Why Some Think Males Can't Be Sexually Assaulted
The sexual assault of men and boys are prevalent issues which historically have been overlooked. The reality is men and boys are frequently sexually assaulted. One study found that at least 1 in 6 boys will experience sexual assault before the age of 18 (1). Other researchers found that for certain types of sexual violence, adult men are targeted at rates similar to those of adult women (2).
The wide assumption that men and boys aren’t targeted by sexual abusers has often led male survivors to unduly feel shame about an assault. Male survivors who believe the myth that males cannot be abused might blame their selves; thinking if men can't be assaulted, they must have allowed the assault(s) to happen. If you are a male who has been sexually assaulted know that it is not your fault and you are not alone. In this post the reasons people falsely believe males are rarely sexually assaulted will be examined. Recent developments that are beginning to shatter this myth are covered as well.
Studies which were supposed to measure how often people experience sexual assault have historically been inaccurate. Initially studies defined these acts as crimes which occur only towards women. As a result of this definition of sexual assault, none of the sexual assaults of males were counted.
Eventually the definition of sexual assault was widened to include both females and males; but still many of the studies excluded a large portion of the types of assaults males experience. This exclusion happened due to definitions of sexual assault that didn’t fully account for anatomical differences between males and females and the resulting different forms the sexual assaults took.
Biased Gender Norms
Also contributing to the myth that males are rarely targeted is the prevalent gender bias that assumes men are always perpetrators and rarely victims of sexual assault. The false assumption that men can always be in control and thus can't be victimized feeds into this bias. The prejudice that women are always weak and defenseless also plays into this assumption. The fact is no one can be in control at all times. As a result, anyone can experience sexual assault, regardless of gender. Both men and women sexually assault males. An additional bias that feeds into the myth that males can’t be sexually assaulted is the idea that males always want sex. This simply is not true; especially in cases of non-consensual contact.
Thankfully, there has been a trend of increasing awareness regarding the reality that males are frequently targeted by sexual abusers. This increase in awareness has largely happened due to publicized cases in which people have been caught sexually abusing men and boys. Additionally, numerous famous male survivors have stepped forward to talk about their experiences and hold their abusers accountable.
Some researchers have begun to structure studies in a way which accounts for all types of sexual assault men experience. This has led to the ability to get a more accurate picture of the degree to which males are targeted.
Hopefully the increasing awareness that males frequently experience sexual abuse will reduce the sense of shame or stigma male survivors have felt previously. While it can seem difficult, there are ways to recover from sexual assault. Counseling is one way to recover and has been associated with many positive outcomes for both men and women.
- Bill McCadden, MSW, LCSW
1. Dube, S.R., Anda, R.F., Whitfield, C.L., et al. (2005). Long-term consequences of childhood sexual abuse by gender of victim. American Journal of Preventive Medicine, 28, 430-438.
2. "The Sexual Victimization of Men in America: New Data Challenge Old Assumptions”. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4062022/