Information for men on rape
For Family & Friends, Male Survivors
This article is written for men and assumes a male offender, however SECASA acknowledges that both men and women can be survivors of sexual abuse and that offenders can be male and female.
Talking about sexual assault is never easy. Whether you are a man or a woman, sexual assault is a trauma. The trauma of sexual assault 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. Of course, there are also ways that men are affected by sexual assault that are different.
What is sexual assault?
Generally speaking, sexual assault is any type of unwanted sexual behaviour that makes someone feel uncomfortable, intimidated or afraid. This includes:
- Putting a penis, object or other body part in the victim's vagina (including a surgically constructed vagina), anus or mouth.
- Contact between the mouth and genitals.
- Being touched on the genitals by the abuser.
- Being forced to touch the abuser on their genitals.
- Being forced to look at, or pose for, pornographic photos/videos.
- Being forced to perform sexual acts while the abuser watches.
- Being forced to watch while the abuser performs sexual acts.
- Sexual suggestions/jokes, repeated sexual innuendo or harassment.
Sexual assault is about power. Sexual assault is a violent crime expressed through sexual acts. Sexual assault is against the law.
Myths about male sexual assault
- Men cannot be sexually assaulted
- Men can be sexually assaulted. Size and strength, whilst keeping you safe in some circumstances, are not always sufficient to stop rape.
- Only gay men are sexually assaulted
- Sexual assault is about power and control. Gay men can be targeted by heterosexual males as well as being raped by gay men. Anyone can be raped regardless of sexual orientation.
- Men are raped by strangers
- Most people know their attacker. Only 15% of sexual assaults are by strangers.
- Men who have been assaulted are damaged for life
- Dealing with the consequences of sexual assault can be hard work but people do recover.
Impact of sexual assault
Although each person's reaction to being sexually assaulted is unique, there is a range of reactions that are normal. These include:
- 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. I should have been able to stop it. If only I had …
- Depression - How am I going to get through this month? I am 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 what I'm supposed to be doing. I keep forgetting things.
- Flashbacks - I'm still re-living the assault. I keep seeing that face and feel like its 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.
Unique issues for male victims
For most men the idea of being a victim is hard to handle. Men usually believe that they will be able to defend themselves. Beliefs about "manliness" and "masculinity" are deeply ingrained for most men and can lead to intense feelings of guilt, shame and inadequacy because they did not fight off the attacker.
For heterosexual men sexual assault can cause confusion or questioning about their sexuality. Many people believe that only gay men are sexually assaulted. A heterosexual victim may begin to believe that he must be gay or that he will become gay. For some straight men this may prevent them reporting.
For gay men sexual assault can lead to feelings of self- blame and self-loathing attached to their sexuality. There is 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" due to his sexual orientation. Gay men may hesitate to report a sexual assault due to fear of blame, disbelief or intolerance. In reality some sexual assaults of men are a form of gay-bashing motivated by fear and hatred of homosexuality.
What should I do after being raped?
Whether to report a sexual assault to the police is your decision. However, if you have been assaulted you might want a medical check up to make sure you have not been hurt. If you are worried about contracting HIV or a sexually transmitted infection you should come to SECASA. The counsellor will be able to help you look at your options, arrange a medical, organise a consultation with the Infectious Diseases Registrar and obtain Post Exposure Prophylaxis (PEP) as well as provide counselling.
If you decide to report to the Police the counsellor will assist you with this process. If you choose not to report the counsellor will arrange for counselling and medical follow up if you wish.
Mike Lew (1990) Victims No Longer: Men Recovering from Incest and Other Sexual Child Abuse. New York: Harper Collins
Mike Lew (2000) Leaping Upon the Mountains: Men Proclaiming Victory Over Sexual Child Abuse. Boston: Small Wonder Books and Berkeley, CA North Atlantic Books