Men Who Suffer In Silence
What does a ‘typical’ sexual assault victim look like? What age? What sexuality? What gender? The reality is, there is no such thing as a ‘typical’ victim. Sexual assault can happen to anybody, regardless of gender. Although it is more often considered that the ‘typical’ victim is a white, heterosexual woman, it’s important to consider that sexual assault can happen to anyone, including men. However, because of societal attitudes and stereotypes about men, including how they experience emotions, reporting of sexual assault can become biased or hidden. In fact, in recent research, it was discovered that 1 out of every 33 males in the US have been a victim of rape or attempted rape (Rainn, 2015), and Black et al. (2011) suggests 1 in every 5 men experience sexual assault within their lifetime. Thankfully, studies of sexual assault are becoming more common, but men’s own experiences are still very often overlooked. Whilst it is important to consider that no two men’s experiences of sexual assault are the same and should not be viewed homogeneously, there are a few stereotypes that may impact upon the way men experience getting support. Researchers at Florida Atlantic University argue that this is because of societal stereotypes which negatively impact men, including the stereotype that men don’t experience emotions the same way that women do (Dario & O’Neal, 2017). In fact, sexual assault is traumatic for all genders, but men may be less likely to gain support due to stereotypes that they are ‘more sexual’ than women, or that sexual assault ‘doesn’t happen’ to men because men ‘always want sex’. Or even that sexual assault wouldn’t affect men in the same way, as they are ‘less emotional’ than women. Of course, this couldn’t be further from the truth. Men are not necessarily more sexual than women, and sexual assault is just as traumatic. However, because of these negative stereotypes, sexual assault often tends to go underreported and underrepresented, or taken less seriously within the criminal justice system than for women. Another reason there seems to be so much bias when it comes to male sexual assault victims is because of the gender norms that male victims internalise. From a very young age, men are told they have to be tough and not to show any weakness (Jones, 2020). Survivors can therefore often feel ashamed that they ‘weren’t strong enough’ to fight off their attacker, or worry about the appearance of their masculinity, especially if they were attacked by another man. Studies show that for 20% of men, it can take three decades to report abuse they have experienced (malesurvivor.co.uk). But in fact, abuse is neither about the victim’s sexuality, nor is it about ‘strength’. It is an abuse of power. In addition, men affected by structural inequalities, such as LGBT+ men or men of colour, may also face further challenges, such as lack of public representation of any issues they may face and wider societal misunderstandings about their experiences. These stereotypes may often be a big reason for not coming forward. So how can we begin to address this? We need to work towards removing the stereotype that men cannot be emotional, as well as addressing the importance of representation and normalising of men’s real experiences. It’s also about considering structural inequalities that may prevent men from coming forward, especially men of colour and LGBT+ individuals. Male rape also comes under the government’s strategy for women and girls and remains heavily underfunded and under resourced. Through an increasing in funding and recognition from the government, change can and will occur. References: Rape, Abuse & Incest National Network RAINN., (2015). Statistics. Who are the victims? Available at: https://rainn.org/get-information/statistics/sexual-assaultvictims Black, M., Basile, K., Breiding, M., Smith, S., Walters, M., Merrick, M., Chen, J., & Stevens, R. (2011). The National Intimate Partner and Sexual Violence Survey (NISVS): 2010 Summary Report. Atlanta, GA: National Center for Injury Prevention and Control, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Available at: http://www.cdc.gov/violenceprevention/nisvs/ Dario, L.; O’Neal, E. (2017). Do the Mental Health Consequences of Sexual Victimization Differ Between Males and Females? A General Strain Theory Approach. Women & Criminal Justice. Jones, O. (2020.) Male Rape Survivors Suffer in Silence. We Need to Help them Talk. The Guardian. HM Government. (2019). Position statement on male victims of crimes considered in the cross-Government strategy on ending Violence Against Women and Girls (VAWG).