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Research – Male Sexual Victimization

Introduction

When we talk about sexual assault, we tend to automatically assume that the victim is female. This is due, in part, to the prevailing cultural image of men as inherently strong, aggressive, assertive, and thus entirely capable of protecting themselves. In turn, these expected “masculine” qualities have helped fuel the myth that a “real man” cannot be sexually victimized. Men who are sexually victimized thus often find themselves in a distressing predicament: they can report the assault to the police and risk being stigmatized or ridiculed, or they can internalize the assault and further put their emotional and physical well-being at risk. Unfortunately, while some improvements in addressing the needs of men are being made, the vast majority of men choose the latter.

While it is true that men often do not to report their victimization, there have been many developments for gathering data from this group that do not rely on police reports. Surveys such as the General Social Survey on Victimization are one such way that this is done. Also, recent high profile cases have brought the issue of male sexual victimization to the forefront. Male victims are now speaking out about the sexual abuse they suffered under various circumstances in the past, and this in turn is beginning to help current victims step forward and seek help to overcome their victimization.

Statistics

Estimating the true numbers of any kind of sexual abuse is extremely difficult, but this is particularly the case for male sexual victimization. The increasing number and quality of services available to female sexual assault victims has led to more women reporting their assaults. As a result, the statistics on female sexual assault are now beginning to more accurately reflect the true numbers. For males, the statistics are still largely underrepresented as the number and quality of services available to them lag behind those for women. Fortunately, through the General Social Survey as well as surveys by Statistics Canada, we are able to begin to understand the extent and circumstances of male sexual abuse. It is important to note that these surveys now differentiate between male and female victims, whereas previously all reports from victims were lumped together regardless of gender.

According to the 2004 General Social Survey on Victimization, sexual assault was the least reported violent crime; only about 8% of sexual assaults are actually reported. Of those that reported sexual victimization to the police, 8% of the reports were made by men. According to the Canadian Center for Justice Statistics, of those men that reported sexual victimization:

  • 48% of the incidents took place in a private residence,
  • 16% of the incidents happened within an institutional setting (this prevalence is two and a half higher than that for women),
  • 47% of the abusers of these men were not family members but were known to the victim (i.e. teacher, coach etc.),
  • 19% of abusers were strangers to the victim,
  • males are most commonly victimized by other males (however a small portion of women have been found to victimize males, particularly young males),
  • teens and children made up the majority of male victims.

Other findings from independent research are that males and females up to their early teens have an almost equal chance of being sexually assaulted, 1 in 5 for males and 1 in 4 for females. One study also found that males are more likely to be subjected to more than one form of abuse; 47% reported oral-genital contact, 41% reported anal intercourse or attempted anal intercourse, 25% reported finger manipulation of the genitals or anus, and 25% reported other types of abuse such as the insertion of a foreign body into the anus.

Laws Regarding Sexual Victimization

Prior to 1983, the laws governing sexual assault were unquestionably gender specific. Section 146 of the Criminal Code then stated that “every male person who has sexual intercourse with a female person…” against her will was guilty of a crime. Under the law at this time, men were viewed as the exclusive perpetrators of sexual assaults, but never as the victims. Thus, a strict interpretation of the wording ultimately excluded male victims from using the law. The current laws however, recognize that persons of both genders can be victims of sexual assault, and also that both genders can be the perpetrators.

The Criminal Code does not explicitly define the term “sexual assault,” but instead applies the definition of “assault” to all types of assault. The Criminal Code states that a person commits an assault when

  • without the consent of another person, a person applies force intentionally to another person, directly or indirectly;
  • a person attempts or threatens, by act or gesture, to apply force to another person, if a person has present ability to effect their purpose; or causes that other person to believe, upon reasonable grounds, that they have present ability to effect their purpose;
  • while openly wearing or carrying a weapon or an imitation thereof, a person accosts or impedes another person or begs.

A sexual assault, therefore, would occur in any of these circumstances if the assault was sexual in nature. When an assault is sexual in nature, there are specific sections of the criminal code that are applied to that offence to determine punishment. For example, § 273 (aggravated sexual assault) states that an offender may liable to imprisonment for life, where as § 268 (aggravated assault) states that an offender is liable to a prison term not exceeding 14 years.

There are also specific laws pertaining to sexual victimization of young people and children under the age of 16. For example, § 151 (sexual interference) states that, “every person who, for a sexual purpose, touches, directly or indirectly, with a part of the body or with an object, any part of the body of a person under the age of 16 years is guilty of a sexual offence.” Sections 151-160 outline all other sexual offences regarding children.

As with any case of sexual assault, it is not uncommon for the perpetrator to claim that the sexual activity between him/herself and the male victim was consensual. For years, the Criminal Code did not define “consent”, and thus verdicts varied considerably in cases where consent was an issue. On June 23, 1992, Bill C-49 became law and for the first time, the term “consent” (as it relates to sexual assault) was defined as the “voluntary agreement of the complainant to engage in the sexual activity in question”. Furthermore, the Criminal Code now outlines situations in which consent is not obtained. Section 273.1(2) states that consent is not obtained if:

  1. the agreement is expressed by the words or conduct of a person other than the complainant;
  2. the complainant is incapable of consenting to the activity;
  3. the accused induces the complainant to engage in the activity by abusing a position of trust, power or authority;
  4. the complainant expresses, by words or conduct, a lack of agreement to engage in the activity; or
  5. the complainant, having consented to engage in sexual activity, expresses, by words or conduct, a lack of agreement to continue to engage in the activity.

Section 150 states that a person under the age of 16 cannot be considered to have given consent unless:

  1. If the complainant is 12 or 13 years old; the accused is less than 2 years older that the complainant and this person is not in a position of trust or authority over the complainant.
  2. If the complainant is 14 or 15 years old; the accused in no more than 5 years older, is not in a position of trust or authority over or is married to the complainant.

Under these circumstances, the standard rules of consent apply.

Types of Sexual Victimization

Although not exhaustive, the following list contains some of the most common methods of male sexual victimization.

  1. Witness: He may witness disturbing sexual activity performed by another person. For example, an older person may expose himself/herself and/or masturbate in front of the victim.
  2. Advances: Someone may make unwanted sexual advances towards him which, although he is able to resist or escape, he finds frightening, disturbing or upsetting. For example, when hitchhiking someone offers the victim a ride and touches the victim’s leg or genitals.
  3. Pressure: He may be coerced or manipulated into engaging in unwanted sexual activity. For example, the offender takes advantage of the victim through tricks, bribes, blackmail or by making him feel obligated.
  4. Force: He may be forced to submit to unwanted sexual activity. For example, the offender threatens or inflicts injury on the victim or intimidates him with a weapon.

Myths Surrounding Male Sexual Assault

There are pervasive myths surrounding male sexual victimization which affect the response that male victims take to their assault. Common myths include:

  1. Men cannot be sexually victimized” – As most men and boys are socialized to be “tough” and to be able to protect themselves, some people believe that they cannot become victims of sexual offences. Even tough men, however, can become victims when they are caught off guard, bribed, threatened, or forced into an unwanted sexual encounter by someone stronger, bigger, in a position of authority over them, or who manipulates them.
  2. All male perpetrators are homosexual” – Many individuals assume that homosexual males are responsible for the vast majority of male sexual assaults. In fact, only 7% of offenders report identifying as homosexual.
  3. The victim’s sexual preference will change as a result of the assault” – Contrary to popular belief, a man’s sexual orientation will not change as a result of being sexually victimized. Experts in human sexuality do not believe that premature sexual experiences play a significant role in late adolescent or adult sexual orientation. Regardless of the age of the victim during the assault, however it is unlikely that someone can change a person’s sexual orientation because of that abuse.
  4. If a man experiences sexual arousal or erection from the encounter, he must have liked it.” – Males can respond physically (get an erection) to stimulation, even in traumatic or painful sexual situations, and have no real control of this physiological response.
  5. Males are less traumatized by sexual abuse than females” – the effects of sexual victimization are traumatizing for both sexes.
  6. Adult men cannot be sexually assaulted by women” – although most reported perpetrators are male (97%), women can and do sexually abuse and assault men, often by using objects.

These myths can have serious fallout, both physically and emotionally, on male victims. Aware that they may be stigmatized and ridiculed, many men repress memories and refrain from disclosing their victimization to family, friends, and the police. These cultural myths engender a sense of shame and guilt for male victims, and the emotional toll is devastating. Unless societal assumptions surrounding male sexual assault are challenged, many victims will continue to live behind a wall of silence.

Effects of Sexual Victimization on the Male Victim

Sexual victimization is an extremely traumatic experience for anyone, regardless of gender. Among adult males with a history of childhood sexual abuse, common long-term effects range from low self-esteem, depression, guilt, anxiety, and anger to problems with substance abuse, interpersonal relationships, male gender identity, sexual orientation, and offending behaviour. Other effects include self-blame, greater fears and nightmares, general posttraumatic stress disorder, internalizing behaviour problems (e.g., withdrawal, depression, regressive behaviours), externalizing behaviour problems (e.g., cruelty, delinquency, aggression), sexually inappropriate behaviour, and self-injurious behaviour. Many of these issues are very similar to those reported by female victims, further disproving the myth that males are less traumatized by sexual victimization than females.

The immediate psychological effects for males who are sexually victimized however, are somewhat different than those experienced by females. For heterosexual victims, the implication of homosexuality may be overwhelming. Men are likely to deny aspects of their assault, are more reluctant to disclose the genital aspect, and have seemingly more “controlled” emotional responses to their victimization. Moreover, they may feel particularly disturbed by the fact that they were unable to protect themselves. Homosexual or bisexual victims suffer similar effects, but there are some important differences that should be noted. These victims in particular may believe that, because of their untraditional lifestyle, they are to blame for their assault. Victims may also withdraw completely from consensual sexual activity because they experience flashbacks to the assault (this can happen to heterosexual victims as well, but less cases are reported from that group). Furthermore, homosexual or bisexual victims tend to report fears that hospital and legal personnel will treat them with suspicion and disrespect because of their sexual orientation.

Rape Trauma Syndrome

Like many female victims, men may also experience “rape trauma syndrome” – a form of post-traumatic stress disorder which can last anywhere from a few years to a lifetime. The initial, acute phase of this syndrome manifests with the survivor constantly thinking about the assault. There are often triggers, flashbacks, and nightmares which cause a wide range of emotional reactions in the survivor. These emotional reactions are shown in one of two ways:

  1. Expressively – obvious outward expressions such as crying, shaking, tenseness, and restlessness.
  2. Controlled – the survivor appears outwardly to be quite calm and rational about the situation.

Physical symptoms such as tension headaches, fatigue, stomach pains, nausea, loss of appetite, or disturbed sleep patterns may also manifest in this phase.

During the next phase, called ‘outward adjustment,’ the survivor may seem to be recovering. However, this is often a form of denial as the survivor tries to simply forget about the assault.  While he may seem to have forgotten the incident and gone on with his life, his real feelings about the incident are being repressed. The survivor will likely avoid talking about the assault during this phase. He may begin making practical decisions around the place where he lives. This phase can last from a few months to several years until the survivor once again experiences triggers/flashbacks that indicate he hasn't gotten over the assault. This forces him into the next phase.

The final phase is the ‘long term re-organization’ phase. The survivor is no longer able to repress or forget the assault and healing begins. In the beginning of this phase the victim may feel frustrated because he felt that he had already dealt it. The victim’s ability to integrate his assault into his life and heal depends on many factors. If a victim has support from family and friends, a good previous self-image, and receives professional help, he will find it easier to adjust to having been a victim of sexual assault and truly begin to overcome the experience.

The Offender

While it is true that males can be sexually victimized by women, they are most commonly victimized by other males. These male offenders tend to be extra-familial but are not necessarily strangers (i.e. teachers, coaches, acquaintances). Offenders who target younger men and boys use their position to manipulate and take advantage of the victim through coercion, intimidation or threats. Others will offer rewards or bribes (beer, cigarettes, money) in exchange for sexual favours. Male offenders tend to be closer in age to their male victims than male offenders are to female victims. Additionally, physical force is more often used to engage male victims in sexual activity than female victims. Due to the secrecy surrounding male sexual assault, men who rape boys claim an average of three times as many victims as men who rape girls.

When looking at offenders, one should also consider the ‘victim-perpetrator’ concept. It has been found in many studies (Thomas and Fremouw, 2009) that being sexually victimized in childhood is positively correlated with becoming an offender in adulthood. One study estimated that the overall rate of having been a victim was 35% for perpetrators and 11% for non-perpetrators. As these numbers demonstrate, having been victimized as a child increases the risk for adult males to become perpetrators.

Services Available To Male Victims

Sexual Assault Centers

Very few services had been available to males who were sexually victimized in the past. Many sexual assault centres limited their clientele to woman and/or children, and thus male victims (particularly older teenagers and adults) were often turned away. Recent high-profile cases involving male victims, however, have helped demonstrate that sexual victimization is not strictly a women’s issue, but rather a criminal one. Although some sexual assault centres continue to limit their services to female survivors, many have now opened their doors to male victims. Organizations in some Canadian cities such as The Men’s Project in Ottawa even offer services exclusively to male sexual assault survivors. Sexual assault centres are an important resource for those looking for help as they offer a wide variety of services, some of which may include:

  • a 24-hour crisis line
  • crisis intervention counselling
  • emotional support and/or support groups
  • accompaniment to hospital, police, or court
  • referrals to other community resources
  • advocacy
Victim/Witness Assistance Programs

Victim/Witness Assistance Programs are designed to provide support services to individuals who become involved in the court process as victims and/or witnesses of crime. These programs offer information, assistance, and referrals to victims in order to make the Criminal Justice System a less intimidating and traumatic experience. Victim/Witness Assistance Programs offer a wide range of services, including court preparations and accompaniment. Many offer a Child Witness Support Program for young victims in an attempt to explain the court process and reduce the trauma and anxiety of having to participate in court proceedings. Victim/Witness Assistance Programs will also assist victims in preparing Victim Impact Statements.

Conclusion

For years, male sexual victimization was masked by a curtain of silence. Recent cases have brought much needed attention to this crime and its victims, but these have provided merely a glimpse into a much larger problem. While our society has shown increasing support and sensitivity towards female sexual assault victims, male victims continue to be met with suspicion, ridicule, and disbelief. Tragically, male victims will continue to suffer in silence until society recognizes male sexual assault for the devastating crime that it is.

Thomas, Tracy A. and Fremouw, William. 2009. Moderating variables of the sexual “victim to offender cycle” in males. Aggression and Violent Behavior 14 (2009) 382–387

Sources

2004 General Social Survey on Victimization. Accessed online on July 22nd 2010 at http://www.statcan.gc.ca/pub/85-002-x/85-002-x2005007-eng.pdf

Criminal Code of Canada. Accessed online on July 22nd 2010 at http://laws.justice.gc.ca/eng/C-46/page-4.html#codese:156

University of Alberta Sexual Assualt Centre. 2009. Rape Trauma Syndrome. Access online on August 11th 2010 at http://www.uofaweb.ualberta.ca/SAC/pdfs/Rape%20Trauma%20Syndrome%202009.pdf

Glasser, M., and Campbell D. (2001) Cycle of child sexual abuse: links between being a victim and becoming a perpetrator. The British Journal of Psychiatry. 179: 482-494.

Goodwin, Rick. 2004. Keynote Address at the Broken Boys, Healing Men Conference. The Men’s Project. Accessed online on August 6th 2010 at http://themensproject.ca/index.php?ID=122&Lang=En

Male Survivors. 2009. Male Rape Myths. Accessed online on August 6th 2010 at http://www.aest.org.uk/survivors/male/myths_about_male_rape.htm

Romano, Elisa and De Luca, Rayleen. Male Sexual Abuse: A review of effects, abuse characteristics, and links with later psychological functioning. Aggression and Violent Behavior. Vol 6(1), Jan-Feb 2001, pp. 55-78

Statistics Canada. 2008. Gender Differences in Police-reported Violent Crime in Canada. Accessed online on July 22nd 2010 at http://www.statcan.gc.ca/pub/85f0033m/2010024/part-partie1-eng.htm

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Last updated: 2011-02-16

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