The Past That’s Not Forgotten

[Reader Discretion Strongly Advised: this article discusses the sexual assault of men and boys and may not be appropriate for readers under the age of thirteen, it may also be triggering for those who have experienced similar trauma.  Resources and reading recommendations follow the article.]


The Past That’s Not Forgotten

This article came into being after a conversation with another man who had experienced sexual trauma during childhood.  Throughout my life I have met other men who have similar stories of sexual assault and abuse, some of these men experienced their sexual trauma at the hands of men and others at the hands of women.  While we should not turn our attention away from women and girls who experience the same kinds of sexual assault and abuse that is discussed in this article, we should not allow men and boys to continue to be invisible, ashamed, and unheard when it comes to this type of trauma.

When I use the term “male” in this article, I am referring to any age range, so that it includes children, adolescents, and adults.  The terms “victim” and “survivor” are sometimes held in disdain by boys, teens, and adult men who have experienced sexual assault at some point during their childhood, adolescence, and adulthood.  Though the connotation attached to these words is often one of sincerity, it is perceived subjectively by some who believe that through calling themselves victims or survivors, they are in fact furthering their own victimhood and empowering their attackers and abusers.  I wish to acknowledge this and make clear that the terms are used in this article solely for the purpose to differentiate between attacker and the attacked for the uninformed casual reader, and that the words are not intended to perpetuate the state of victimhood nor to gauge the severity of the incident by deeming one a survivor.

I think it’s incredibly important that we understand the meaning of the terminology used in this article so that we are all of a unified mind.  The terms “sexual assault” and “sexual abuse” have varying definitions depending on federal, state, and even local government interpretation.  Though I will give generally accepted definitions for these terms so that we can all understand the topics discussed in this article, please understand that not all legal entities may agree with these definitions, especially in matters relating to criminal prosecution.

Sexual assault typically refers to the use of the victim’s body in a sexual manner against their will, including in situations where they cannot give permission due to age or due to their state of consciousness – being inebriated, intoxicated, or intellectually/developmentally disabled.  Acts that could fall under this category include molestation such as the groping or touching of genitals and anus or forcing the victim to use their hands, feet, mouth, genitals or any other body part to grope or touch the perpetrator’s genitals, anus, other body part or other object.  Sodomy, which includes oral and anal rape of the victim, also falls under the category of sexual assault, regardless of the object used in penetration.  Forcing the victim to engage in sexual activity with another victim also falls under this category.

The term “sexual abuse” can include all of the things previously mentioned, but also includes behavior that does not directly involve the physical use of the victim’s body in a sexual manner.  An example would include parents forcing their son to observe his parents engaging in intercourse or other sexual activity, or forcing him to view pornographic material, or the parents issuing verbal threats of sexual assault.  Other behavior that can be defined as sexual abuse includes a parent forcing their son to undress in front of them or in front of other adults, or forcing the son to bathe or shower with the parent or in close proximity or view of the parent or any other adult.  I keep referring to parents in these examples because 91% of all sexual abuse against children is committed by people children know and trust, primarily their parents.

According to the advocacy group Protect Our Defenders, in 2018 nearly 37% of reported sexual assault and rape victims in the U.S. military were men.  According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, four-million men experienced sexual violence in the year 2014 alone.  In general, 1 in 4 men will experience some kind of sexual violence at some point in their lifetime, and 1 in 12 men will experience contact sexual violence by someone they identify as an intimate partner.  In the United States, 1 in 6 boys will be sexually abused at some point during their childhood and 1 in 20 will be sexually assaulted before the age of 18, according to the Crimes Against Children Research Center.  Of the men who have reported being raped, 1 in every 4 stated that the event occurred before the age of ten.

Most people would find these statistical data surprising as the narrative in the news and media compels us to believe that only women are victims of sexual assault and prolonged abuse, not just in the military but in the U.S. as a whole.  When people learn that boys and men are sexually assaulted, the conclusion is drawn that the victims must be gay and that the perpetrators must also be gay.

This is another perpetual and cultural narrative given by society that does not reflect the data in cases of reported sexual assault against men and boys.  Most cases of sexual abuse on boys and teens under the age of sixteen is perpetrated by self-identified heterosexual (straight) men, and about 15% of perpetrators are, in fact, women.  If you include cases of men and boys 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.  In 2014 alone, more than 800,000 men reported being victims of this kind of sexual assault.  It can be baffling for people who have never been sexually assaulted or abused to understand how men can be forced to penetrate another person, but it can be made clear 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, fear, or discomfort, erection and orgasm can occur against one’s will.

This may seem like a phenomenon or oddity, but unwanted or unexpected arousal is commonly experienced by most boys, especially during puberty when they can also experience unwanted ejaculation, and it also happens to some male victims of sexual assault and sodomy.  This is true regardless of the gender of the attacker or the sexual orientation of the victim.  Erection and orgasm are automatic physiological involuntary responses and do not occur by conscious choice.  To learn more about this anatomical process, I recommend this LivingWell article.

This experience of getting an erection and even experiencing ejaculation and orgasm during a sexual assault or sodomy does not mean the victim likes it or wants it to occur.  I will be returning to this topic further into my article, but I want to make it blatantly clear to readers and victims that experiencing these processes during a single attack or prolonged abuse is not uncommon and is not the victim’s fault and is not an indication that they enjoyed it.

As someone who previously worked in peer support with individuals who reported forms of sexual assault or abuse as one of their adverse childhood experiences, I can advise that it is not uncommon for these victims to later grow into adolescence and adulthood and find themselves intentionally watching films with scenes containing sexual violence or viewing rape-based pornography.  This has been reported to me by male and female victims, and by persons who experienced the sexual assault or abuse at various times in their lives, such as childhood, adolescence, and young adulthood.  In some situations, the individuals have reported seeking role-play scenarios with their intimate partners where they act out sexual assault and rape.

This may sound unusual to outsiders, but I have found this to be rather common among victims.  I’m not sure the field of psychology has a definitive answer for why victims put themselves into situations where they relive their trauma, but it’s my personal opinion that doing so as an adult, allows them the opportunity for control.  Something that was withheld from them during their traumatic experience.

I’ve had conversations with other mental health professionals about this topic and whether or not engaging in this behavior is healthy.  Once again, I can’t say that psychology has a definitive answer because it really depends on the many factors at play, such as the person’s goals and whether or not they feel safe with their intimate partner and have established boundaries and identified safe words.  Part of that would be having a conversation about their trauma with their partner and why they would like to have this type of role-play sexual experience.  It may be the case that reliving their traumatic experiences in the safety of their home with a trusted, patient, and loving partner is a necessary step in their recovery process.  It may be a pathway for them to open that door to talking about and exploring what they experienced and how they are now in control of what happens to them and their body.

Male-on-male sexual assault almost always involves a heterosexual (straight) male or group of heterosexual (straight) males attacking another male who may be gay, bisexual, or straight.  According to data from various sources noted at the end of this article, anywhere from 94% to 98% of all male perpetrators of sexual assault and abuse against victims of any gender, self-identify as heterosexual (straight).  What sexual orientation the victim is often depends on the environment and the circumstances surrounding the attack.

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 boy, 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 or in some other manner feels threatening to the perpetrators or that is believed to need to be put in his place or know his role.  This is why it frequently happens during hazing rituals in team sports and in fraternities.

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.  The stripping of manhood or manliness is the intended goal in these types of crimes and it can happen at any point throughout a boy, teen, or young man’s life.  These types of incidences have occurred in schools, locker rooms, on field trips, at frat houses, on college campuses, at family gatherings, and religious events.  Sometimes these attacks involve anal rape wherein one or more perpetrators penetrate the victim with their penis or they use objects as replacements.  Commonly used objects include broom handles, toilet plunger handles, dildos, and other penis-shaped objects.  In a nationally reported 2015 high school rape case, several teenagers used a pool cue stick to sodomize a fellow team member.

This type of male sexual assault also occurs frequently in prisons for the same reasons, with an estimated 70,000 men experiencing rape in U.S. prisons each year, perpetrated by both fellow inmates 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 sexual assault to show dominance and strip away any sense of pride or will to resist.  These types of same-sex rape are even discussed in the Bible.

The most common instance in which male-on-male sexual assault is practiced, includes sexual attraction, impulse, interest, or curiosity towards 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 sexual assault may include sodomy, forced masturbation, or oral sex.

Every year some 60,000 American children are sexually abused and 91% of the abusers are family members, teachers, friends, or someone else the child knows.  Of those who are sexually abused, 33% are abused by another juvenile under the age of 18.

According to the Crimes Against Children Research Center, those who are abused are 9x more likely to grow up and become involved in illegal activity:

  • 30% of abused children are at risk of abusing their own children in adulthood
  • 50% of inmates in prisons were abused as children
  • 1 in 20 male inmates are sexually assaulted by other male inmates or corrections staff according to the U.S. Department of Justice and the Human Rights Watch
  • 80% of 21-year-olds who were abused as children suffer from at least one mental illness

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:

  • Anxiety / Fear / Helplessness
  • Depression
  • Dissociation / Loneliness
  • Guilt / Shame / Self-blame
  • Hostility / Irritability / Anger
  • Homophobia
  • Impaired Relationships
  • Low Self-esteem / Self-doubt
  • Masculinity Issues
  • Questioning of Sexual Orientation
  • Sexual Dysfunction / Impotence / Intimacy Issues
  • Sexual Promiscuity
  • Sleep Disturbances
  • Substance Abuse
  • Suicidality

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:

  • Perceived social shame or consequence of being both a male and a victim of sexual abuse or assault
  • Manipulation by perpetrator that the victim became aroused or even experienced an orgasm and therefore must have liked it or is gay
  • Threats by perpetrator to retaliate (such as assaulting the victim again or the victim’s loved ones)
  • Experience of or expectation for denial

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.  The perpetrator or sexual predator may have also deployed a strategy called grooming or predatory grooming, wherein they have built a relationship with the victim, this is especially common with children and teens.

This grooming process also often coincides with various circumstances the victim may be experiencing that are quickly picked up on or perceived by the perpetrator.  Grooming is one of the most prominent and frequently implemented methods of attracting, seducing, or building trust with a victim and therefore is profoundly important to understand so that sexual assault and abuse can be prevented!

Sometimes children, teens, and adults suffering from or struggling with behavioral health issues, whether we are talking about a mental health condition or a substance use disorder, become victims not just of the things they are struggling with, but also of other people who take advantage of them in their vulnerable state.

Sometimes individuals with a mental health condition or a substance use disorder (formerly known as addiction), find themselves in very difficult situations where they become extremely vulnerable to outside influence, persuasion, manipulation, coercion, psychological or physical abuse, among other things.  This is compounded when they are also desperate for something they want or need, particularly when that thing is an illicit substance that they have become dependent upon.

Grooming is a process by which a person says and does things to attract another person to them, which heavily revolves around building trust, favor, and gratitude, but eventually leads to manipulation, coercion, and even threats and blackmail if the victim attempts to separate themselves from the “groomer.”

Part of this grooming process often includes money, gifts, favors, and other methods of flattery.  Not everyone who finds themselves on the receiving end of this grooming process is oblivious to what is taking place.  Some have even purposefully put themselves onto the groomers radar because they like the attention, not realizing the attention will eventually lead to their sexual assault and abuse.

However, the majority of people who find themselves being groomed are often unaware, especially in the beginning.  Typically they are looking for belonging, direction, support, attention, connection, a change or a new start.  Victims of grooming are often young, likely due to the fact they are less guarded, less cautious, less experienced, and less likely to perceive themselves as potential victims.  Though plenty of adults can be the victims of grooming, most are usually under the age of 21 and unfortunately can even be very young children in cases of pedophilia.

Those who are groomers are almost always older than the victim, most of the time drastically older, which they use to their advantage.  They are typically financially better off than the victim, can provide a financially stable support system, give them shelter, guidance, employment, food, expensive gifts, the list goes on and on.

Due to the fact that grooming victims are young and often troubled or struggling with their mental and emotional states, they can be easily manipulated, especially if the manipulative behavior includes money, objects, or substances the victim wants or believes he needs.  The more the victim wants or believes he needs what the groomer is offering him, the more easily and deeply manipulated he will become.

Unlike power-predators who often seek victims they hate or are jealous of, groomers almost always target individuals they are sexually attracted to, but the victims sexuality is less important as the groomer still gets what they want through the control of manipulation, coercion, and above all else making the victim feel as though they are indebted to the groomer.  Groomers are attention seekers and love to feel wanted/needed.

Aside from physical attraction or substance use, they may also look for boys or young men who appear to be poor, less educated, rebellious, reckless, socially rejected, troubled and struggling, abandoned, lonely, without purpose or direction in life, or are homeless.

This grooming process almost always culminates in requests for sexual favors.  These sexual favors are rarely divulged early in the grooming process, but are withheld until the victim has built a sense of trust and dependence on the groomer.  Long enough to where the groomer feels as though the victim will not say “no” to the groomer’s request, even if the request makes the victim uncomfortable.

For example, the victim may be a 14-year-old heterosexual boy and the groomer a 44-year-old homosexual man, and after a few months the groomer may make a request for photos of a sexual nature if he believes the “relationship” has been built strongly enough that the victim would reluctantly oblige with some reassurance and encouragement.  Remember that at this point the groomer has already likely spent significant amounts of money on the victim, has gone through great lengths to build a bond with them, and so the victim will likely feel indebted to the groomer, becoming far more likely to oblige his requests – even if they feel weird to the victim.

If the victim does deny the request, the groomer may resort to guilt or even blackmail, especially if the groomer aided the victim in any kind of illegal act, such as manufacturing, distributing, or using controlled substances.  From this point forward things can take a very dark turn, culminating in sexual extortion and exploitation.  This behavior is very similar to what’s known as “baiting,” but may also be referred to as “fishing” or “hooking.”  This strategy is more akin to catfishing than it is to grooming.

Instead of building a relationship with the victim in person, baiters will catfish victims online, getting victims to send text messages of a sexual nature, nude photos of themselves, and videos of the victim performing sexual acts.  Concealing themselves behind a screen and creating fake profiles on social media and communication apps, these “baiters” trick victims into believing they are someone else – someone the victim is not threatened by and even sexually attracted to.  This method rarely ends in physical sexual assault, but is still sexually abusive and leads to a very traumatic experience for the victim.  You can learn more about this type of online threat by reading my article on the topic, The Darkest Corners of the Cyber World: Sexual Predation and Exploitation.

For male children and adults who have experienced sexual assault or prolonged sexual abuse, therapy is recommended and encouraged.  This treatment may include talk therapy, medication, and it may even include group therapy or support groups if the victim is a teen or adult, but the process of opening up for victims will not be easy and may take time.  In some cases, post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) or other forms of mental health conditions and substance use disorders may play a role and additional treatment options or specialized therapy may be required to work through the trauma.

If you or someone you know is experiencing sexual violence of any kind:

RAINN National Sexual Assault Hotline: 1-800-656-4673

Additional assistance can be attained from the National Sexual Violence Resource Center

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.

Additional resources for this article and the data it contains were collected from:

Reading Recommendations

Victims No Longer: The Classic Guide for Men Recovering from Sexual Child Abuse
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Abused Boys: The Neglected Victims of Sexual Abuse
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Don’t Tell: The Sexual Abuse of Boys, Second Edition
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Men Too: Unspoken Truths About Male Sexual Abuse
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Healing the Man Within: Hope For Victims of Childhood Sexual Abuse
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When a Man You Love Was Abused: A Woman’s Guide to Helping Him Overcome Childhood Sexual Molestation
by Cecil Murphey
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[Disclaimer: this article is not intended to treat or diagnose any mental or behavioral health condition, nor is it a replacement for the advice or treatment from 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]

Updated August 5, 2021

If you or someone you know is experiencing a mental health or substance use crisis, please access my immediate assistance resource page.  A comprehensive listing of online and phone resources and services is also available.

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