The sexual abuse of male children is more common than many people think. One New Zealand study (1) found that one in five sexually abused children is male, and overseas research suggests that 16% of males will experience sexual abuse before the age of 18 (2). The majority of the sexual abuse that boys experience is perpetrated by family members (‘incest’).
Although males are most at risk from sexual abuse when they are young, adult males can also be victims of sexual violence. While male survivors of rape are often younger than females, the age range is as wide as that of female survivors. The primary difference appears to be in the number of assailants (a man is more likely to be gang raped than raped by an individual) and the amount of force used in the cases reported. While the abuse of men by other men is more common, a small percentage of male survivors have been offended against by a woman.
Myths about Sexual Violence Against Males
Many of the ideas we have about male sexual abuse are based on misconceptions that exist in our society about sexual abuse and what it means to be a man. One common myth is that men who experience rape or sexual abuse from other men cannot be heterosexual, )for more information on this topic contact Rainbow Youth at www.rainbowyouth.org.nz). Myths such as these can discourage male survivors from sharing their experience with others and getting the support they are entitled to.
“But real men don’t get raped or sexually abused.”
This is a myth that encourages males to stay quiet about their abuse and not get the support they need. Some men feel that the abuse has robbed them of their masculinity. This is because our society sends strong messages to males about what it means to be a ‘real man’ (e.g. someone who no-one messes with, and who doesn’t feel emotional pain or hurt). Many of these messages do not allow for men to be ‘victims’. Ideas about ‘real men’ always wanting sex (especially if it is from an older woman) also work to discourage men from seeing what happened to them as real abuse.
Many male survivors overcompensate to prove they are ‘real men’ by engaging in very macho-type behaviours. These behaviours sometimes become self-destructive as well as being destructive towards others and can make it extremely difficult for men to heal from their abuse.