Disclaimer: We acknowledge that there are many different words that individuals use to describe themselves after experiencing sexual assault. In this article, we only use the term “survivor” for the sake of consistency. We acknowledge that there are many different ways of processing sexual violence, and we believe each individual should be able to choose the language that they are most comfortable with.
Defining Male Rape
In most cultures, male rape is not as widely acknowledged or understood as female rape. Men are seen as perpetrators of rape, and not survivors. However, sexual assault can happen to anyone, regardless of age, sex, or gender identity. In fact, research has shown that one in six men experiences “abusive sexual experiences” before the age of 18.1
Rape is defined by the Federal Bureau of Investigation as a “penetration, no matter how slight, of the vagina or anus with any body part or object, or oral penetration by a sex organ of another person, without the consent of the victim.”2 Sexual contact is also illegal if inflicted upon a person who is incapable of giving consent, because of age, physical incapacity, or mental incapacity. The perpetrator might be a friend, romantic partner, or family member—in fact, about two thirds of survivors know their attacker, and few attacks are perpetuated by complete strangers.2 Regardless of relation, unwanted sexual contact is not okay.
Consent should be very clear in a sexual encounter. This is a gray area for male survivors in particular: many people associate erection with consent, and think that any male with an erection is a consenting partner. This is false: if both partners do not give an enthusiastic yes, there is no consent. Silence cannot be considered consent in any situation.
Male Rape in Context
- Male rape in prisons is unfortunately very common. An estimated one in twenty male prisoners is raped. Prison rape is often used as a method of gaining and/or displaying power and does not necessarily reflect on the perpetrator’s (or survivor’s) sexual orientation. Men who are deemed weak or effeminate are often targeted. Factors contributing to the high tendency of male rape include a lack of staff supervision, staff failing to respond to complaints and actually condoning the use of rape, and the overcrowding of prisons.
- Male rape is also prevalent in the army. However, because of stereotypes surrounding masculinity, which can be especially present in the army, the topic of male rape in the army is rarely addressed. These existing stereotypes portray men as strong and unemotional, leading men to feel they might be rejected if they come forward with their own story. If you or a loved one is a survivor of sexual violence in the military, we recommend you contact the Military Rape Crisis center: http://militaryrapecrisiscenter.org/
Unique Challenges for Men
Men and boys face a unique challenge as survivors: they have to cope with their sexual assault in a society that sees them as the perpetrator, rather than the victim. Social attitudes and norms teach men and boys that they must be masculine, strong, and brave. So, when they experience traumatic sexual assault and harassment, they have trouble coming forward to seek help, for fear of how they will be perceived.
When men and boys do seek help from friends, family, and peers, they are sometimes faced with serious discrimination: some will question their story, doubt that the rape even happened, or imply that “men can’t be raped.” This lack of understanding and compassion further complicates the healing process for survivors. According to the Rape, Abuse, and Incest National Network, there are many challenges male survivors face after the assault or rape occurs:3
- Denial: many survivors will try to forget that the assault or rape happened.
- Questioning sexual orientation: if a male survivor is raped by another man, it may result in a questioning of sexuality.
- Sense of blame/shame for not being able to stop the assault from happening (this is especially true if the survivor experienced an erection or ejaculation)
- Shame, or feeling like “less of a man”
- Anxiety, depression, and anger
- Post-traumatic stress disorder
- Fearfulness, or feeling on-edge all the time
- Withdrawal from other commitments or relationships
If you think you may have been raped or sexually assaulted, click here to read our article, “What To Do If You Have Been Sexually Assaulted.” The article provides more information on what to do immediately following the assault, deciding to report the crime, and deciding whether or not to go to the emergency room.
There are a number of resources in place for male survivors of rape in particular. One in Six is a website dedicated to supporting male survivors of abusive sexual experiences. The Gay Men’s Domestic Violence Project is another excellent resource that will cater specifically to gay men. The Rape, Abuse and Incest National Network (RAINN) also have a number of resources in place including an online support line and 24/7 phone line. To speak to someone who is trained to help, call 800.656.HOPE(4673).
Although it’s hard to do, seeking help from a friend or family member is a great place to start. Having another person to help you through the healing process can be incredible helpful. You might feel that nobody will understand where you are coming from, and indeed you have gone through a unique and individual experience, but know that you are not alone. Men and boys all over the world have experienced the same pain and trauma that you are experiencing: it is a global issue and it does not make you any less of a man.
Become an Ally to a Survivor
When a survivor of sexual assault seeks help and is turned away or doubted, there are serious consequences. If you are reading this and you have not experienced male rape or sexual assault, we'd like to encourage you to act as an ally to survivors. Male rape survivors face a unique set of challenges in the weeks, months, and years following their assaults. By making other men feel valued and understood as individuals, you could genuinely aid the healing process for a survivor of sexual assault.
Last Updated: December 1st, 2015.
1. "The 1 in 6 Statistic." 1in6: Support for Men. N.p., n.d. Web. 16 Nov. 2015.
2. "Male Rape." Federal Bureau of Investigation. N.p., n.d. Web. 16 Nov. 2015.
3. "What To Do If You Are Raped | Rape Treatment Center." What To Do If You Are Raped |
Rape Treatment Center. N.p., n.d. Web. 25 Jan. 2015.