As we note in our Sexual Assault Desk Reference, it is incredibly crucial that male victims of Sexual Assault are not treated as a footnote to the discussion of sexual assault as a whole. Many victims of sexual assault are male, and the perpetrators of these crimes can be male or female. Treating these relatively common cases of male sexual assault as if they are marginalized and isolated incidents is only contributing to the stigma that keeps male victims silent and untreated far too often.
Traditional gender expectations dictate that men are inherently stronger, both physically and emotionally, than women and therefore cannot be victimized as easily as women. This is not necessarily true and is a large part of the reason why patriarchal values can be harmful to men as well as women. This misconception that men cannot be victimized creates a culture where men are more likely to feel ashamed when they are victims of sexual assault or domestic violence, and less likely to come forward. This has a rather catastrophic domino effect and only reinforces the problematic culture surrounding male victimization.
When a man is victimized by either a man or a woman, he is much less likely to receive support from peers than a woman is in the same situation. Often, because of more false patriarchal stereotypes which claim that men always want sex more than anything else, people assert that they must have enjoyed the assault. Biological factors also play a part, because if men show physical signs of arousal, many people will claim that they must have wanted the sexual assault to occur, but it is crucial to remember that not only can the physical signs of male arousal happen for a variety of reasons, not necessarily arousal, but also that arousal does not equate to consent. A sexual encounter that does not involve consent is sexual assault, whether the victim is male or female, aroused or otherwise.
As men are assaulted and do not come forward, it reinforces the cultural idea that sexual assault does not happen to men, which reinforces the culture that keeps more men quiet in the future. The psychological effect on a man after sexual assault is not different from the psychological effect on a woman after a similar encounter, and left untreated can cause any number of traumatic issues, from depression to PTSD, which can even result in the untreated victim becoming an abuser in turn. This occurs in both men and women, and therefore, the cycle of abuse can only be quelled by creating an environment where everyone feels safe and unjudged coming forward about sexual assault.
Sexual assault of men in pop culture also creates a problematic atmosphere for men and boys because the assault of men is so often treated like a joke. Women seducing young boys in pop culture is often seen as dramatic but healthy, and men being sexually assaulted by other men or by women is often used as comic relief. This is hugely problematic because it reinforces that negative stigma that keeps men silent about sexual assault.
The way to be part of the solution is to acknowledge the possibility that men can be affected by sexual assault, and if someone comes forward to you or to your knowledge, offer support. Making statements that women “have it worse than men” when it comes to sexual assault, or that sexual assault is more damaging to a woman is never helpful to either party. Instead, acknowledge the victim’s individual experience as traumatic and encourage them to seek any help that they may need.