Myths About Male Survivors of Sexual Assault

There are many common myths surrounding the issue of sexual assault.  Today I will be writing on 10 myths surrounding the experiences of male survivors of sexual assault.  Some of these myths apply only to male survivors.  Others apply to survivors of all genders but tend to affect males in unique ways.  All these myths can make it more difficult for male survivors to speak up or seek help related to the abuse they’ve experienced. 

Myth 1: Boys and men do not often experience sexual assault. 

This simply is untrue.  It is not uncommon for boys and men to experience sexual assault; in some cases, males experience sexual assault at rates nearing those of girls and women.

Myth 2: Females cannot sexually abuse males.

This myth is related to the common prejudice in society that females are typically weak/incapable and males are always strong/in control.  The reasoning goes that since females tend to be weak they could never attack males who are strong.  In reality, every person has their own strengths and weaknesses and gender does not predict whether someone will potentially perpetrate or be targeted for assault.  The idea that girls and women can’t be perpetrators of abuse might cause confusion for males who have been hurt by female abusers.  It can be more difficult to identity the behavior as an unwanted assault when it occurs from someone they didn’t know could act in such a way.

Myth 3: If male survivors were physically aroused during a sexual assault it must mean they wanted it.

Physical arousal during the assault(s) does not mean that the survivor “wanted it”.  Genitals are biologically primed to respond to physical stimulation.  This response can occur even when a male does not wish for it to happen. 

Myth 4: Children and adolescents can consent to sexual contact with an adult.

It is impossible for a child or adolescent to consent to sexual contact with an adult.  Their brains are not yet developed enough to make such a decision as an equal party.  Some perpetrators try to confuse their underage victims by trying to convince them that their words or actions consented to the sexual contact.  Or an adult perpetrator may tell a child that they must have wanted it since they didn’t say no.  Typically, those who are underage are too scared or confused to say no and often don’t fully understand what is happening to them.  Adult abusers are always 100% responsible for their actions.

Myth 5: Being sexually assaulted by a male must mean the male survivor is gay. 

Some heterosexual male survivors experience a lot of confusion due to being taught this myth.  They think they must be attracted to other males, otherwise the perpetrator wouldn’t have targeted them.  Sexual assault does not determine one’s sexual orientation.

Myth 6: A male survivor became gay or bisexual because they were sexually assaulted by a male.  Gay or bisexual male survivors might falsely believe they became gay or bisexual because they were assaulted by a male.  These individuals might feel shame about their sexual orientation due to the belief it was caused by their experience with being abused.  People are born with their sexual orientation; sexual abuse does not determine it.

 

Myth 7: Males only experience sexual assault when they are underage.

Both boys and men frequently experience sexual assault.  Abusers are not always physically stronger than the people they target.  Abuse can occur when one person has any type of power over another.  This power can be gained through mental manipulation, control of monetary resources, threats to take away something or someone one cares for, or targeting someone when they are asleep or under the influence of alcohol or drugs, etc.  Since no person can have complete control at all times, it is possible for anyone to be sexually assaulted, regardless of their gender or physical strength. 

Myth 8: Males are less effected when they experience sexual violence than females.

Sexual assault can have significant negative effects on people’s lives regardless of their gender.  While males are often taught not to show or feel painful emotions, they do feel emotions as much as other genders.  Male survivors are often targeted by someone they know and trust.  In these cases, the abuse against them serves as a huge betrayal.  Such survivors might have difficulty allowing themselves to show the trust which is necessary to form and maintain close supportive relationships due to the betrayal. 

Myth 9: Boys and men who have been sexually assaulted are likely to assault others.

Survivors of all genders are not likely to abuse other people.

Myth 10: Males seeking help after experiencing sexual assault is a sign of weakness.

Some believe that male survivors should not seek help as true strength is shown when males “go it alone” or ignore their pain.  For many males who have been abused, the myths surrounding the experiences of male survivors can create a sense of shame or a belief that they wouldn’t be understood if they did seek help.  For these reasons, males seeking help and support after experiencing sexual assault is a sign of strength, as doing so typically takes a great deal of courage.

- Bill McCadden, MSW, LCSW

Bill McCadden