In the Shadows: “Intense” stigmas prevent male victims from speaking up

In the Shadows: “Intense” stigmas prevent male victims from speaking up

Lauren Atchley, Staff Writer

TW:  This article contains mentions of sexual assault. Part 1 can be found here.

If you do a simple Google search, maybe something along the lines of, “men who have been sexually assaulted,” or “sexual assault of male court case,” it’s likely that all you will find is statistics and general columns such as this one.

Unless you dig deep, it is very hard to find a profile on men who have been sexually assaulted, or anything very public for that matter.  It’s even more rare to hear about it at Lake Forest High School.

In the second installment of this series, I look into why so few males report sexual assault.   Continuing in the next few weeks, I will also take a look at other factors contributing to a lack of reports, including reporting in relationships, and harmful phrases and concepts.

The Male Stigma:

The majority of sexual assault victims are women–91% to be exact. Whilethe few reported male sexual assault victims are just as relevant, “the stigma is much more intense,” said social worker Dan Maigler.

Often, if rumor has it that a man or teen boy was sexually assaulted, a societal mindset resorts to homosexuality as an explanation.  However, just because a boy was assaulted, it does not mean he is gay, let alone that another male even committed the assault.

Though most perpetrators are male, people fail to realize that women may also be the culprits of these crimes.  For example, in surveys of those who have experienced sexual assault, 21% of males reported a female assailant.

“The level to which it’s ingrained in our minds that boys can’t be assaulted by girls makes it very hard for [boys] to get help,” Maigler said.

There is also a worldwide assumption that a man can simply fight off a girl.  People are quick to question, “Why not just push her off?” and, “You let a woman do that to you?”

However, in a situation of sexual assault, it is never as easy as “pushing them off” or “letting them do” anything to you.  Men are not weak because a woman took advantage of them; they were in a threatening situation. Like female victims, they resort to fight, flight, or freeze.   When your body is placed in an emergency, there is an evolutionary response that gives three options: fight off the threat, flee the problem, or freeze and withstand the circumstances.  In the context of sexual assault, many people freeze.

On a separate note, sometimes the rarity of reports–falling at just 9%–can play a role in giving men the help they need.

Maigler recalled a time when a colleague of his referred a male sexual assault patient to him because she found herself unable to treat him in the same way she treated female victims.

“She was having a hard time accepting his being assaulted,” he said.  “She told me, ‘I’m having trouble wanting to support him in the same way.’”

Her reaction was not because she was a bad therapist or didn’t care about her patients.  Our society is so used to males being transgressors that having a male come forward with his own accusations is ironically unbelievable.

However, handling these situations is the same as any other sexual assault.  Since they are seemingly uncommon, male victims can be harder to wrap your head around, but all it takes is a listening ear to see that they are no less victims than any woman or person.

As I was writing this installment, a senior reached out, hoping to give some first-person insight.  A few years ago, he had come out of a relationship, looking for something new.  However, he found a situation he could not escape from instead.  He met up with a girl he’d met through social media and was promptly taken advantage of.

“I just kind of let it happen to me,” he said.  “I just froze and accepted it because I felt like I had to.”

When men are slut-shamed, they are labeled as homosexual, weak, and, in some cases, “worthless and attention-seeking,” said the source.

Shame and guilt stem from these labels as well, and many men not only struggle to admit they’ve been assaulted for fear of others judging them but because the reality is, they are judging themselves.

“For years, I told myself I did want it, and I was just being weak,” he said.  “I felt if I admitted to myself that I’d been assaulted, I would be less of a man.  It made it hard to look in the mirror for a long time; I didn’t feel like there was a man staring back at me.”

Sexual crimes have no gender limitations.  The stigmas placed on gender in our society prevent many victims from receiving help or speaking up at all.

Male sexual assault is still sexual assault.

It is for the sake of these male victims that we need to expand and adapt our mindsets and hold all offenders–female, male, or other–responsible.

If you are in need of counseling resources, see below: