Male survivors exist with certain privileges simply for being male, but also face a unique set of circumstances. When discussing sexual violence and how it impacts male survivors, there are frequent misconceptions about how it affects their lives and communities. I hope this guide will help contextualize how this violence impacts male survivors and help support others.
Know that you are not alone. There are people and organizations (like us) here for you.
1. Yes, it happens
Unfortunately, yes. There hasn’t been specific research done on sexual victimization of men in college, but studies on sexual violence against men generally suggest around 1 in 15 experience forced penetration of some form. These numbers are higher among queer male populations: one study indicated that 40% of queer males experienced some form of intimate partner violence. Over 50% of trans people experience sexual violence. These statistics are compounded for victims at the intersection of multiple axes of oppression (e.g., race, ability, immigration status, class).
2. Oversexualization of men, generally
One narrative that is incessantly echoed in society is the idea that a male-identified individual always wants sex. According to this stereotype, men are always thinking about sex and thus always must be ready and willing to have sex. This simply is not the case. Whatever the stereotypes, desires vary: between people, between situations, between times. Regardless of the reasons one has for not wanting sex, it is a choice that must be respected, regardless of gender, and regardless of what Cosmo, sitcoms, and movies may want us to believe. The stereotype may be comforting to some because it allows them to ignore the reality of sexual violence, but know that it is wrong.
3. Weakness of male survivors
I’ve had close friends and family members ask, “Why didn’t you just fight him off?” As with sexual violence against persons of any gender, the absence of an attempt to fight off a sexual assault does not equal consent. Additionally, any type of coercion – physical, emotional, financial – can make “fighting back” an unviable option: assault is often facilitated by the power differentials within a romantic relationship, between a pledge and a fraternity brother, between a student and his employer or professor, or because of size or age difference. And men, like all people, are susceptible to alcohol- or drug-induced assaults.
Being a survivor does not make a person weak; not fighting someone off does not either. This narrative is based in gender norms that are socially constructed. Society teaches women, queer people, and other groups that fighting back isn’t in their nature, and is a sign of a tendency towards violence or instability or undesirability. If this is something you’ve felt, don’t worry; so have I, but it’s important to keep reminding each other that it simply isn’t true. The fact that we continue to survive is a testament to our strength.
4. The self-help narrative
“Men don’t need help. Men can work out any problems they have themselves, and can fix their own problems.” Sound familiar? Regardless of your reaction to statements like this – whether they ring true or sound outdated – we all are subject to, and internalize, gender norms, or generalizations of how men and women think and act.. One such norm is that men don’t experience emotional issues and are self-sufficient. There is this idea that men can fix their own problems, and don’t need to reach out for help, but can take things into their own hands.
Don’t let these outdated norms take over. If you are struggling – in classes, emotionally, or in any other way – reach out for help, because this is not something anyone should have to go through alone (unless by choice). Know that it’s okay to admit you’re hurting or that you need help. I try to minimize the pressure of this norm in my own life by speaking openly about my own experiences with an eating disorder, depression, and anxiety, and the huge benefit I have had from therapy. Many rape crisis centers have groups for men, and the organization MaleSurvivor leads retreats specifically for this demographic multiple times a year. They also have a list of therapists with experience working with male survivors across the country.
A final note: Some survivors believe this myth of masculine self-sufficiency means reporting an assault would be a sign of weakness. For many people, though not all, reporting (to police or to campus authorities) is a valuable choice — there is a section on this below. You have a right to a safe campus free from discrimination, which means that you have the right to report your assailant or assailants.
Something that is so important never to forget: physical arousal does not equal consent. For some male-bodied people, visible arousal may occur during an assault, and may lead to questioning by others or by oneself about the legitimacy of the violence. However, that is simply a body’s way of reacting to stress and to a heightened state of awareness — nothing more, nothing else.
Sometimes, men will make themselves ejaculate in hopes of ending the assault more quickly, and that doesn’t change anything — that just means you were doing everything in your power to protect yourself. Secondly, it may happen involuntarily, and that’s okay, too. An erection does not indicate pleasure or even sexual arousal — it happens in emotionally fraught situations, and is the body’s reaction to stress. It can happen regardless of your attraction to your assailant or your assailant’s gender, as well. It doesn’t make what happened to you any more acceptable in any way.
Ideas of masculinity may make you wonder if what happened to you was “really” assault (or rape, or nonconsensual, or “that thing”, or any other word that feels right to you). That’s okay, and it is your experience to name/label. You can call it one thing out loud and another thing in your head, and doubting it one day (or week or month or year) does not mean it did not happen. Indeed, in some cases people are able to hide experiences from themselves or from others for years, and that doesn’t change what happened. If you experience doubt, know that you are by no means the only one, and it’s an instinct that’s ingrained in us. Admitting something traumatic happened to you is a challenging and difficult thing to do, and goes against what society has taught us about what it means “to be a man.”
6. Who perpetrates this violence?
99% of rapists are males, and 90% of victims are female. Eighty-five percent of men who experience sexual violence are victimized by other men. While female perpetration is very rare, it does occur against both men and women. Violence can occur regardless of sexual orientation, which means that straight men can be sexually assaulted by other straight men, a queer-identified male, a gender-non-conforming person, or a woman; and a queer-identified male can be assaulted by a straight male, another queer male, a gender non-conforming person, or a woman. The people perpetrating this violence are most often people you already know – partners, former partners, friends, and acquaintances.
7. Homophobia, regardless of the survivor’s sexuality
Being a survivor may affect who you find yourself comfortable surrounding yourself with, a day, week, month, or years afterwards, and that’s okay. Take things at your own pace, in friendships and sexual encounters, and always make sure to check back in with yourself and your own comfort in a situation. For some people, this means making sure to be in queer-friendly or queernormative spaces, and that’s okay. For others, it means perhaps not spending as much time alone with people of the gender or your assailant or abuser, and that’s okay too.
8. Reporting, or not reporting
First and foremost, it is up to you whether or not you report. It is not the right decision for all people, and that is okay. There is a section here about reporting more generally, which lays out the options available to you.
If you do choose to report, being a male survivor can lead to some hurdles. Queer survivors face barriers to reporting and being listened to by those you report to, which can be exacerbated when facing administrators or police officers with archaic views of sexual violence. There is a section below detailing specifically how Title IX applies to male survivors, but know that regardless of gender, you have a right to be listened to and believed for your experiences.
9. Questioning your sexuality
Most male victims are assaulted by other men, regardless of their sexuality. Sometimes, though, survivors or other people may assume that a man assaulted by another man is queer. In the face of these assumptions, it’s important to remember that this event(s) does not define you as a person, and it also does not define your sexuality. The gender of your assailant or abuser has no bearing on your sexuality whatsoever.
If a person is still discovering or coming to terms with their sexuality, having an experience of sexual violence may affect that process. It’s important to remember that regardless of your identity, you deserve to be treated with respect and have any partner obtain enthusiastic consent before any sexual activity. Sexual violence can occur at any point in one’s journey of discovering their sexuality—before any inkling appears, while in the process of coming to terms, while “coming out,” or while comfortable with one’s sexuality.
An assumption of queerness may be uncomfortable for survivors who identify as straight, but it also may be uncomfortable for those still figuring out their sexuality. It can be very difficult to deal with questions of identity in addition to sexual violence, and oftentimes people who are questioning their sexuality find themselves victims of the sexual exploitation of that still-new identity. This does not make what happened to you your fault in any way, shape, or form, and does not mean that you are automatically “out” or need to hurry up and figure out who you are in every way imaginable right now. Sexuality is fluid and dynamic, and labels may come and go, and that’s okay. It’s important to focus on your healing first and foremost, and once you’ve taken care of your most immediate needs and healing, then perhaps it could be time to reexamine these big questions. One event does not an identity make, and it’s important to remember that whatever you want to call yourself is the right word for you.
10. Where does Title IX fit in?
Title IX is the landmark civil rights law that protects all students from experiencing any form of gender-based discrimination, which includes sexual harassment and assault. Title IX is often seen as a women’s rights law, but it applies to all students, regardless of gender — yes, Title IX does protect male and genderqueer survivors! This means that if you report an incidence of sexual violence to your university, you must be afforded all of the rights protected under Title IX. Other sections of this website can help you best navigate these rights fully, but if at any point you experience discrimination because of your status as a survivor of sexual violence or specifically as a male survivor of sexual violence, your Title IX rights have been violated.
How can we make policies most inclusive and representative of male survivors’ experiences?
There are some great ways to make a policy more inclusive of male survivors:
Remove gendered language
- This can be done by changing all pronouns to gender neutral ones, moving from “she” to “s/he” or “they” (I personally prefer the singular “they”, though I know some grammar perfectionists may take issue with it!)
- Make sure that, if your policy uses examples, the names used reflect a diversity of identities. This means making sure that traditionally male and female names are used, as well as names that are gender neutral.
- This also means making sure that multiple relationship dynamics are expressed—making sure that in scenarios feature male/male, female/female, male/female, and gender neutral combinations of parties.
Make an explicit statement of support
This can be an easy way to fix a policy and make sure that the school must enforce Title IX correctly. Such a sentence could read: “Our school expressly prohibits sexual violence against any person, regardless of gender. Our policies apply equally to students of all genders and will be enforced as such.”
Provide resources geared toward specific communities
- This is by no means unique to male survivors—resources must reflect the populations they’re intended to help, including people of color, trans* people, gender queer people, people of different abilities, women, and men.
- A great way to do this is to contact a local crisis center or shelter and see if they have a group specifically for men (many do), and if so, make sure that is included on a list of resources.
- If your school offers trainings or some form of education to members of the community on sexual violence (which it is required to do under the Clery Act), make sure that male and genderqueer survivors are included in any presentation.
- If your policy includes any statistics on the prevalence of sexual violence, make sure to include statistics on sexual violence against people of all genders (if not already present).
Write a policy that is not gendered
Sometimes schools distinguish between nonconsensual “penetration” and “being made to penetrate” in their assault policies, where the latter is considered a lesser violation of a school’s policy, and does not rise to the level of rape. What this means is that if someone makes a person penetrate them orally, vaginally, or anally, without their consent, it will lead to a lesser punishment than if a student is penetrated orally, vaginally, or anally, without their consent. Make sure your policy does not draw this distinction. This will mean using a broader definition of rape. A way to make this distinction clear is to include a phrase such as “Rape is any sexual intercourse, anal, oral, or vaginal, without consent. Rape includes instances when the victim/survivor is forced to penetrate someone else as well as instances when the victim/survivor is penetrated.”
Faulty policies often fail to address the full spectrum of violence. Here are a few pitfalls:
- Penetrative objects: Oftentimes, “penetrative object” (which is required for rape) has been limited to either a penis or foreign object. However, the tongue and fingers also operate oftentimes as penetrative objects. Expanding a policy to explicitly include “penetrative objects, including but not limited to penis, tongue, finger(s), or a foreign object” can go a long way to making a policy more inclusive.
- School policies sometimes limit penetration to only vaginal or anal penetration. It’s important to make sure your policy explicitly includes vaginal, anal, and oral penetration as types of sexual violence that rise to a level of rape.
Make sure all relevant administrators are adequately trained
Ask questions! See what training is required for those involved in creating and executing the school’s Title IX policy. If that training does not include specific areas of cultural competency, such as issues facing male/female/genderqueer survivors, queer communities, and communities of color, ask that those be included. Resources, speakers, statistics, and training packages on these topics are available from many sources. If your school doesn’t seem interested, take action.