 5 percent of male victims will ever report the assault. Facts and statistics regarding male sexual assault are extremely limited, seeing as so few men report sexually traumatic experiences. Limited information leads to a harsh lack of relevant dialogue, which in turn leads to the exacerbation of a stigma surrounding male sexual abuse. Until January of 2012, the government did not include a measurable category for male sexual assault (in which the male was the victim) in their national crime statistics data. The inclusion of male sexual assault statistics in this official, federal write-up certainly helps to provide a more accurate picture of the true pervasiveness of sexual assault amongst males. However, the stigma is still very much alive and well, and prevents many men from seeking the professional help they need in order to truly recover.

Men, Sexual Assault, and Social Stigmas

Even more so than women, male victims fail to report incidents of assault – primarily because there is such a deeply engrained social standard regarding masculinity. Male sexual trauma survivors, therefore, are far more likely to internalize psychological and physical pain. Socially constructed gender roles work to prevent men from reaching out after they experience sexual abuse, because they are taught from a young age that ‘boys don’t cry’. Over the course of the past several decades, trauma therapists have identified several long-standing myths, pertaining to masculinity and contributing (no doubt) to the underreporting of male sexual assault. Amongst these false beliefs are:

  • Men are immune to victimization – they are always the perpetrator, never the victim.
  • If the male experienced sexual arousal during the time of the assault, it was not rape.
  • Most men who survive sexual assault will become predators.

Cultural and social stereotypes regarding gender roles not only prevent many males from coming forward after they undergo a sexual assault, but these damaging perceptions also hinder their ability to recover. Men who have been sexually assaulted will often question their masculinity; they may even question their sexual orientation. Heterosexual males who are abused by other men may begin falsely believing that the assault determines their sexual orientation, and they may struggle with this confusion for years. On the other hand, homosexual males who are sexually assaulted are more likely to adopt the belief that the assault was some form of ‘punishment’ for their sexual orientation. The shame that men inherently feel after undergoing an assault often makes the experience extremely difficult to talk about. And, of course, talking through a traumatic event is crucial to the healing process. If a man does not feel that he is able to openly and safely address his sexual trauma, he will never truly be able to work through it.

Childhood Sexual Abuse

When it comes to females, the average age of sexual assault or abuse is somewhere in the early 20s. Most females who undergo rape or sexual abuse experience the trauma sometime during college, or when they are of college-age. Males, on the other hand, are most likely to experience sexual abuse or assault when they are of the average age of 4. Women are commonly assaulted by strangers, or individuals that they know in passing. Men are most frequently assaulted by close family friends or immediate relatives. These statistics are provided by the Bureau of Justice, and have been consistently backed by trauma therapists and counselors from across the nation. The National Center for Juvenile Justice reports that one out of every seven sexual assault victims is under the age of 6 when the assault occurs. Nearly 73 percent of children who have been victimized will not speak to anyone about the assault for well over a year.

By the time most men who have been sexually assaulted actually open up about the abuse, they will have unwittingly developed damaging beliefs about themselves, which will in turn lead to a host of related issues (such as substance abuse, relational problems, and persistent issues pertaining to intimacy and sexuality). We at Next Chapter have extensive experience working with men who have undergone sexual trauma – either during early adolescence or later on in life. We understand the importance of breaking through detrimental social constructs pertaining to masculinity and gender roles – and how vital it is to give men a safe place to open up and be vulnerable.

For more information on our male-exclusive program of trauma and addiction recovery, please contact us today.