This article discusses sexual assault.
If you’re currently in distress, please call 1800RESPECT (1800 737 732) for help.
Sexual assault happens to all sorts of people. Although women and non-binary people are more likely to experience sexual assault, it is common for men to experience it, too. Sexual assault is always harmful and traumatic, no matter who you are.
Just like female survivors of sexual assault, male survivors have to deal with the stigma that can attach to them following the assault. Stigma is the negative assumptions that people make about others because of what they’ve experienced. One of the harmful things about stigma is that it can be internalised, meaning that it can colour your own ideas about yourself.
In this article, we’ll set the record straight. Here are five facts that will help you to navigate your way around some of the harmful perceptions affecting male survivors of sexual assault.
Fact 1: Sexual assault against men is a very serious issue
Sexual assault against men is much more common than people might think. According to the support service 1in6, a large body of evidence suggests that around 1 in 6 men experience sexual assault before they turn 18.
What’s more, men are much less likely to acknowledge that what happened to them was actually sexual assault. In one study, only 16 per cent of male survivors of sexual assault acknowledged that their experience was sexual assault, compared to 64 per cent of female survivors in the same study. This is because many male survivors aren’t aware that men can experience sexual assault.
This lack of awareness has some serious downsides. If you don’t recognise an experience for what it is, you’re less capable of understanding how it has affected you.
Fact 2: Sexual assault can be as harmful for men as it is for women
Sexual assault is immensely harmful for anyone who has experienced it. In fact, studies have shown that sexual assault is always harmful in people’s lives – it doesn’t matter what gender you are.
Here’s one reason why sexual assault is tough for men: they are more likely to try to suppress their trauma by not acknowledging or talking about what happened to them. Suppressing traumatic events in our lives can have harmful knock-on effects like:
- feelings of insecurity
- feelings of shame and guilt
- mental health challenges, such as anxiety and depression.
Are you thinking about disclosing your experience to someone you trust, such as a friend, family member or psychologist? Check out our video with Australian of the Year Grace Tame about what it’s like to talk to others about your experience, and how to know if you’re ready.
Fact 3: Sexual assault is never the fault of the person who experienced it
People who assault and abuse others will sometimes try to manipulate them by making them feel guilty and ashamed. As a result, some survivors may mistakenly think that they were responsible for what happened.
Often, perpetrators will manipulate young men and boys into thinking they have consented to sexual activity, when in reality they were too young to consent, regardless of the circumstances. Click here for more on how old you have to be to consent to sexual activity.
The truth is, it doesn’t matter who assaulted you, whether they were your partner, a family member or a friend, whether you were drinking at the time, or what else was going on. If you were sexually assaulted, it wasn’t your fault.
Fact 4: Men who have experienced sexual assault are strong
Expressing your vulnerability, or sharing your story, doesn’t make you weak. It actually takes a lot of courage and strength to do this.
Even if you’ve never opened up to anyone about your experiences, it takes a huge amount of resilience to cope with them as you go through life.
In our society, men are often expected to be ‘tough’. For some male survivors, this expectation can make it hard for them to acknowledge their vulnerability, which they need to do in order to heal.
In fact, learning how to heal, learning to reflect on your experiences in constructive ways, and learning to share them with people you trust, all make you a stronger, more mature person.
Fact 5: Help is available for men who have experienced sexual assault
It’s not easy for anyone to talk about experiences of sexual assault and sexual abuse, and men, in particular, may avoid seeking support to cope with the tough times they’re going through. However, there is so much help out there.
It might be useful to remember that when you’re seeking help, you can say as much or as little as you’d like, in as much detail as you’re comfortable with. If you’re asked questions you don’t want to answer, you don’t have to answer them.
Here are some places you can turn to for help:
Friends and family
A big source of help for many guys is friends and family members they trust deeply and feel able to talk to. For more on how to have important conversations with people close to you, check out our article here.
A mental health professional
The Australian Psychological Society’s ‘Find a Psychologist’ tool is a way to find a mental health professional who will be a great fit for you. If you’ve never seen a psychologist before, you might want to read our guide on getting a mental health plan.
If you need urgent help at any time, or if you just want someone to chat with confidentially, services like 1800RESPECT (1800 737 732) can be very helpful. 1800RESPECT is a specialised helpline to support people who have experienced sexual violence. Services like these help men and male survivors all the time. They operate 24 hours a day, 7 days a week.
SAMSN is an Australian organisation that provides support to male survivors and their supporters both in person and over the phone. Their helpline (1800 472 676) is open from 9 am to 5 pm AEST on weekdays.
1in6 is an American organisation that provides information and support for male survivors around the globe. They operate a text-based support line which can be accessed 24/7.
What can I do now?
- Trauma can affect your life in ways you might not expect. To read more about trauma and how you can get help, click here.
- SAMSN is an Australian organisation that provides support for male survivors over the phone and in person.
- For more information on sexual assault and how you can get support, click here.