Sexual assault does not choose a race, age, gender, or sexual orientation. Discussions regarding, and around, sexual assault seem to assume the victim is a woman and leave the focus there. Statistically, yes, this is the likelihood and often the unfortunate truth, but it should not discredit male, non-binary, and transgender people’s experiences. And if it does happen, the symptoms are the same no matter your identity. This is where the stigma originates, especially for straight males.
In 2015 the Center for Disease and Control (CDC) found approximately 25% of men in the U.S. have experienced contact sexual violence in their life; including anything from unwanted sexual contact to sexual coercion. This is assuming the men came to terms with the assault and were able to admit these experiences happened to them. Men tend to use the psychological coping mechanism of suppression more than women. Males are raised to suppress their feelings which affects how they cope and resolve a sexual assault. They push the memory so far back in their consciousness to forget it, that it can stay in their subconscious. This coping mechanism has a lot to do with the term we have coined “toxic masculinity”.
Cracking the “male-mold”.
Toxic masculinity is a concept rooted in the long-standing societal system of the patriarchy, where the belief is male physical power makes them superior to women. Men are meant to “act tough” and leave the emotions for the women. You know the phrases- “take it like a man” or “don’t be such a girl,” insinuating emotions are too feminine for men.
The male mold from fifty-plus years ago is starting to crack; we now see men defying the norm by painting their nails and wearing dresses without much disapproval. This freedom of expression has led them to open up to their emotions more than they thought they could. Recalling a personal story of an assault is emotional, which is why men do not speak up when it has happened to them let alone seek guidance. The U.S., and other countries, glorify the idea that men would never turn down a sexual interaction, which is why they are never seen or feel like a victim of an assault. Men are less likely than women to seek help or therapy for sexual assault, and if the pain is left unattended it will continue to worsen if treatment is not sought.
Coping with Sexual Assault
Sexual assault can severely affect you emotionally, physically, and mentally. Typically there are three phases a survivor goes through known as the Rape Trauma Syndrome (RTS), however, it applies to all sexual assault situations. The first phase, the ‘acute-phase’, is the initial overwhelming array of emotions a survivor feels immediately following the assault. In the second phase, ‘adjustment outward’, a survivor will try to resume normal daily life and be completely in denial of what occurred. Finally, the last phase of ‘long-term reorganization’ entails coming to terms with the assault and their feelings about the perpetrator. Some of the most common symptoms that follow an assault are:
- Post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD)
- Panic attacks
- Suicidal thoughts
- Higher risk for substance abuse
Roughly 94% of women said they experienced PTSD two weeks following the event as cited from another article in the McGill Journal of Medicine in 2006. While that may be fourteen years ago, your mental reaction to traumatic incidents does not change. Men experience these symptoms and to the same severity, but the statistics are not out there due to the stigma that men will not react the same as women, which is false. Men are not immune to the symptoms, their human bodies behave identically to women, but they often make their mental health far worse through suppression to fit their gender role.
Self-Care: Vital for You, and Your Peers
Health and comfort is the number one priority. A friend, a family member, a significant other, a trained professional, or anyone that makes you feel safe is who you should turn to first. They care about you and do not want to see you held back by something you could not control. Do not let the social stigmas around therapy deter you from getting the help you need and deserve; therapists help you find new coping skills, ways to deal with your emotions, and stress management. No matter who you are, everyone has feelings that cannot be handled completely on their own.
Talking is not always the most comforting solution, and individual activities are just as valid. Try some self-care:
- Making art
- And anything else that makes you happy.
Remember, you are not alone. Just because you do not fit the description of the stereotypical victim, does not mean your experience was not real. You do not need to defend yourself against all odds alone.
- Call 1–800–656–4673 for confidential help with National Sexual Assault Hotline
- Male focused support that includes other victim’s stories, events, webinars, forums, and blogs visit: malesurvivor.org/
Woman Against Rape (WOAR): Philly crisis center that offers specialized treatment and education services
- hotline: 215–985–3333
Philadelphia Sexual Assault Response Center (PSARC): private, confidential, and victim-centered care (especially medical)
- 215–800–1589 and for emergencies: 215–425–1625
- Find a therapist in Philadelphia that specializes in sexual assault/abuse: psychologytoday.com