Have you always thought that sexual assault is only committed by men and boys against women and girls? Well, most incidents of sexual assault do happen that way . . . but not all of them. In fact, one out every five victims of sexual assault is a man.
What exactly does “sexual assault” mean? Sexual assault is any unwanted sexual contact. This includes forced vaginal intercourse, but the term may also be used to refer to forced anal sex or oral sex, including any amount of penetration with a body part (like a penis or a hand) or an object (like a bottle or a stick). It can also mean forced touching or groping of sexual body parts, like a girl’s breasts or vulva, or a guy’s penis or scrotum.
It’s important not to jump to the conclusion that man-against-man sexual assault only happens between guys who are gay. Sexual assault is not about sexual desire; it’s about violence and humiliation, and neither the gender nor sexual orientation of the perpetrator or victim causes it.
Many people have only heard about guys being raped in-jokes about prison. Although it happens to men outside of prison, too, many people don’t take it seriously. This is one of the reasons why male victims almost never report what happened to them. If his friends think that male sexual assault is a joke, it is likely that a man who has been assaulted will feel isolated and afraid to tell anyone. Sexual assault against men is no joke. It is a scary, painful experience.
Any of these feelings may also keep a male sexual assault victim from asking for help:
- guilt — as though he is somehow at fault for not preventing the assault
- shame — as though being assaulted makes him “dirty”, “weak”, or less of a “real man”
- fear — that he may be blamed, judged, laughed at, or disbelieved; if a guy is sexually assaulted by another guy, he may have fears related to homophobia, like the fear that he will be targeted for anti-gay jokes, threats, discrimination, or violence
- denial — because it is upsetting, he may try not to think or talk about it; he may try to hide from his feelings behind alcohol, drugs, and other self-destructive habits
- anger — about what happened; this anger may sometimes be misdirected and generalized to target others who somehow remind the victim of the person who hurt him
- sadness — feeling depressed, worthless, powerless; withdrawing from friends, family, and usual activities; some victims even consider suicide
Anyone who survives a sexual assault may go through these kinds of emotional responses and thoughts.
The Truth About Gender and Sexual Assault
Anyone — man or woman — has the right to say “no” to sexual contact that he or she doesn’t want. Remember:
- Sexual assault is never the victim’s fault.
- Men and women may want sex sometimes and may not want sex sometimes.
- Men and women can be violent or aggressive.
- Men and women can be pressured, coerced, or forced into sex.
Does that mean that women sexually assault men? In some cases, women do sexually assault men. However, most sexual assaults against men are committed by other men, who actually identify themselves as heterosexual.
If you are a male survivor of sexual assault, remember:
- It was not your fault that you were assaulted.
- You are not alone.
- You have the right to do any or all of these things:
- ask for support
- seek medical attention
- talk to a counselor, or call a rape crisis hotline
- report it to the authorities
If a guy you care about has been assaulted, you should:
- take it seriously
- ask him what you can do to support him
- let him know that it was not his fault
- let him know he is not alone
- tell him that help is available; encourage him to call a rape crisis hotline
- don’t pressure him to report the incident if he is not ready to
More information is available from the National Organization of Male Sexual Victimization.