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Frequently Asked Questions about Male Sexual Abuse

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A common myth is that men do not experience sexual assault. Men, who are sexually abused, whether in childhood or adulthood, may feel alone in their experience. Male survivors are less likely to disclose their abuse experience to others, and often suffer in silence.

Here are some other questions that people often have about sexual abuse perpetrated against men:

How often are men sexually assaulted?

While the numbers vary from study to study, most research suggests that 10-20% of males will be sexually violated at some point in their lifetimes. That translates into tens of thousands of boys and men assaulted each year alongside hundreds of thousands of girls and women.

If there are so many male survivors, why don't I know any?

Sexual assault can be a difficult subject to discuss. Like female survivors, most male survivors never report being assaulted. Perhaps worst of all, men fear being blamed for the assault because they were not "man enough" to protect themselves in the face of an attack.

Can a woman sexually assault a man?

Yes, but it's not nearly as common as male-on-male assault. A recent study shows that more than 86% of male survivors are sexually abused by another male. That is not to say, however, that we should overlook boys or men who are victimized by females. It may be tempting to dismiss such experiences as wanted sexual initiation (especially in the case of an older female assaulting a younger male), but the reality is that the impact of female-on-male assault can be just as damaging.

Men only get raped in prison, right?

While prison rape is a serious problem and a serious crime, many male survivors are assaulted in everyday environments often by people they know- friends, teammates, relatives, teachers, clergy, bosses and partners. As with female survivors, men are also sometimes raped by strangers. These situations tend to be more violent and more often involve a group of attackers rather than a single attacker.

How does rape affect men differently from women?

Rape affects men in many ways similar to women. Anxiety, anger, helplessness, hopelessness, suicidal feelings and shame are common reactions of both male and female survivors.

In some ways, though, men react uniquely to being sexually assaulted. Immediately after an assault, men may show more hostility and aggression rather than tearfulness and fear. Over time, they may also question their sexual identity, act out in a sexually aggressive manner, and even downplay the impact of the assault.

Do men who are sexually assaulted become rapists?

No, this is a destructive myth that often adds to the anxiety a male survivor feels afterwards, especially in cases of childhood sexual abuse. Because of this myth, it is common for a male survivor to fear that he is now destined to do to others what was done to him.

While many convicted sex offenders have a history of being sexually abused, most male survivors do not become offenders. The truth is the great majority of male survivors have never and will never sexually assault anyone.

If a man is raped by another man, does it mean he's gay?

No, a man getting raped by another man says nothing about his sexual orientation before the assault; nor does it change his sexual orientation afterwards.

Rape is prompted by anger or a desire to intimidate or dominate, not by sexual attraction or a rapist's assumption about his intended victim's sexual preference.

Because of society's confusion about 1) the role that attraction plays in sexual assault and 2) whether victims are responsible for provoking an assault, even heterosexual male survivors may worry that they gave off "gay vibes" that the rapist picked up and acted upon.

What if I became sexually aroused or had an orgasm when I was being abused, does this mean I liked it?

In reality, males can respond physically to stimulation (get an erection) even in traumatic or painful sexual situations. Therapists who work with sexual offenders know that one way a perpetrator can maintain secrecy is to label the child's sexual response as an indication of his willingness to participate. "You liked it, you wanted it," they'll say. Many survivors feel guilt and shame because they experienced physical arousal while being abused. Physical (and visual or auditory) stimulation is likely to happen in a sexual situation. It does not mean that the child wanted the experience or understood what it meant at the time.

I was abused by an older woman. When I mention it to people, they say I'm "lucky" but I still don't feel good about it. What's the deal?

In reality, premature or coerced sex, whether by a mother, aunt, older sister, baby-sitter or other female in a position of power over a boy, causes confusion, rage, depression or other problems. Being used as a sexual object by a more powerful person, male or female, is always abusive and damaging.

How should I respond if a man tells me he has been assaulted?

The basics of supporting female survivors are the same for males. Believe him. Don't push and don't blame.  Be cautious about physical contact until he's ready. Ask him if he wants to report it to the authorities or if he wants to talk to a counselor. If you need to, get counseling for yourself as well.  Here are some guidelines for supporting a survivor.

Where can male survivors go for help?

Male survivors who have experienced sexual abuse as a child or as an adult can schedule an appointment at the Counseling Center (410.543.6070). Talking with a counselor can help begin to break the shame that often surrounds sexual abuse. Many times, survivors worry that they will have to talk about the abuse all at once and that they will feel overwhelmed if they decide to seek counseling.  Counseling will move forward at the survivor's pace. Healing is possible.

Source: Male Survivors Information Sheet, Men Can Stop Rape

Source: 5th International Conference on Incest and Related Problems, Biel, Switzerland, 8.14.1991

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