It is our experience that it is very difficult for a man to recover from sexual abuse until he accepts that the abuse was not his fault. There are a lot of misconceptions and ‘myths’ about sexual abuse in Australian culture which make it harder for survivors to do this. Myths about sexual assault can stop men from speaking about sexual abuse.
These unhelpful ideas are based on a false belief that sexual assault somehow says something about the character of the person who was assaulted. Most of these ideas are rooted in sexism (mostly, the idea that men are stronger and braver than women, and that sexual assault is a thing that only happens to men who are as weak as women) and homophobia. The reality is that sexual assault does not say anything about the worth of the person who was assaulted. Sexual assault is an abusive act of power. It is not caused by the courage, sexuality or any other aspect of the person who was assaulted. That is like saying that the victim of a robbery was robbed because they have psychological problems dealing with money.
Sometimes it seems like broader society doesn’t want to know about, or believe in, sexual assault. It isn’t talked about much, except for jokes about priests and prisons. This is because rape is such terrible thing; some people prefer to believe it is very rare. Other people may think that those who are sexually assaulted have done something to deserve it. These ideas are also used by perpetrators of sexual assault to make victims feel they are to blame.
Allowing such misconceptions to remain unchallenged creates a world where a victim of sexual assault can be further traumatised.
Here are some of the common ideas you might hear about sexual assault, and our thoughts on the reality of the situation.
If A Man Didn’t Fight He Must Have Consented
Just because a man did not fight off his attacker/s does not mean he consented. Surprise, a weapon, threats, being outnumbered or frozen by fear, make fighting back impossible for many victims. Also, many men are assaulted while under the influence of alcohol or drugs, or are coerced into not resisting. Any man can be raped when his attacker, for whatever reason, has more power. Most male survivors were assaulted as children. Children cannot be expected to fight adults, however brave they are.
If He Didn’t Say “No” It’s Not Sexual Assault
There are many circumstances when a person isn’t able to say ‘no’. Examples include where a man is scared or feels threatened, where the perpetrator is in a position of power or authority over them, or has manipulated or tricked them. You also can’t say ‘no’ if you are unconscious or under the influence of alcohol or drugs. Even in some circumstances where a person says ‘yes’, they mightn’t have understood what they were agreeing to. This could be due to their age, their position of vulnerability or their physical or mental capacity at the time. Consent is only true consent where you understand, and want, what you are agreeing to.
If They’re In A Relationship It’s Not Rape
Just because a person is in a relationship or married to their partner, does not mean he can have sex with his partner without their consent. The same laws apply within relationships as outside them. Many men are sexually assaulted by their partners. According to one study (Tarczon & Quadara, 2012), almost 1 in 5 women reported that their most recent incident of sexual assault was perpetrated by a current partner, and 28% of women have reported that their most recent incident of sexual violence was perpetrated by a previous partner. While no current research is available on men’s reports of experiencing sexual assault by a current partner, 6% of men have reported that their most recent incident of sexual violence was perpetrated by a previous partner (Tarczon & Quadara, 2012).
If The Perpetrator Was A Woman It’s Not Sexual Assault
Where a man or boy is abused sexually by a woman, the common assumption is that he ‘got lucky’. But unwanted sexual contact still feels bad no matter who is doing it. Male survivors of female-perpetrated sexual assault still feel the same difficult feelings as any other survivor. There can also be additional feelings of confusion and guilt because of the idea that women are supposed to be nurturers and providers of emotional support. Sexual assault is still sexual assault, regardless of the gender of the perpetrator.
Men Don’t Complain or Talk About Their Feelings
Men face some common social expectations about how they should behave, think and feel. These can include pressures to deal with problems alone, appear in control, and avoid admitting any victimhood or vulnerability. These restrictive expectations can lead men who have suffered trauma to isolate themselves and become self-critical. Everyone has feelings, and if they aren’t expressed, they will stay inside, taking up more and more room. Talking to people is one of the most effective way of processing post-traumatic feelings. Ullman, Townsend, Filipas and Starzynski (2007) found that avoidance coping is significantly associated with individuals experiencing Post-Traumatic-Stress Disorder Symptoms.
Men Who Have Been Sexually Abused As Children Go On To Become Child Abusers Themselves
There is no evidence to suggest that experiencing abuse will automatically cause a men to go on to commit sexual offences Simons (2011) found that only 30% of child sex offenders stated that they had been sexually abused. People who sexually abuse make a conscious choice to commit abuse. It doesn’t just happen. The reality is that the great majority of men and boys who experience sexual violence do not perpetuate abuse or assault. In fact most men we speak to are horrified by such a suggestion. Many become strong advocates and speak out against child abuse and other forms of violence. The fear that others will see a man as a potential abuser is one of the major barriers to men telling anyone about their experiences of sexual assault