Men who have been victims of sexual abuse experience both the trauma and the aftermath in unique ways that remain little understood. But that is beginning to change.
One in six men in the United States have been sexual abused (compared to one in four women). This statistic represents the problem in two ways. Seeming to be fewer than women, it may be why there is less research and fewer services devoted to men. To the uninitiated eye, it suggests a smaller proportion of victims than women; whereas, it more likely reflects how boys as victims interpret their experience and move into young adulthood and life more often repressing the sense of trauma.
All victims of abuse tend to minimize their trauma as a coping mechanism, but men tend to do so more than women. For example, in the practice spotlighted in this article, all patients presumably were in counseling for reasons often related to abuse, such as addictions or other dysfunctional behaviors. Yet, only 16% of men patients who had been abused at first reported their abuse as traumatic, whereas 64% of women did. This offers insight into why men are less likely to be seen as victims, because they do not recognize the trauma even when their lives are upended by the impact of the abuse. It also offers some insight into why men may report abuse and seek help much later in life, anywhere between on average 45 and 50 years old, compared to women who report earlier by one or two decades.
Boy and teen victims are left to grapple with the abuse at critical junctures in life. They are, as all victims, left isolated to process the event at whatever cognitive level they and their peers have achieved. For preteen boys and teen boys, this is a time when, independent of the abuse, social pressure is being brought to bear to “man up.” Managing strong preteen and teen emotions in healthy ways can be conflated, in the youthful thinking of an isolated boy, with suppressing the emotions of trauma. Interpreting new healthy physicality can be confused with the abuse or abuser. Daily in a peer group also moving through the same phase of growth, change, and development, sorting these things out is not usually done outside the peer group level. It also leaves some men confused about their true sexuality. Being vulnerable to abuse is consistently a reality that all victims hasten to minimize for fear of the reality of abuse, but for a young growing male victim vulnerability can seem incredible given new strengths and social development. The overtures and grooming process can blend into more healthy and natural dynamics–something predatory abusers will have mastered.
Meanwhile, society has its role in a lack of comprehension. Adults seldom acknowledge the prevalence of abuse at all, or understand its basic dynamics. They are also still far less inclined to believe a strong young preteen or teen boy can be a victim of women or men who groom them and create alibis and false pretexts to suggest consent.
Expert counselors are there to care and support healing, but usually relying on anecdotal evidence and clinical experience. Scholarship is slim. Research into the male victim’s unique experience and trauma in sexual abuse is wanting, with most research focused on shared characteristics of all abuse victims, with much ancillary writing and research relying on samples of girls and women. The result is that when a male victim decides to seek help for the effects of abuse later in life, he will find rape centers and other counseling centers geared more toward the younger female victim. His counselor is likely to be unfamiliar with principles of trauma recovery and also of the unique male experience of abuse—and healing.
Among some few but very good options, two strong resources do exist: 1in6 is specifically geared toward men and has been active in supporting healing among men for a long time. There is also the very excellent and balanced support information at RAINN. If you are a male victim, you also may check the Spirit Fire Helpline and Hotline List and our recent article on Mental Health Support Services.
Robert T. Muller. The Invisible Male Victims of Sexual Trauma. Psychology Today. October 15, 2020. Accessed 10/30/2020.