Men and Rape
Rape can happen to anyone, anywhere, anytime. Any male can be the victim of sexual assault, regardless of age, class, race, culture, disability or sexual orientation.
Although few men expect to be raped, it happens more than most people realise. Approximately one in twelve adults seen by sexual assault services are men.
Thousands of men are raped each year, yet only a fraction of these assaults are reported. Male rape is one of the most under-reported crimes; male rape survivors are among the most under-served crime victims.
In our society, enormous stigma is associated with being the victim of sexual assault.
Survivors of sexual assault frequently encounter unsupportive or even hostile reactions from the criminal justice system, social service providers, family, friends, and lovers.
As a result, male survivors of sexual assault too often suffer the enormous trauma that rape can create in isolation and silence, trying to forget that the assault ever happened.
The aim of this package is to provide advice, information and reassurance to men who have been raped and encourage them to seek counselling from specialist sexual assault services to assist them in overcoming the trauma they have experienced.
John, aged 23, had been working late at his new job and went with Phil, his boss, for a drink to the pub. Because he lived a long way from where he worked, John took up Phil’s offer to stay at his home for the night. Back at his place, Phil went to kiss John. When John pushed him away Phil got angry and hit him. John was scared he would be really hurt or killed. He froze and could do nothing to protect himself as Phil proceeded to sexually assault him. John hasn’t told any of his friends any family why he quit his job and has found himself becoming more and more depressed as the weeks go by. He feels ashamed that he did not fight off his attacker.
Dean, aged 34, was at a party with his girlfriend. She took the car home early because she was working the next day. Because he was feeling too drunk to walk, Dean accepted a lift home from a guy he had met at the party. On the way home the man stopped his van, pulled Dean into the back and raped him. Dean is 190cm tall and weighs 85kg.
Mark was walking home from a football game through a park near his home. Two men grabbed him from behind and while one held him down the other raped him. For two months afterwards, Mark had very frightening flashbacks to the assault. During these flashbacks he felt as though it was happening all over again. He still feels ashamed that he got an erection while the assault was taking place, even though his counsellor has told him that this is not at all uncommon.
Lee was 17 when his older brother forced him to have oral sex in the shower one day. His brother told him not to bother telling anyone because they wouldn’t believe him. Because boys had often called him a poofter at his school and because his brother was engaged to be married, Lee thought what his brother said was true.
Jason had gone out to a party with some friends. While he was there, he met two guys who asked him back to their place for coffee later. When they arrived, they had a joint and some more to drink. Jason thought the drink tasted a bit strange at first but then thought no more about it. Jason woke up in a strange bed the next day with no recollection of what had happened during the night. He was aware, however, that his anus was very sore. He got out of the house as quickly as he could. Jason went to a sexual health clinic for an STD screening but did not tell the doctor what had happened. Six months later, he knows he has not contracted any sexually transmitted diseases but the discomfort and lack of trust he feels around men is still causing him problems.
What is rape?
Rape/sexual assault refers to any sexual contact without consent
For men, this may include:
– Penetration of the anus by any part of another person’s body (eg. Penis, finger) or by any object manipulated by another person.
– Penetration of the mouth by another man’s penis.
A man is raped (or sexually assaulted) when he is forced to engage in these activities without his consent.
Other forms of unwanted sexual activity
Other kinds of unwanted sexual activity (for example touching of the genitals through clothing) are called “indecent assault” or “acts of indecency” and are also against the law.
Rape is a crime of violence
Many people believe that rape is a sexual act. Although rape involves sexual acts, it is motivated by the desire for power and control over another person rather than by sexual attraction or the desire for sexual gratification. In other words, rape is a crime of violence. Rape also occurs when someone forces or tricks another person into unwanted sexual activity, even if actual physical violence is not involved.
Myths and Facts about Male Rape
Within the community, there are many common but mistaken beliefs about rape. It is important to recognise and challenge these beliefs because they create a climate in which men who have been raped are very reluctant to speak about what has happened to them and so do not receive the acceptance, understanding and support they need.
The following examples of common but mistaken beliefs about rape are accompanied by a brief outline of the facts.
Myth: A strong man can’t be raped. He must have consented.
Fact: In fact, being strong is no defence against rape and just because a man did not fight off his attacker does not mean he consented. Surprise, a weapon, threats, being outnumbered, or being frozen by fear makes fighting back impossible for most victims. Any man can be raped when his attacker, for whatever reason, has more power.
Myth: Men are the offenders of sexual assault, not the victims.
Fact: Although most offenders of sexual violence are men, men can also be victims. The majority of sexual violence against males is perpetrated by other males.
Myth: Only gay men are raped.
Fact: Both heterosexual and homosexual men are raped and statistics show that victims are more likely to be straight than gay. Sexual preference is not generally relevant, except perhaps where the victim is the target of an attack motivated by homophobia.
Myth: Only gay men rape other men.
Fact: Both heterosexual and homosexual men rape other men. Those who commit sexual assault are motivated by the desire for power over others and so sexual preference is not particularly relevant to them.
Myth: Men do not usually know their assailant.
Fact: Although men are sometimes sexually assaulted by strangers, it is more common for them to know their attacker. Sexual assault services see men who have been raped by strangers, acquaintances, family members, teachers, colleagues, youth leaders, and others.
Myth: If it’s someone you know, it’s not rape.
Fact: Your rights over your body are the same whoever is involved. If the attacker is someone you know and trust, the abuse is in many ways worse.
Myth: If a victim is sexually aroused during an assault, it means he wants to be raped.
Fact: Sometimes males who are being raped experience or are forced into a state of sexual arousal. This does not mean that the individual wants to be raped. This response, which may be involuntary, is one way the body chooses to protect itself from the physical and emotional trauma of the attack.
Myth: Rape of men only happens in prison.
Fact: Those who claim that rape of males happens only in prisons contribute to the continuing denial of the problem of rape in the larger community. Sexual assault can occur anytime, anyplace.
Myth: All rape victims are young and weak.
Fact: Any male, not matter how old or strong, can be the victim of sexual assault.
Myth: The best way to cope with rape is to forget about it.
Fact: Denying the impact of rape can have serious emotional consequences. Virtually any reaction is normal. These can include anger, fear, guilt, self-blame, denial, depression, sexual dysfunction, sleeplessness, feelings of helplessness, feelings of being out of control and difficult with concentration. The intensity of these feelings can contribute to the individual’s decision not to tell anyone about the assault.
Special Issues for Men Who Have Been Sexually Abuse
There are some long-term effects of sexual abuse that are different for men than for women. Most of these differences are related to the ‘macho’ culture in which we are raised. Boys are taught that they are expected to be independent and unable to be hurt or victimised.
– Many men have difficulty asking for help.
– Men are raised in a society that does not allow them to see themselves as victims.
– Men/boys are unlikely to tell the ‘secret’ to anyone.
– Men are taught that they are supposed to be strong, in control and able to protect themselves at all times.
– Being a victim of sexual abuse can cause men to question their masculinity and sexual identity.
– Men do not think of themselves as sexual objects, therefore the sexual abuse experience does not make sense to them.
– Many men tend to be unaware of their feelings, they sometimes do not realise they are depressed or in emotional pain and therefore find it more difficult to attend therapy.
The impact of rape and sexual assault
Rape is an overwhelming experience, which can lead to a whole range of feelings and reactions. Rape is also a very personal experience and there is no right or wrong way to react. Each individual is different and each individual’s way of coping will be different. Many people who have been raped have described experiencing the feelings and reactions described below. You may have some or all of these.
In the days and nights following the assault you may have a sense of shock and a general feeling of numbness. You may even find it hard to believe that the assault has happened and think you are going crazy.
Sexual assault can be a life-threatening experience. After the assault you may find that you are afraid of people, afraid of being alone, afraid of the offender returning. Things which seemed safe before no longer seem that way. This fear is normal and may mean that you have become more conscious of your safety. Looking after yourself and being cautious is okay.
You may feel angry for lots of reasons. This anger is not necessarily a negative emotion: you have the right to feel angry about what happened. It is important to work out a safe way of expressing the anger you feel. A sexual assault counsellor can help with this.
You may feel embarrassed or ashamed when people you know learn that you have been assaulted and you may begin to feel as though, wherever you go, people can tell what has happened. If these feelings become overwhelming, try to remind yourself that lots of men have been raped but you cannot tell who they are.
Concerns about sexuality:
Because of the myth that only gay men are raped, sometimes heterosexual men who are raped begin to wonder if they are gay or fear that others will think they are. Gay men fear that others will think they ‘asked for it.’ If you begin to feel like this, bear in mind that rape is about power, not sexuality, and that both straight and gay men can be sexually assaulted.
Fear of not being believed:
The myth that men cannot be raped makes men reluctant to tell others for fear they will not be believed. If you tell someone who seems disbelieving, don’t be discouraged. Confide in someone who will be more supportive and discuss your concerns with a counsellor.
For a variety of reasons, most people who are raped feel guilty about what has happened and blame themselves. Although these feelings are very common, they are not justified: no one deserves to be raped. It is important to remember that you have done nothing wrong and that the offender is responsible for the assault.
You may find at first that the assault is constantly on your mind. After a while these thoughts may become flashbacks which are triggered by things that remind you of the assault, for example a particular time of the day, a smell, or seeing someone who resembles the offender. At first you may find that you cannot control the flashbacks but in time they will become less frequent.
Your sleeping patters may be disrupted. You may find that you cannot fall asleep or that your sleep is disrupted by nightmares. This usually settles down after a while.
Many men experience depression in the months after the assault and for some the emotional pain persists. Sometimes, to numb the pain, they increase their use of alcohol and other drugs. Many even have thoughts of suicide. If you feel this way, seek help immediately.
Sexual assault may affect the way you feel about all sorts of relationships in your life. Some people find it hard to trust anyone anymore; some find they want to be alone; some find they need to be with someone all the time; and some have reported difficulties in intimate relationships, for example not feeling like sex.
Getting help and support:
Men who have been raped are often very reluctant to seek help. They are accustomed to bottling things up rather than talking about them. Their reluctance to speak out may be increased by the fact that they are misled by some of the myths and misconceptions about men and rape, which are common in the community. Although it can be hard at first to talk about the effects of being assaulted, most people find that it is very helpful to do so.
Sexual assault support services
Anyone who has been sexually assaulted may seek help from a Sexual Assault Service, and there is much to be gained from doing this. Sexual assault services employ counsellors who are experienced in working with men and women who have been sexually assaulted. The help and support these counsellors provide can be an important step in recovering from the trauma you have experienced.
Sexual assault services offer the following:
Crisis counselling is an opportunity to talk about the way you are feeling and obtain any information you may require. Crisis counselling is particularly useful after a recent assault, or to assist in dealing with flashbacks as they occur.
Forensic and general medical examinations for people recently assaulted:
If you first attend the sexual assault service as the result of a recent assault, the counsellor will ask you whether you would like to have a forensic/medical examination. A medical examination services three purposes: to address any medical concerns you may have about your body, to find out whether you need medical attention, and to collect any possible forensic evidence for legal purposes.
Follow-up counselling is available to both victims and their non-offending partners, family and friends, whether male or female. Counselling is available whether or not you decide to have a medical examination or to take legal action. Counselling provides a valuable opportunity for talking about the impact the assault has had on you and your life and for considering how you can recover from it.
Information about follow-up medical care:
After an assault men often worry that they may have contracted a sexually transmitted disease such as HIV/AIDS. Sexual assault services will discuss these worries with you and help you decide what you want to do about follow-up treatment and, if appropriate, organise a referral. You may, for example, decide to be treated by your own doctor or at a local sexual health clinic.
Information and support:
Sexual assault counsellors will also provide information to help you understand what is involved in taking legal action against your assailant and support you through this process should you decide to proceed. See the following section on the Legal System.
Other services which may be available to talk to men who have been sexually assaulted are: Victims of Crime Service, Sexual Health Clinics, Youth Health Services, and Private Therapists.
The Legal System (Police and courts):
Sexual assault is a crime and you have the right to take legal action against your assailant. This is, however, your choice. You do not have to report the assault to police.
If you decide to report, the first step is to make a “formal complaint” (i.e. speak to a police officer who will take a statement from you). To do this, you can either contact a worker at Laurel House to make an appointment time for the statement on your behalf, or contact the police yourself. The statement may be made at the Police Station with a worker in attendance, or you may choose to make a statement without a worker present. Once you have made this statement, police can begin an investigation that may lead to criminal charges.
Once police have charged someone, the matter is taken over by the Office of the Director of Public Prosecutions (DPP). If the DPP decides to proceed with legal action, you will be required to give evidence in court as the main witness in the case. Because the DPP will be prosecuting the alleged offender on behalf of the community, you will not need your own solicitor.
Deciding whether to proceed with legal action
Sometimes people put off telling the police because they are worried about what will happen next. If you are unsure about what to do, it may help to talk things over with a counsellor at a sexual assault service before making a decision. Sexual assault counsellors will give you information about police and court processes to help you decide what to do and then support you in whatever decision you make.
If you decide to proceed with legal action, a counsellor can continue to provide information and support from the time you make your statement to police, to your appearance as a witness in court, and the completion of the case.
Rape is a traumatic experience and it can take many months to recover. Sometimes it’s hard not to feel as though you’re going crazy. Here are some suggestions for making it easier to deal with what has happened to you:
– Don’t ignore your emotions
– Don’t blame yourself
– Give yourself time to come to terms with the assault
– Don’t push yourself to do things that feel unsafe
– Talk about what has happened
This final point is very important. Talking to sympathetic friends, partners, or family members can be a great help. Experienced counsellors in sexual assault services are also ready to give you support as long as you need it.
A list of helpful books to read:
The Sexual Healing Journey: A guide for survivors of sexual abuse – W. Maltz, Harper Perennial, Oregon, 1991.
Free of Shadows: Recovering from Sexual Violence – C. Adams & J. Fay, New Harbinger Publications, 1989.
Victims: Surviving the Aftermath of Violence Crime – A. Kirsta, Century, 1988
Victims No Longer: Men Recovering From Incest and Other Sexual Child Abuse – M. Lew, Harper & Row, 1990.
The information for this package was extracted from a booklet, with the title Not Alone, and was written by Jo Spangaro of the Sexual Assault Education Unit in 1989. A revised edition appeared in 1992.
For more information and support, please contact Laurel House (North) on 6334 2740, Laurel House North West on 6431 9711, or email firstname.lastname@example.org