Sexual Assault and Recovery for the Male Survivor
Estimates indicate that between 5%-10% of sexual assaults committed in the United States involve male victims. Some experts believe that as many as 1 in 10 males will be sexually assaulted in their life times. Unfortunately, sexual violation of males is not discussed that frequently.
There is great societal denial of the fact that men get sexually assaulted. Chances are – except for the occasional bad prison joke – most of us don’t ever hear about the topic of male sexual assault. The need to deny the existence of male sexual assault is partly rooted in the mistaken belief that men are immune to being victimized, that they should be able to fight off any attacker if they are truly a “real man”. A closely related belief is that men can’t be forced into sex – either they want it or they don’t.
These mistaken beliefs allow lots of men to feel safe and invulnerable, and to think of sexual assault as something that only happens to women. Unfortunately, these beliefs can also increase the pain that is felt by a male survivor of sexual assault. These beliefs leave the male survivor feeling isolated, ashamed, and “less of a man”.
Males are only beginning to recognize how many of them have experienced sexual assault. For reasons similar to female survivors, male survivors deny their victimization. Their reasons include:
- a lack of information to define their experience as sexual assault;
- a sense that they will be disbelieved by people;
- a fear of reprisal by the perpetuator(s);
- an unwillingness to think of themselves as survivors of sexual assault and fearing all the potential changes in themselves that might inevitably ensue; and
- a resentment that the behavior of the perpetrator(s) had or has the power to cause the survivor to expend time, energy, emotional and financial resources-and therefore essentially take control of their life-for an unknown length of time.
Few men actually get help after being sexually assaulted. It is estimated that only 5 to 20% of all victims of sexual assault actually report the crime – the percentage for male victims is even lower. Feelings of shame, confusion and self-blame leave many men suffering in silence. These feelings, left untreated or denied, can result in men developing a whole array of problems including alcoholism, addiction, depression and sexual impotence to name a few.
The following information has been designed to provide information and support to both men who have recently been sexually violated, as well as for those whose experience occurred a while ago. It is important to remember whenever the violation occurred, you are not alone and there are resources to help you.
Men Are Sexually Assaulted – The Facts
Any man can be sexually assaulted regardless of size, strength, appearance or sexual orientation. Heterosexual, gay and bisexual men are equally likely to be sexually assaulted. Being sexually assaulted has nothing to do with your current or future sexual orientation. Your sexuality has no more to do with being raped than being robbed.
Most men who sexually assault other men identify themselves as heterosexual. This fact helps to highlight another reality – that sexual assault is about violence, anger, and control over another person, not lust or sexual attraction.
Although the majority of perpetrators are male, men can also be sexually assaulted by women.
Erection or ejaculation during a sexual assault has nothing to do with your desire or consent. These are physiological responses that may result from mere physical contact or even extreme stress. These responses do not imply that you wanted or enjoyed the assault and do not indicate anything about your sexual orientation. Some rapists are aware how erection and ejaculation can confuse a victim of sexual assault – this motivates them to manipulate their victims to the point of erection or ejaculation to increase their feelings of control and to discourage reporting of the crime.
What Is Sexual Assault and What Is Rape?
A sexual assault is any time either a stranger, or someone you know, touches any parts of your body in a sexual way, directly or through clothing, when you do not want it. Sexual assault includes situations when you cannot say no because you are drunk, high, unconscious, or have a disability. Sexual assault against men happens in lots of different ways. Some men are assaulted by a stranger, or a group of strangers, while others may be assaulted by someone they know. Men are sometimes sexually assaulted by women but most often they are sexually assaulted by other men. Some attackers use weapons, physical force, or the threat of force to gain the upper hand. Others may use blackmail or a position of authority to threaten someone into submission. Still others use alcohol, drugs, or a combination of both, to prevent victims from fighting back.
Rape is any kind of sexual assault that involves the forced penetration of the anus or mouth, by a penis or other object.
Rape and sexual assault are not sex, they are violent crimes. Rape and sexual assault, like any other forms of violence, are used to exert power and control over another person. No matter how it occurs, these are violations of a man’s body and his free will and it can have lasting emotional consequences.
Am I Normal? – Reactions to Sexual Violation
Sexual assault is a trauma which involves losing control of your own body and possibly fearing death or injury. “Rape trauma syndrome” is a term that mental health professionals use to describe the common reactions that occur for both men and women after sexual assault. “Rape trauma syndrome” is not an illness or abnormal reaction – it is a normal reaction to an abnormal, traumatic event.
Below is a checklist of common reactions to sexual assault. Though each person and situation is unique, this checklist will help you to know the range of reactions that are normal to expect.
Checklist of Universal Reactions to Sexual Assault
- Emotional shock – I feel numb. How can I be so calm? Why can’t I cry?
- Disbelief and/or denial – Did it really happen? Why me? Maybe I just imagined it. It wasn’t really rape.
- Embarrassment – What will people think? I can’t tell my family or friends.
- Shame – I feel completely filthy, like there’s something wrong with me. I can’t get clean.
- Guilt – I feel as if it’s my fault, or I should’ve been able to stop it. If only I had…
- Depression – How am I gonna get through the semester? I’m so tired! I feel so hopeless. Maybe I’d be better off dead
- Powerlessness – Will I ever feel in control again?
- Disorientation – I don’t even know what day it is, or where I’m supposed to be. I keep forgetting things.
- Flashbacks – I’m still re-living the assault! I keep seeing that face and feeling like it’s happening all over again.
- Fear – I’m scared of everything. What if I have herpes or AIDS? I can’t sleep because I’ll have nightmares. I’m afraid to go out. I’m afraid to be alone.
- Anxiety – I’m having panic attacks. I can’t breathe! I can’t stop shaking. I feel overwhelmed.
- Anger – I feel like killing the person who attacked me!
- Physical stress – My stomach (or head or back) aches all the time. I feel jittery and don’t feel like eating.
The fear and confusion will lessen with time, but the trauma may disrupt your life for awhile. You may experience any or all of the reactions listed above. Some reactions may be triggered by people, places or things connected to the assault, while other reactions may seem to come from “out of the blue”. Remember that no matter how much difficulty you’re having dealing with the assault, it does not mean you’re “going crazy” or becoming “mentally ill”.
Talking about the assault will help you feel better, but may also be really hard to do. In fact, it’s common to want to avoid conversations and situations that may remind you of the assault. You may have a sense of wanting to “get on with life” and “let the past be the past”. This is a normal part of the recovery process and may last for weeks or months.
Eventually you will need to deal with your feelings in order to heal and regain a sense of control over your life. Talking with someone who can listen and understand – whether it’s a friend, family member, hotline counselor or therapist – is a key part of this process.
It’s important to understand that you may not be able to function at 100%-capacity for a while following a major trauma like sexual assault. You may have problems concentrating or remembering things and may feel tired or edgy. You may also take longer to recover from everyday stresses, kind of like when you go back to work or school too early after having the flu. Don’t be too hard on yourself – you need time to recover emotionally and that may detract from your energy for awhile.
Unique Issues for Male Survivors
For most men the idea of being a victim is very hard to handle. Our culture’s idea is that a man should be able to defend himself against all odds, or that he should be willing to risk his life or severe injury to protect his pride and self-respect. These beliefs about “manliness” and “masculinity” are deeply ingrained and can lead to intense feelings of guilt, shame and inadequacy for the male survivor of sexual assault.
Many male survivors may even question whether they deserved or somehow wanted to be sexually assaulted because, in their minds, they failed to defend themselves. Male survivors frequently see their assault as a loss of manhood and get disgusted with themselves for not “fighting back”. These feelings are normal but the thoughts attached to them aren’t necessarily true. Remind yourself that you did what seemed best at the time to survive – there’s nothing unmasculine about that.
As a result of their guilt, shame and anger some men punish themselves by getting into self-destructive behavior after being sexually assaulted. For lots of men, this means increased alcohol or drug use. For others, it means increased aggressiveness, like arguing with friends or co-workers or even picking fights with strangers. Many men pull back from relationships and wind up feeling more and more isolated. It’s easy to see why male survivors of sexual assault are at increased risk for getting depressed, getting into trouble at work, getting physically hurt, or developing alcohol and drug problems.
Left untreated, sexual violation can create a variety of long term complications including:
- Alienation from the body-poor body management;
- Eating disorders, drug or alcohol abuse; other addictions; compulsive behaviors;
- Self-destructiveness; skin carving; self-abuse;
- Suicidal thoughts, attempts, obsessions;
- Depression (sometimes paralyzing);
- Inability to express anger; fear of actual or imagined rage; constant anger;
- Depersonalization; going into shock, shut down in crisis; A stressful situation is always a crisis; psychic numbing;
- Trust issues; inability to trust; trusting indiscriminately;
- Boundary issues; control power, territorial issues; fear of losing control;
- Guilt, shame; low self-esteem, feeling worthless, No sense of own power or right to set limits or say no;
- Certainty that no one will listen; feeling “marked”;
- Feeling crazy; feeling different; feeling oneself to be unreal and everybody else to be real, or vice versa; creating fantasy worlds, relationships, or identities;
- Sexual issues: sex feels “dirty”; aversion to being touched; strong aversion to or need for particular sex acts; feeling betrayed by one’s body; trouble integrating sexuality and emotionality; compulsively “seductive” or compulsively asexual; must be sexual aggressor, or cannot be; impersonal, “promiscuous” sex with strangers concurrent with inability to have sex in an intimate relationship; sexual acting out to meet anger or revenge needs; sexualizing of meaningful relationships.
For heterosexual men, sexual assault almost always causes some confusion or questioning about their sexuality. Since many people believe that only gay men are sexually assaulted, a heterosexual survivor may begin to believe that he must be gay or that he will become gay. Further more, perpetrators often accuse their victims of enjoying the sexual assault, leading some survivors to question their own experiences. In fact, being sexually assaulted has nothing to do with sexual orientation, past, present or future. People do not “become gay” as a result of being sexually assaulted.
For gay men, sexual assault can lead to feelings of self-blame and self-loathing attached to their sexuality. There is already enough homophobic sentiment in society to make many gay men suffer from internal conflicts about their sexuality. Being sexually assaulted may lead a gay man to believe he somehow “deserved it,” that he was “paying the price” for his sexual orientation. Unfortunately, this self-blame can be reinforced by the ignorance or intolerance of others who blame the victim by suggesting that a gay victim somehow provoked the assault or was less harmed by it because he was gay. Gay men may also hesitate to report a sexual assault due to fears of blame, disbelief or intolerance by police or medical personnel. As a result gay men may be deprived of legal protection and necessary medical care following an assault.
Some sexual assaults of men are actually forms of gay-bashing, motivated by fear and hatred of homosexuality. In these cases, perpetrators may verbally abuse their victims and imply that the victim deserved to be sexually assaulted. However, no one deserves it.
Often men have a problem expressing their anger and rage at what has happened to them and frequently turn it in on themselves rather than directing it towards the perpetrator. A sense of loss is commonly referred to, but many men find it difficult to explain what this means, saying, “well, just that I have lost something,” “I just feel lost, something has been taken from me,” or “I will never be the same again, and therefore I can never get over the experience”. The destruction of self esteem may be complete. The victim feels worthless and of very little consequence, believing that there is nothing he can do and so there is no point in trying.
Seeking help, including reading this brochure, represents the first stage of the fight back to recovery. The re-examination of the assault and working through of the feelings of impotency, anger and degradation will help you to rebuild a value system that is based upon self-esteem and the taking back of power.
What To Do If You’ve Just Been Sexually Assaulted
- Get to a safe place.
- Call someone who can help you: a friend, the police (911), or community agencies (check out the Resource List at the end of the brochure).
- Don’t shower, drink, eat or change your clothes. These activities can destroy physical evidence that could be useful if you decide to prosecute.
- Get medical attention. Go to the nearest hospital. Even if you feel embarrassed about your injuries, it is very important to receive medical assistance. Hospital staffs are accustomed to dealing with injuries to the penis or anus and they are trained to do so as professionally as they would treat a broken arm or a heart attack. Even if you don’t seem to be seriously hurt, you may have hidden, internal injuries that can become infected or get worse with time. Furthermore, symptoms of sexually transmitted diseases can lie dormant for a long time, but early medical attention may prevent future outbreaks. If you are concerned about HIV infection, talk to a staff member at University Health Services or an area hospital about the possibility of exposure and the need for testing.
- Write down everything that you remember happening, with as much detail as possible. This can help you to cope with the situation but may also be helpful in any legal action you might decide to take.
You Are Not to Blame… Even If:
Your attacker was an acquaintance, date, friend or partner.
You have been sexually intimate with that person or with others before.
You were drinking or using drugs.
You froze and did not or could not say “no,” or were unable to fight back physically.
Ways To Take Care of Yourself
Whether you have recently been assaulted, or just starting to come to terms with the violations in your past, it is important you take care of yourself and make time for the following:
- Get support from friends and family – try to identify people you trust to validate your feelings. Spend time with people who know your strengths and positive qualities. Try not to isolate yourself.
- Talk about the assault and express feelings – you can choose when, where, and with whom. You can also decide how much or how little to talk about.
- Use stress reduction techniques – hard exercise like walking, jogging, biking, swimming, weight-lifting; relaxation techniques like yoga, massage, music, prayer and/or meditation.
- Maintain a balanced diet and sleep cycle and avoid overusing caffeine, sugar, nicotine, alcohol or other drugs.
- Take “time outs.” Give yourself permission to take quiet moments to reflect, relax and rejuvenate – especially during times you feel stressed or unsafe.
- Try reading. Reading can be a relaxing, healing activity. Try to find short periods of uninterrupted leisure reading time.
- Consider writing or journaling as a way of expressing thoughts and feelings.
- Release some of the hurt and anger in a healthy way: Write a letter about how you feel about what happened to you. Be as specific as you can. You also can draw pictures about the anger or hurt you feel as a way of releasing the emotional pain.
- Remember you are safe, even if you don’t feel it. The assault is over. It may take longer than you’d like, but you will feel better.
- Get into counseling. You will find local resources below that are designed to specifically address your needs.
How Family & Friends Can Help
If the assault is recent, you can help by seeing that the victim gets medical attention, feels safe, is believed, knows that it wasn’t his fault, and is supported in taking control of his life. Other things you can do to help include:
- Offer shelter. If possible, stay with him at his place or let him stay at yours.
- Put aside any possibly destructive feelings and get separate support for yourself. It may be too overwhelming for him to deal with your angry feelings on top of his own. If you have strong angry feelings or feelings of blame toward the survivor, talk to a friend or call a hotline.
Whether it’s a recent violation, or one that the survivor is just beginning to acknowledge, you can support him by
- Listening, not judging. Try to simply understand his feelings.
- Be there and give comfort. He may need to talk a lot or at odd hours at the beginning. Be there as much as you can and encourage him to talk to others.
- Encourage him to seek professional help (See Resources).
- Be patient. Don’t try to rush the healing process or quickly “make it better”.
- Accept his choice of what to do about the sexual assault – don’t be overly protective. Ask him what he needs, help him list his options, then encourage him to make his own decisions – even if you disagree. It is very important that he make his own decisions and have them respected.
Where to Go for Help
There are resources in New Hampshire and Vermont that can assist you, whether your assault has been recent or happened a while ago. You can also find a great deal of information, including participation in support groups on the internet.
SEXUAL ASSAULT RESOURCES IN NEW HAMPSHIRE AND VERMONT
Even though a program may have women in its titled, the programs listed below are prepared to deal with men, as well as women, who have issues with sexual assault. Not only can these programs assist with immediate needs, like accompanying a rape victim to the hospital, but they can be helpful in locating resources in your area. Some services do provide a separate support group for men, and all provide one on one peer support. Be advised that in Vermont, all but two hospitals (Gifford Memorial in Randolph and Mt. Ascutney in Windsor) offer Sexual Assault Nurse Examiners. These nurses have received training on conducting a medical exam in the event of sexual assault. This training does include males who have been assaulted.
Rape, Abuse and Incest National Network (RAINN) Hotline: 800/656-4673. Your call will be redirected to the closest crises center to you. The organization does offer materials for male as well as female sexual assault survivors.
Please note – the first number listed for all services below is the crisis line; the second number is for the office.
Berlin – 800-852-3388 or 603/752-2040
Claremont – 800-639-3130 or 603/542-8338
Concord – 800-852-3388 or 603/225-7376
Conway – 800-336-3795 or 356-7993
Keene – 603/352-3782
Laconia – 800-852-3388 or 603/528-6511
Lebanon – 603/448-5525 firstname.lastname@example.org
Littleton – 800-774-0544
Manchester/Derry – 668-2299 or 603/625-5785
Nashua/Milford – 603/883-3044
Plymouth – 603/536-1659 or 603/536-3423
Portsmouth/Rochester/Salem – 800-852-3388 or 603/436-7924, 888-747-7070
UNH: Sexual Harassment and Rape Prevention Program (SHARPP) 603/862-3494.
Statewide – 800-489-7273 (this number will re-route your call to the closest hotline/shelter)
Addison County – 802/388-4205
Bennington – 802/422-2111
Caledonia – A.W.A.R.E (Hardwick) 472-6463 or Umbrella (St. Johnsbury) 748-8141 or hotline 748-8645
Chittenden – (Burlington) 863-1236.Essex-Umbrella (St. Johnsbury) 802/748-8141 or hotline 802/748-8645
Franklin & Grand Isle – (St. Albans) 802/524-8538
Lamoille – (Morrisville) 802/888-5256
Orange – (Chelsea) 800-639-7233
Orleans – (Newport) 802/334-0148
Randolph – 802/728-5647
Rutland – 802/775-3232
Washington – (Montpelier) 802/223-7755
Windham – (Brattleboro) 802/254-6954
Windsor – (Springfield) 802/885-2050 or W.I.S.E. (Lebanon, NH) 603-448-5525.
OTHER LOCAL RESOURCES
Vermont Sexually Transmitted Disease Hotline provide information about sexually transmitted diseases and referrals to health care providers. All calls are strictly confidential. 108 Cherry St. PO Box 70,Burlington, VT 05402. (800) 244-7639 Cost (802) 863-7245 TDD
Veterans Center-White River: offer counseling to eligible veterans of all wars and conflicts and their families. Also provide counseling for any veteran who has been sexually assaulted or harassed in the military. Services include:
- individual, couple, family, and group therapy
- alcohol and drug counseling
- a spouse/significant other group
- benefits assistance and referral
- employment counseling and referral
- liaison with VA facilities
- referral to community agencies
- outreach services to locate and inform eligible veterans
Services are free whether you are seen by one of our counselors or you are referred to one of the mental health professionals who we contract with. Gilman Complex Office Bldg., 2 Holiday Inn Drive, White River Jct, VT 05001. (800) 649-6603,(802) 295-2908 TDD
VCPTSA (the Vermont Center for the Prevention and Treatment of Sexual Abuse) provides information and referrals to victims, therapists, and other concerned citizens. We assist callers through the legal process, helping victims receive compensation and advocating for the victim when necessary. We offer training to law enforcement and nurses and a lending library, and we are involved in the development of a network of therapists with expertise in working with sexual abuse victims. 50 Cherry St., Suite 101, Burlington, VT 05401. (802) 651-1663. Office Hours: Mon-Fri 7:45- 4:30 PM
VT Attorney General: Victim Assistance Program The Victim Advocate provides assistance and information to crime victims when the offender is charged in adult criminal court. This includes information on the status of the court case, notification of hearings, preparation of victim for depositions and trial, establishing restitution amounts, assistance in filling out Impact Statements and applications for compensation, as well as providing information to the victim on harassment and protection orders. 109 State Street, Montpelier, VT 05609. (802) 828-5523