We Need to Talk About Male Sexual Assault
Sexual assault is dehumanizing. It’s aggressive and unwanted. It can debilitate a victim’s life in an instant. As the #MeToo movement continues to shift the global dialogue about sexual and cultural norms, the impact of male sexual assault in the LGBT community remains frequently invisible, in part because these assaults are underreported and not enough statistics are available.
Here’s what we know so far. According to a 2015 report published by the National Sexual Violence Resource Center:
From our experience at the Los Angeles LGBT Center, these statistics dramatically underrepresent the reality of male sexual assault in our community.
Recently we formed a male sexual assault survivors group at the Center. Participants in the weekly confidential group discuss and dissect what it means to be a “man.” When men become survivors of sexual assault, they are barraged with shame, guilt, and fear (which prevent them from seeking support and counseling) because of heteronormative society’s unrealistic ideals of masculinity. If and when a man is assaulted, society responds as if there is something wrong with him — not with his attacker.
If someone tells you they survived a sexual assault, listen to their story without judgment and reassure them the incident wasn’t their fault. Lend your support by assuring the survivor that you hear them — and you see them — because sexual assault often fractures a survivor’s sense of identity, safety and self-worth.
Sexual assaults are often minimized when the aggressor is considered attractive; when the survivor is blamed for drinking too much or loses consciousness at a party; if a hookup or dating app was used to meet; or when the assault occurred during sex work, which includes go-go dancers, adult modeling and acting, escorting and erotic massages. Certain neighborhoods — and the media — that cater to GBTQ male communities depict men as hyper-sexualized, which further blurs the lines of what is consensual or unwanted.
Destigmatizing sexual assault is the first step of the healing process. Most survivors blame themselves when, really, the perpetrators are solely responsible. No matter what, the survivor is never to blame. If you are the target of a sexual assault, speak up and seek help. You most certainly did not “ask for it,” regardless of what led up to the incident. Share your story with those whom you trust.
At the Center’s male sexual assault survivors group, we help clients heal from their traumatic pasts by encouraging them to set their sights on — and work towards — brighter futures, because nothing is more vital than gradually learning how to feel human again.