It’s important that we talk about sexual assault and how it affects men. Our culture of toxic masculinity makes it extremely difficult for men to seek help. They often fear being shamed and believe they will be seen as “less of a man” if they come forward. Certain myths around men and sexual assault have also created a stigma. For example, stating that “only gay men can be sexually assaulted” is just one of the many false narratives surrounding men and sexual assault.
Although no survivor reacts in the exact same way, we must acknowledge that the way men react to sexual violence can be different from the way women do. While common mental health effects for all survivors can be PTSD, anxiety, depression, self-blame, anger, and sadness, some reactions are distinctive for male survivors. For example, many feel as though they should have been able to better protect or avoid this situation, because of their given gender stereotypes of always being indestructible. If they were aroused (which can happen during sexual assault), they may question their sexuality and act out promiscuously (e.g if perpetrator was a man they may pursue an extensive amount of sexual relationships with women). This can be caused by consciously or subconsciously trying to prove to themselves and even others that they are straight. As we explained earlier, many men are taught to hide emotions of defeat or sadness, and they may not acknowledge what took place or they may actively block it out. Men are more inclined to minimize what happened to them, which can manifest in avoidance of guidance and support. Male survivors must know that being sexually assaulted does not determine your sexuality, does not make you less of a man, is in no way your fault, and definitely shouldn’t excuse you from seeking the help you deserve. It can happen to anyone of any gender or sexuality.
It’s crucial that our society learns how to better support male survivors, and use a non-judgmental approach. Below are a variety of tips on how to navigate this process.
Don’t Interrogate Them
It’s extremely hard for many men to share a traumatic experience like sexual assault. It’s critical that you don’t question or invalidate their experience by victim-blaming. Show that you believe them, and avoid questioning in a manner that appears judgmental. Instead, say phrases like “I want you to feel comfortable to share whatever you want with me. But please know that there’s no pressure to tell me everything.” This will allow the survivor to lead the conversation and feel in control rather than feeling like they have to disclose something they are not ready or willing to share.
Remember, listening can go a really long way. Sometimes people want a person they can vent to rather than receive advice. Of course, it’s different if they actively ask for guidance but if they don’t, just be a person who will listen and let the survivor express themselves clearly. You can respond to their story by saying phrases like…
- “That must have been really hard for you.”
- “I can imagine how frustrating or scary this must be for you.”
- “I support you with whatever you decide to do and want to be there for you.”
We often use examples from our own lives to make our friends or family feel better. This can help, but when someone is venting about a very traumatic and sensitive topic, more often than not, they don’t want to veer away from their issue. You can always ask if they’d like to hear a quick story because this can help others feel less alone. Try to be mindful and make actively listening to the survivor a number one priority.
People can sense judgment through body language and tone of voice. It’s important to come to the survivor in a non-judgmental and unbiased manner. Since men are more inclined to bottle up their emotions, they may be told phrases like “Toughen up” or “Are you sure you were assaulted?” as there are fewer male survivors than women. Instead, say, “I can imagine the pain you must be going through and want to be here for you.” It takes a lot of courage and bravery for someone to disclose sexual assault. This person has experienced a lot of trauma, and if approached in an insensitive manner, they will be less inclined to seek justice or support for mental health.
Respect boundaries and personal space, as touch can be a sensitive area now.
After a sexual assault, being touched and even hugged can become a grey area. We know that many people may express their empathy through touch but keep in mind that it can be triggering for a survivor now. Ensure that you always ask before hugging and if they say no, do not pressure them or question why.
Finding resources specifically geared towards male survivors can be challenging. We want to ensure that you have resources to help yourself or a fellow survivor seek support. Below we’ve provided you with Canadian resources for information, counselling, and legal services.
Written by: Taryn Herlich
Sexual Assault Services For Men
Male Survivors of Sexual Abuse – Family Services Toronto (must be 16 over to use service)
Webinars, Support Groups, Forums, Chats
1in6 Informational Website (confidential hotline and chat room with professional)
Legal services for youth under 18 and homeless youth under 25
Ontario Men’s Support Services
Support for male survivors of childhood sexual abuse (within all of Canada)
Canadian Resource Centre For Victims of Crime (scroll closer to the bottom to find men’s resources)