Men are Survivors Too
Men Are Survivors Too:
A look into male sexual violence and the stigmas surrounding it.
TW // Sexual Violence
May is sexual violence prevention month in Canada. Despite popular misconceptions in society, sexual assault is not a crime that strictly affects females. In fact, it affects people of all genders across Canada, and while women and gender minorities are more likely to experience sexual violence, it is critical to recognize and acknowledge that men are also at risk of being sexually assaulted.
According to a Statistics Canada survey from 2017, approximately 5% of men reported experiencing sexual violence at some point in their lifetime, and 18% reported experiencing sexual harassment. However, it is important to note that sexual violence is grossly underreported by all genders, especially men, so this number is likely low. Men are less likely to report because they fear they will not be taken seriously, of the stigma and harsh judgement they may face, the shame and embarrassment they may feel, or feeling emasculated by their experiences. Right from childhood, boys and men are told that they are strong and powerful, and that they should desire sex and welcome all sexual contact. Therefore, these stigmas that society has created may leave men struggling to accept that what they experienced was assault, and coming forward to report it may leave them believing that their masculinity has been impeded or that others will see them as weak. The misconception that sexual assault only happens to women can leave male survivors feeling unheard, unvalidated, and unsupported. They are frequently left out of conversations revolving around sexual assault as most advocacy is geared toward women. All these considerations and fears can make it difficult for male survivors to come forward and report their assault to the police.
According to InterACT: Actions for Consent and Trust (2016) some myths (and the actual truths of them) that involve men and sexual violence include:
Myth: Being sexually assaulted as boys makes them less likely to grow up heterosexual.
Truth: Sexual abuse status and sexual orientation are two separate aspects of our identities.
Myth: Men’s high sexual drive means they always want to have sex, meaning they cannot experience sexual assault.
Truth: Consent must be given for each and every sexual interaction, regardless of gender.
Myth: If a man experiences physical stimulation or orgasm during an assault, then they enjoyed it and it wasn’t assault.
Truth: We cannot control what our bodies do. Both sexual stimulation and orgasm can occur during sexual assaults. It does not mean that an individual wanted it to happen.
Myth: Men of other sexual identities or orientations pose a threat to heterosexual men.
Truth: Gay and bisexual men are more likely to be assaulted, not assault.
These societal stigmas and lack of support can have a profound impact on male survivors’ ability to health and recover from their trauma. Male survivors of sexual assault may experience a range of physical and mental health concerns as result of their experiences such as chronic pain, sexually transmitted infections, and physical injuries. Mental health issues such as depression, anxiety, and post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) are also common among male survivors of sexual assault. Men often also struggle with expressing their emotions, which can further aggravate their recovery process. The emotions they may express frequently end up being anger, short-tempered, or closing themselves off from others. In an attempt to alleviate what they are feeling deep inside they may turn to substances to try to take the edge off, creating a whole other range of problems. Therefore, sexual abuse and the resulting coping mechanisms can impact romantic, platonic, and familial relationships negatively, decrease sexual interest, cause sleep disruptions or disorders, and result in feelings of anxiety, shame, and fear. It is so important for men and those supporting them to understand that any of these reactions are completely expected, and that each individual will tell their tale and begin healing in their own unique way.
So how can we better ourselves and the support we offer to male survivors of sexual violence in order to improve their well-being? To better serve them, we must first increase awareness and understanding of the issue, which can be achieved by establishing more comprehensive and inclusive support services that cater to the unique needs of male survivors. These services may include access to healthcare providers who are sensitive to the needs of male survivors, as well as counseling and support groups tailored specifically to them.
Breaking the stigma surrounding sexual assault and toxic masculinity is another crucial aspect of supporting male survivors. This entails fostering an open and honest conversation about the issue and promoting a culture that emphasizes consent and respect regardless of gender. Encouraging male survivors to come forward and providing them with validation and support when they do is also vital. It is also our collective responsibility to address the societal norms and attitudes that contribute to sexual violence, including toxic masculinity and rape culture. By challenging these harmful behaviors and beliefs, we can all contribute to preventing sexual assault and supporting survivors.
In conclusion, sexual violence is a crime that affects people of all genders, and male survivors face unique challenges when it comes to healing and recovering from this trauma. By promoting greater awareness, breaking down stigmas, and creating more inclusive support systems, we can work towards a future where all survivors receive the support, validation, and care they need to heal and thrive.
If you or someone you know has experienced sexual violence, please contact your local RCMP to report the crime. We at Theragen Counselling also specialize in men’s issues such as this and would love to be able to start a conversation and assist in the healing process.
Click here to start the conversation.
ChatGPT, personal communication, April 2023
InterACT. (2016). Men as Survivors. InterACT: Actions for Consent and Trust. Retrieved from http://sites.ncf.edu/interact/what-is-sexual-violence/male-survivors
Perreault, S. (2019). Police-reported crime in rural and urban areas in the Canadian provinces. Statistics Canada. Retrieved from https://www150.statcan.gc.ca/n1/pub/85-002-x/2019001/article/00009-eng.htm