The Invisible: Male Survivors of Rape

One in 6 men have experienced nonconsensual abusive sexual experiences before age 18, and one in 71 men in the United States have been raped in their lifetime, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

The rape of males is a silent epidemic. Nevertheless, society as a whole, simply does not collectively acknowledge or publicly address the vast number of males that are sexually victimized.

Many will agree that rape is a violation and an insidious act of violence that attacks not only the body, but also the mind. Culturally, men are expected to be perpetrators of sexual violence rather than victims. The fact is that 1 in 6 males have been sexually victimized. Yet most campaigns against sexual violence are gender specific and exclude men. There is more of a willingness to recognize and address sexual violence against children. The sexual violation of men, however, uncomfortably challenges traditional views of gender, power, control, and masculinity.

While there is an acknowledgment and acceptance that men and women are victims of cruelty, when we add a male rape category, it no longer becomes palatable or plausible – often banishing male rape victims to suffer in silence and erasing their narratives.

Why does there continue to be a societal and cultural blind spot surrounding male rape?

The rape of men and boys is perhaps the most underreported and consciously not addressed violent crime. The lack of visibility often stops males from reporting their abuse, more so than their female counterparts. The intense stigma and shame perpetuate the silence and erases a balanced discussion as their voice is relegated to the background.

As a society we have to break the silence in order to break the cycle of abuse.

Particularly, men are expected to protect and defend themselves, even in situations of rape. Failure to do so is met with disbelief and confusion. Our cultural adherence towards heavily gendered phrases such as “man up” and “be a man” perpetuate the belief that “real men don’t get raped.” This minimizes the prevalence of sexual abuse towards males and renders their suffering invisible.

Male survivors rarely report their rape

After sexual violence, the healing space for communal support, compassion, and empathy often opens for women. Males are simply shut out and that elusive space is filled with judgment and questions about their masculinity and orientation.

As a clinician, most of my male patients with histories of being sexually victimized, report never disclosing to family or friends due to the gender stigma and fear of being blamed for “allowing” the rape and, also, being devalued as a male.

Victim Aftermath: What is Normal?

Contrary to what is culturally expected, sexual victimization is as traumatic for men as it is women. While it can take men years to emotionally work through and recover from rape, there is no common emotional response that male survivors will exhibit.

For instance, some may emotionally and physically isolate. Others may appear calm and levelheaded, while others exhibit rage and destructive behavior. These behaviors are normal responses as each individual may to react to internal and external stressors based on their cultural, spiritual, and religious backgrounds.

The stigma is often staggering for men. Consequently, these are several common emotional reactions that male rape survivors face:

1. Shame
2. Self-blame and self-loathing
3. Depression and/or anxiety
4. PTSD
5. Heightened sense of vulnerability and fear
6. Rage and anger
7. Confusion and conflict of sexual orientation
8. Grief and perceived loss of masculinity and manhood

The time for us to take an unflinching look at male rape is long overdue. By acknowledging the rape of men exists, we can better understand their needs and ensure that they receive support to heal from trauma, in the mind and body.

If you are or someone you know is a victim of sexual violence:

Contact the Rape, Abuse, and Incest National Network (RAINN) hotline at 1-800-656-HOPE. Help is free, confidential, and available 24/7. Get information at RAINN.

Contact your local emergency services at 9-1-1.

(Photo Credit: Dr. Tama Lane)