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Demystifying Sexual Abuse against Boys and Men

By: Oluwasegun Adegoke.

Image Credit: OpenGlobalRights

The recurring tales (disturbing, by the way), on sexual abuse or any form of sexual harassment over the years have always predominately featured females narrating the gruesome occurrence. This raises a few eyebrows if, and truly if, men are just monster, who cannot help but sexually abuse the opposite gender or that the tales are never complete. This article does not seek to undermine the cruelty associated with sexual abuse towards the female gender, nor does it aim to alleviate the blames on sexual abusers. Rather, it seeks to expound on a topical issue, which seems to have been thrown in the bin for a very long time. In this article, the sexual abuse against young boys and even older men will be brought into spotlight.

We can’t solve the problem of sexual violence against girls and women without also addressing sexual violence against men and boys. The myth that boys are advantaged and girls are disadvantaged simply isn’t true. Most researches suggests that 10 to 20 per cent of all males will experience some form of sexual abuse or sexual assault at some point in their lives. That connotes thousands of boys and men being abused each year. Male sexual abuse, more often than not, has always been shrouded in secrecy and stigma. It has always been portrayed that males cannot be sexually abused and that if it occurs, the male was just not “manly” or “macho” enough to prevent the occurrence. This, among other factors, is the reason why males don’t speak out concerning sexual assault and sexual abuse they might have suffered.

Our culture values invulnerability and denial of pain as essential qualities of “manliness.” Our law enforcement and justice systems often fail to handle sexual crimes committed against men efficiently. Male survivors lack the required recovery and support system needed and due to the following reasons, males are often a forgotten category of victims.

Sadly, most guys who experience sexual abuse choose never to disclose it, even to people they know and can trust. They fear being disbelieved, made jest of, shamed, accused of being weak, ignored or, in the case of heterosexual men, being perceived as gay, and as a result they live with the harrowing experiences in silence and loneliness.

Here are some shocking statistics surrounding male sexual abuse:

  • More than half of all reported sexual assaults take place in the survivor’s own home, or within 1.6 kilometres of it. Another 20% happen in the home of a friend, neighbor or relative.
  • Adolescents are often targeted for male sexual abuse.
  • Men are the perpetrators in the large majority of sexual abuse and sexual assault cases involving male victims.
  • Despite popular belief, most male perpetrators identify themselves as heterosexual, and they often have consensual sexual relationships with women.
  • The report rate for male victims is even lower than the already-low rate for females.
  • The biggest reason for not reporting male sexual assault: fear of being perceived as homosexual.

The myths of sexual abuse

Myths surrounding sexual abuse are purely false beliefs and misconceptions, which tend to minimize the seriousness of the offender’s crime and the extent of damage caused by the vile act. The widely populated myth that “guys can’t be sexually abuse” is a big fallacy! Guys can be and are sexually abused everyday. It can happen to any guy regardless of age, physical appearance, sexual orientation, race, culture or strength. It is not unusual for guys to be shocked or stupefied when this happens because they are most times never prepared for it.

Another myth surrounding male sexual abuse is that guys who experience sexual abuse at childhood will grow up to become abusers themselves. This is quite false because majority of those who perpetrate the crime of sexual abuse and assault, according to statistics, are victims of physical or emotional abuse or witnesses of domestic violence while they were young. Although premature sexual experiences often cause profound emotional damage to boys, most male survivors don’t repeat the abuses that happened to them.

Another widespread myth about male sexual abuse is that they cannot be sexually abused by females. A 2018 survey of 1,200 adults found that 1 in 3 would not quite believe a man who said he was raped by a woman and 1 in 4 believed men enjoy being raped by a woman. There’s a belief that men cannot be raped be­cause women aren’t strong enough to physically force them, and a convic­tion that straight men want sex so much and so consistently that they just aren’t that bothered by a woman who refuses to listen when he says no.

These ideas are embedded in our institutions, including media, health, and law. It wasn’t until 2012 that the FBI recognized that men could be raped. Until then, the bureau defined rape as “the carnal knowledge of a female, forcibly and against her will.” Now it uses gender-neutral terms; rape is defined as “the penetration, no matter how slight, of the vagina or anus with any body part or object, or oral penetration by a sex organ of another person, without the consent of the victim.”

The true reality is that, women can and do sexually abuse and assault men, but it is just not always reported by the survivor. The crime soars higher if you include emotional blackmail as a way of getting a guy to submit to sexual assault. It’s also not uncommon for males to experience involuntary erections during a sexual abuse. It doesn’t also have to involve penile penetration, sex toys and foreign objects can be used.

In addition, a myth which causes a major issue of guilt and bewilderment is that getting an erection or ejaculating during a sexual abuse means the survivor “really wanted it” or even consented. The truth is having an erection or ejaculation is a normal, involuntary physiological response, and does not imply arousal or consent. Physical stimulation can cause an erection whether the recipient wants it to happen or not. Pressure in the prostate gland can cause the same reaction. A male survivor may feel confused and ashamed about his physiological response to the abuse and therefore may choose not to report it.

Also, the statement which suggests that if the perpetrator is a woman, a boy or teenager should consider himself to have been “initiated” into the exciting world of sex is totally wrong! No matter who provokes it, be it a relative, friend, colleague at work, teacher or boss, that kind of sexual experience is all about control and domination, not gratification and pleasure. It is a traumatic experience for the victim and leads to other major psychological problems.

Finally, the belief that males who are sexually abused don’t suffer as much as females who are abused because they don’t face the risk of pregnancy is wholly flawed. Statistically, male survivors are at higher risk of committing suicide. And while they don’t become pregnant, male survivors of anal rape are at a high risk of internal damage, which leads to a greater possibility of HIV infection.

What are the symptoms of sexual abuse?

Anyone who has been sexually abused or assaulted suffers harrowing experiences and emotional pain. Sexual abuse and sexual assault affects guys in many of the same ways it affects women. Anger, anxiety, sadness, confusion, fear, flashbacks, numbness, self-blame, guilt, helplessness, hopelessness, suicidal feelings, shame and sexual dysfunction are all common reactions of survivors.

Like women, men who experience sexual abuse may suffer from depression, post-traumatic stress disorder and other emotional problems. But because guys generally have different life experiences than women, their emotional symptoms can differ from women.

A call to action

For now, many men still see reasons to keep their stories to themselves, which should not be so. They fear they won’t be believed or taken serious or be regarded as complicit. Men who report cases of their sexual abuse just want to be reassured that they are unconditionally loved, believed and that it was never their fault.

The society needs to wake up to the reality that sexual abuse and assault is not restricted to just the female gender and also learn to deal with the truth that male can be victims too, not just perpetrators. For if we fail to recognize and address sexual violence against boys, we may also be stirring up violence against women. Although most abused males do not resort to violence, criminality or delinquency, they are still at a greater risk of harming others.

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