Supporting male survivors of sexual assault

From When Men Are Raped, which was written by the Ohio State University Rape Education and Prevention Program.

Male survivors of rape will experience a similar range and intensity of trauma as women survivors. For example, both male and female survivors will often suffer from Rape Trauma Syndrome (a form of Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder) after they are assaulted. Thus when dealing with men, you should accord them the same respect, empathy and understanding as you would women.

There are, however, important differences between male and female survivors and it would be damaging to treat men the same as women in every respect. Some of these differences include:

  • Male survivors tend to question their sexual orientation more often than women who have been raped. Sometimes men will ejaculate or experience an erection during their assaults, as an involuntary response to physical sensation, intense fear, or pain. This may lead a survivor to question whether or not he somehow wanted to be assaulted or perhaps believe he is gay.
  • In a confusion between rape and sex, many men will become homophobic after their assault, falsely equating same-sex rape with homosexuality.
  • Unlike women, most men are never taught to live with the fear of their own vulnerabilities to sexual assault. When they are raped, therefore, they may experience a heightened degree of pure shock and surprise, finding it more difficult to understand what they have gone through.
  • Some men will feel part of their masculinity has been stripped away, that they have been feminized, or are somehow less manly because they have been sexually violated.
  • Male rape tends to involve higher rates of weapon use, physical injury, and multiple assailants as compared to the rape of women.
  • It is imperative to understand that men do not have widespread access to resources like self-help books and support groups as do women survivors of rape. Given the extreme stigma surrounding adult male rape, a survivor usually deals with his issues in total isolation. You may well be the first person he has talked with and might be the only source of information, support and understanding for him.

The following is a list of behavioral cues that can aid a service provider in their attempt to be supportive of a male rape survivor:

  • Do believe a man who reports his rape experience. Remember that he has overcome many obstacles to be able to speak about what has happened.
  • Do tell him that by relating his story he has taken the first, and perhaps most significant, step toward dealing with the trauma.
  • Do tell him that the rape was not his fault.
  • Do tell him that he is not alone, that approximately one in fourteen men is a rape survivor.
  • Do make sure that you educate yourself about the state laws pertaining to rape of men. Many states have gender non-specific rape laws, meaning that adult male rape is defined as equivalent to the rape of women. Other states may not legally recognize oral or anal penetration as being rape, but instead they categorize it as some other form of sex crime. You will need to be able to inform survivors of their legal rights as victims of sexual assault.
  • Do make sure that you administer the proper tests and collect all pertinent evidence when a man reports being raped, is you are a medical provider. Hospitals should provide appropriate clothing (beyond surgical scrubs) for the survivor to wear home in the event he has to give up his clothes as forensic evidence after medical treatment.
  • Do make sure that you have a listing of resources such as counselors who specialize in male sexual victimization, men’s service organizations, a crisis hotline that is receptive to male callers, etc. in your community or nearby to which you can refer survivors. Have brochures and handouts prepared to provide to male survivors and their support persons as needed.
  • Do publicize and make known your ability and willingness to deal with adult male survivors of rape. Male survivors will only report their experience if they believe you will be compassionate and understanding.

Do not:

  • Do not express discomfort with issues and conversations related to sexuality. Remember: this might be one of the foremost areas of confusion for the survivor. If he senses your reluctance to address this issue, he will probably not bring it up.
  • Do not panic if he is suicidal. This is a common aftermath of adult male rape. He will be best calmed by a conversation where he is able to express what he is feeling. Point out to him that he is alive and has survived the assault. Make him aware of the fact that he is not alone and that there are other male survivors out there. He needs to know that it is possible to recover from the trauma.
  • Do not tell anyone else about his story. Protecting his anonymity or confidentiality is vital.
  • Do not make him feel that his experience is any less traumatic because he is a man. Given society’s stereotypes of “manliness” he will already be questioning whether “real men” can actually be raped. He needs to hear that his assault experience is ample cause to seek help.
  • Do not accuse him of being homophobic if he indicates his fear or hatred of gay males. However, at an appropriate time, inform him that most men who rape men self-identify as heterosexual and rape to control, humiliate, and degrade their victims, not for sexual pleasure.

This section is excerpted from the publication “When Men Are Raped”, which was written by the Ohio State University Rape Education and Prevention Program with funding through a grant from the Ohio Department of Health. A complete copy of the text is available from ODH, or contact: Ohio State University Rape Education and Prevention Program Student Gender and Sexuality Services 464 Ohio Union, 1739 N. High Street Columbus, OH 43210 Phone: (614) 292-0479.

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