[Warning: this article discusses the sexual assault of men and boys and may not be appropriate for readers under the age of thirteen]
According to the advocacy group Protect Our Defenders, 54% of reported sexual assault victims in the U.S. military are men. Most people would find this surprising as the narrative in the news and media compels you to believe that women are the only victims of sexual assault.
When people learn that men are sexually assaulted, which is a term that also includes prolonged abuse and rape, the conclusion is drawn that the victim must be gay and that the perpetrator must also be gay.
Again, this is a perpetual and cultural narrative given by society that does not reflect the data in cases of reported sexual assault against men and boys. In fact, while most cases of sexual abuse on boys and teens under the age of 16, is perpetrated by heterosexual men, about 15% of perpetrators are women. If you include cases of boys and men over the age of 16 who were victims, that percentage of female perpetrators rises to nearly 40%.
In some cases the attack occurs where the victims are made to penetrate the attacker, this type of sexual assault against boys and men accounts for nearly 7% of assaults or abuse. This type of sexual assault can be more easily reasoned when one better understands the male anatomy. Being sexually aroused is not relative to the situation or environment in which a boy or man finds himself. Even under duress or discomfort, erection and orgasm can occur against their will.
This may seem like a phenomenon or oddity, but unwanted or unexpected arousal and ejaculation is experienced by most teenage boys during puberty, and does happen to some male victims of sexual assault. This is true, regardless of the gender of the attacker or the sexual orientation of the victim. Erection and orgasm are automatic physiological responses and do not occur by conscious choice. To learn more, I recommend this LivingWell article.
The main focus of my article is on the sexual assault (including abuse and rape) of boys and men by other boys or men. From this point forward, when I use the term “male,” it refers widely to pre-teen boys through to adult men.
Male-on-male sexual assault almost always involves a heterosexual male or group of males attacking another male who may be gay or who may be straight. According to data from various sources, anywhere from 94% to 98% of all male perpetrators of sexual assault and abuse against both genders, are identified as heterosexual (straight). What sexual orientation the victim is, however, often depends on the environment and the circumstance surrounding the attack.
The terms “victim” and “survivor” are sometimes held in disdain by boys and men who experience sexual assault in childhood or adulthood due to the subjective connotations. Therefore, the terms are used in this article solely for the purpose to differentiate between attacker and the attacked, and not in reference to the perpetuation of the state of victim-hood nor to gauge the severity of the incident by deeming one a survivor.
Other types of assault and abuse occur when males are congregated in large enough numbers where personalities clash and social order or hierarchy is challenged. These types of attacks are about power, dominance, and sometimes revenge.
A single straight male, or a group of straight males in instances of gang rape, will attack the victim who is seen as a threat to social standing either because he’s another alpha male or due to his popularity. It can also be over such issues as loyalty or the desire for subjugation. This type of attack rarely has anything to do with sexual intimacy, but with asserting dominance and control over a perceived rival or dissident.
You may find it difficult to believe that a male or group of males who are straight could sodomize another. However, you have to understand that this particular type of sexual assault has nothing to do with sexual attraction to a person, it is about sexual attraction to power, dominance, and sometimes even violence itself.
These males are not turned on by the physical appearance or attractiveness of the victim, or by the fact that he’s biologically male, but by their control and dehumanization of the victim who represents another male in a position of power or prestige.
It’s the forced removal of that power and control, the forced vulnerability and perceived weakness or inferiority and shame that they are inflicting on the victim and their perceived dominance over him that sexually arouses the perpetrators.
This type of male sexual assault frequently occurs in prisons for the same reasons as I have mentioned, with an estimated 70,000 men experiencing rape in U.S. prisons each year, perpetrated by both fellow in-mates and corrections staff. Accounting for almost 22% of all rapes that occur in the United States annually.
The idea that you can break another male by taking his “manhood” through sodomy is not a new concept. Tracing history back thousands of years reveals that ancient civilizations practiced this behavior regularly during conflicts. It was not unusual for prevailing combatants to sodomize their captured opponents as a way to break their will to keep fighting.
This act wasn’t reserved just for the battlefield, the humiliation continued into cities and villages under siege. Any man or boy old enough to swing a sword, was subjected to the same demoralizing assault to show dominance and strip away any sense of pride or will to resist. These types of ancient sexual assaults are even discussed in the Bible and are mistakenly quoted as referring to homosexual (same-sex) relationships.
The most common instance in which male-on-male sexual assault is practiced includes sexual attraction, impulse, interest or curiosity to a resistant, unknowing, or confused victim. This sexual experience can be brought on either through manipulation and coercion or by force. When sexual advances are denied or rejected, a perpetrator may force his desires on another male, who may or may not even be interested in the same gender, or even be old enough to understand what is happening. This type of forced experience may include sodomy, forced masturbation, or oral sex.
As the most common form of sexual assault or abuse experienced by boys and men, unwanted sexual experiences can occur against victims of all age ranges. Every year some 60,000 American children are sexually abused and 90% of the abusers are family members, teachers, friends, or someone else the child knows. Of those who are sexually abused, a third are abused by another juvenile under the age of 18. One in every six men have been sexually assaulted at some point in their lifetime, some reports list this ratio as high as one in every four. One in every twenty boys will be sexually assaulted before the age of 18, according to the Crimes Against Children Research Center.
Children who are abused are nine times more likely to grow up and become involved in illegal activity:
The resulting consequences of childhood and adulthood sexual abuse on males are staggering. Those who report having experienced sexual abuse, report long term symptoms such as:
These symptoms can occur immediately following a male-on-male sexual assault and last decades or for a lifetime if the victim does not seek professional help. Based on the research, it is generally accepted by the psychology industry that many victims never seek help or report the incident(s), hindering the data available on just how widespread sexual assault and abuse is on boys and men. Based on reporting statistics, men who experience sexual abuse as children will refrain from telling anyone for 20 years on average.
There are three main causes that prevent reporting of the assault/abuse and reluctance to seek professional help, these are:
The denial mentioned here is multi-faceted. A victim may feel so strongly about the incident that they compartmentalize the event and the emotions attached to it – pretending as though it never happened. This type of denial is the result of a collection of responses, from fear of facing the incident to humiliation that it occurred in the first place.
Even when a victim reports the incident to their parents or other loved ones, there may be a denial by those he is confiding in. A denial that the event “could” have or has happened, especially when the alleged perpetrator(s) are family members or family friends, which is often the case.
For male children and adults who have experienced sexual assault or prolonged sexual abuse, therapy is recommended and encouraged. This treatment may include group therapy or support groups for adults, but the process of opening up for children or adults will not be easy and may take time. In some cases, post-traumatic stress disorder or other forms of behavioral or mental health conditions may play a role and additional treatment such as medication may be required to work through the trauma.
This article came into being after a conversation with another man who had experienced sexual abuse during childhood. Throughout my life I have met men who had similar stories of sexual assault and abuse at the hands of both men and women. While we should not turn our attention away from women and girls who experience the same kinds of sexual assault and abuse, we should not allow men and boys to continue to be invisible, ashamed, and unheard.
For more information on the prevention of child sexual abuse, the Children’s Bureau of the Administration for Children and Families of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services produced a short PDF with important tips for parents.
Resources for this article and the data it contains were collected from:
[Disclaimer: this article is not intended to treat any mental or behavioral condition, nor is it a replacement for the advice of medical or psychological professionals, this article has been provided for the sole purpose of bringing attention to a topic that is far too often invisible]