MALE RAPE: MYTHS DEBUNKED
Rape and sexual abuse is mostly thought to be a crime that men commit against women and girls. Yet international official statistics show that around 1 in 6 males under the age of 18 will experience some form of sexual abuse in their lifetime.
Recent South African statistics paint a grim picture; these figures for the first time depict a picture of sexual violence against males, recognising that they too are victims. One in five adult males are the victims of a sexual offences and this figure could be much higher as a male is less likely to report a sexual violation than a woman. This could mean that South Africa could have the highest percentage of adult male victims in the world.
The rape and sexual abuse of both adult and young men around the world has been so greatly ignored, disrespected and discounted for, that it has created a major misconception in many that such an occurrence does not exist.
Male on male sexual abuse or rape, is not a homosexual act. It is an act of violence, control and aggression, not only for sexual gratification.
The patriarchal society that we live in and the way we define masculinity makes it hard for men to open up about their suffering. Our socialization creates perceptions that men should not show signs of weakness and should be always be dominating
Males may be described as double victims of sexual abuse, because not only are they victims, they are not believed or get support from other men. They also risk being laughed at and not being treated with the dignity they deserve when they seek help. To a man, to take such matter to the public sphere is to put his masculinity in question. Many are scared to lose their respect by disclosing.
Males seldomly speak out because of the many myths around sexual abuse against men.
MYTH: Boys and men can’t fall victim to sexual abuse.
The reason for this misconception is that male sexual abuse in South Africa is unrepresented and under reported in official statistics, leaving this form of abuse unnoticed.
MYTH : Males who are sexually abused will go on to become abusers themselves.
The majority of boys and men that have been sexually abused will not go on to abuse others, however, an isolated case may arise where it is found that the sexual abuser him/herself was abused as a child, this is only found in the extreme minority of cases.
MYTH : All perpetrators of sexual abuse are male.
Although the clear majority of sexual abusers are male, females can also be sexually abusive and domineering, causing as much, if not more harm than a male sexual abuser.
MYTH : Males sexually abused by males will become bisexual or gay.
An act of sexual abuse and an individual’s sexual orientation (heterosexual, homosexual, bisexual or asexual) are totally and separate and unrelated. In NO way does being the victim of a sexual assault decide one’s sexual orientation.
MYTH : Only adult men in prison are sexually abused.
Sexual assault can happen to men, women, boys and girls in all segments of society, this abuse is not confined to the inside of prison grounds.
MYTH : Only men who are gay or bisexual can be sexually assaulted.
Regardless of their sexual orientation, gay, bi, trans men and boys are all vulnerable to becoming the victim of sexual abuse, rape and assault.
MYTH : Men should be capable of protecting themselves against sexual abuse
Sexual offenders usually have the upper hand as they have more power in the situation involving sexual abuse due to possible planning and previous involvement. Size and strength do not necessarily enable you to protect yourself in these situations. These offenders may be in a position of authority or trust; they may occupy a higher social status or be older than the victim; they may also use threats, bribes, force or drugs to ensure that their victims comply.
MYTH : If you didn’t clearly remember the sexual abuse, it didn’t really happen.
Most people cannot seem to remember the details and facts surrounding their experience with sexual violence and abuse. Due to the nature of the traumatic circumstances, survivors often bury the negative emotional events as a way of coping with the pain.
Believing in these myths keeps those male survivors isolated and alone, making it very difficult for them to reach out and find the support they need without being stereotyped and labelled.
“Be a man!” or “Man Up” The meaning of these phrases seems simple: Don’t show emotion, be tough, be masculine. If we want to change the increasingly common patterns of violence committed by boys, we must consider how they are socialised or brought up.
All it takes a slight misstep (e.g., crying in public, revealing vulnerability, or otherwise crossing traditionally gendered boundaries) and the most “masculine” of boys can be made to feel insecure or ashamed.
An important first step is therefore to redefine masculinity – for individuals and at the societal level — to stand for attributes that affirm rather than diminish boys’ humanity, and to instill in boys the kind of confidence (as opposed to arrogance) that will enable them to respect and care for themselves.
A comedian once observed that the reason that Moses and the Israelites wandered in the wilderness for 40 years was that none of the men would ask for directions.
The joke reflects a culture, that men don’t ask for help because of ‘male pride’ and ‘fragile male egos’ – based on a universal stereotype not a universal truth.
When considering why males in general are less likely to access help is that they don’t support each other, don’t share emotions, don’t talk to each other about their problems. Males bottle up their anger, guilt, fear etc. until it finally gives way.
Part of the challenge is that to acknowledge our collective tolerance of violence against men and boys, men’s rights’ activists would also have to acknowledge that the majority of sexual abuse and rape against males and females, is perpetrated by men.
The time has come for men to be more caring about the plight of other males.
Contributed by Rees Mann of SAMSOSA (South African Male Surviors of Sexual Abuse)
Visit their website on www.samsosa.org for more information and resources or contact +27 (0) 71 280 9918