The sexual abuse of boys is far more common than generally believed. Recent international research indicates that 1 in 6 boys will experience some form of sexual abuse before the age of 16 and New Zealand research suggests 9% of men, or around 1 in 10 men, will experience sexual abuse in their lifetime.
Official reported cases represent only a small minority of actual cases. This may be in part due to men’s concerns over reporting sexually abusive incidents for fear over whether they will be believed and/or how they will be perceived.
Men often assume that to disclose sexual abuse will leave them open to stigma and ridicule, so keeping quiet becomes a way of taking care of oneself. Cultural understandings of masculinity and how “real men” should think, feel and act can create powerful barriers to male survivors disclosing the abuse experience to others.
Underreporting may also be linked to community assumptions of male survivors as future perpetrators, homosexual or emotionally weak. For a man to disclose being victimised, he exposes himself to this questioning both internally and externally.
Homophobia (personal and public) can inhibit men disclosing sexual abuse and seeking assistance. If abused by a male, men may be confused and concerned about their sexuality which may include the fear of being gay or having the potential to be gay. Gay identified survivors may experience distress over their sexual orientation, linking it to the abuse. If abused by a female the survivor may feel that he will not be taken seriously.
It is important to remember that sexual abuse is about power, control, domination and humiliation, not about sex or sexuality.
Another myth that stigmatises and silences male survivors is the misconception that survivors grow up to be offenders. The reality is that the majority of survivors do not go on to sexually abuse. It is always the choice of the offender to sexually abuse someone, regardless of whether they have been victimised before or not.
Due to these myths, disclosure rates are lower for boys and men than for girls and women and it takes significantly longer for men to disclose the abuse and discuss it with someone. Furthermore, when men do disclose they are less likely to receive counselling and professional support compared with women.
Men need reassurance that they will be believed, taken seriously and not evaluated against normative expectations of masculinity. Disclosing abuse to a safe and supportive person can significantly reduce the long and short terms impacts of the abuse.
Having friends and whānau who are supportive and caring is instrumental in the healing process for survivors. Recognising and appreciating the courage it has taken to come forward is also an important gesture, saying something like “I bet it took a lot of courage to talk about that” offers survivor validation.
Many men also benefit from being supported within a group environment, as this also gives them an opportunity to support and help others. Group work may create a sense of membership, inclusion, and equality that many trauma survivors have missed in their lives, due to the isolating nature of sexual abuse
New Zealand’s dedicated agency for male survivors, the Male Survivors of Sexual Abuse Trust (MSSAT), started in 1991 in Christchurch when a client asked his counsellor how he could go about meeting other men who had experienced similar childhood trauma. Together they formed a support group and in 1997 members of that group registered MSSAT as a Charitable Trust.
All MSSAT organisations offer one to one, peer and group support for survivors and their significant others. Group support and the validation from other men is very empowering for recovering survivors. As abuse usually takes place in isolation healing works well with others.
Find more information about MSSAT here: http://www.survivor.org.nz/mssat-home-page/
Male Survivors Sexual Abuse Trust New Zealand: www.survivor.org.nz
Male Survivor international website www.malesurvivor.org
For service providers
Lara Stemple- Victimization of Men in America
Handbook on sensitive practice for health care practitioners: Lessons from adult survivors of childhood sexual abuse
An Exploration of Service Delivery to Male Survivors 2010-2011
New Zealand National Survey of Crime Victims 2001
Goodwin & Fisher. (2008). Men and healing: Theory, research, and practice in working with male survivors of childhood sexual abuse
Foster,Boyd & O’Leary (2012) Improving policy and practice responses for men sexually abused in childhood