Women are usually at the center of conversations around sexual abuse. While most sexual abuse survivors are women, men aren’t immune to abuse or the emotional and psychological damage it can cause.
However, male abuse survivors can endure unique challenges that can make navigating their trauma difficult. Understanding and addressing those challenges is key to helping male survivors find the courage to speak up about their experiences.
What makes male sexual abuse so complicated?
American society’s traditional view of men is that they’re dominant, intelligent, aggressive, stoic and resourceful. While the definition of masculinity in the United States is changing, many men in the United States still believe in and uphold these values today. When men face sexual abuse, they worry that if they speak up or get help, society will view them as weak and incapable failures. For many, this belief can come from their social circles. If they try to talk to their other male friends about the abuse, the survivor may fear that their friends will ignore their feelings or make them feel ashamed about their vulnerability.
Others feel they should have been strong enough to fend off their abuser. Society often tells men they should be able to fight their way out of a tough situation. When they can’t, they may feel emasculated. In other cases, men may be confused about whether they experienced sexual abuse, especially if they ejaculate. However, just because they experience an orgasm doesn’t mean they wanted or enjoyed the encounter.
How to support a male survivor
Here is how you can help:
- Validate them: Acknowledge how they feel, tell them that you believe them and ask what you can do to support them.
- Listen: If they want to tell you about their abuse story, listen intently. If they don’t, don’t pry at them for information. Even if they don’t want to talk about the abuse directly, tell them you’re always willing to lend an open ear when they need it.
- Point them to appropriate resources: There are a lot of resources that can help sexual abuse survivors of any gender. However, not every resource can fit everyone’s needs. You know your loved one best, which can give you an idea of what’s most helpful for them.
While these can feel like small gestures, they can make a significant difference when helping the man in your life confront sexual abuse.
Break the silence and the stigma
Men are not immune to sexual abuse and deserve to have a voice. When we give them the tools, resources and support they need to confront their abuser, they can gain the courage they need and take action to hold their abusers accountable.