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For Male Survivors of Sexual Assault

The University has a adopted an interim policy that addresses sexual assault, dating violence, domestic violence, and stalking.  A copy of that policy can be found at http://titleix.utk.edu. The interim policy describes prohibited conduct for students, faculty, and staff; explains multiple options for reporting sexual assault, dating violence, domestic violence, and stalking; sets forth the procedures the University will follow for promptly, thoroughly, and equitably investigating and resolving reports of sexual assault, dating violence, domestic violence, and stalking in order to eliminate the misconduct, prevent its recurrence, and address its effects on a complainant or the University community; identifies resources for complainants; and describes the University’s prevention and awareness programs relating to sexual assault, dating violence, domestic violence, and stalking.  

– “I Never Thought This Could Happen to Me” –

Sexual assault can happen to anyone, no matter your age, sexual orientation, or gender identity. Men and boys who have been sexually assaulted or abused may have many of the same feelings and reactions as other survivors of sexual assault, but they may also face some additional challenges because of social attitudes and stereotypes about men and masculinity.

What Is “Sexual Assault?”

In legal terms, sexual assault is any sexual contact that is against a person’s will or without consent. This includes situations where force, violence, or weapons are used as well as situations where the victim is too intoxicated or scared to give consent. Sexual assault can happen to anyone, regardless of gender or sexual orientation.   Read more about consent.

Common reactions

Men and boys who have been sexually assaulted may experience the same effects of sexual assault as other survivors, and they may face other challenges that are more unique to their experience.

Some men who have survived sexual assault as adults feel shame or self-doubt, believing that they should have been “strong enough” to fight off the perpetrator. Many men who experienced an erection or ejaculation during the assault may be confused and wonder what this means. These normal physiological responses do not in any way imply that you wanted, invited, or enjoyed the assault. If something happened to you, know that it is not your fault and you are not alone.

Men who were sexually abused as boys or teens may also respond differently than men who were sexually assaulted as adults. The following list includes some of the common experiences shared by men and boys who have survived sexual assault. It is not a complete list, but it may help you to know that other people are having similar experiences:

  • Anxiety, depressionpost-traumatic stress disorderflashbacks, and eating disorders
  • Avoiding people or places that remind you of the assault or abuse
  • Concerns or questions about sexual orientation
  • Fear of the worst happening and having a sense of a shortened future
  • Feeling like “less of a man” or that you no longer have control over your own body
  • Feeling on-edge, being unable to relax, and having difficulty sleeping
  • Sense of blame or shame over not being able to stop the assault or abuse, especially if you experienced an erection or ejaculation
  • Withdrawal from relationships or friendships and an increased sense of isolation
  • Worrying about disclosing for fear of judgment or disbelief

What To Do If You’ve Just Been Sexually Assaulted

  • Get to a safe place.
  • Call someone who can help you: a friend, the police (911), or other campus and community agencies (check out the Resource List at the end of the page).
  • Don’t shower, drink, eat or change your clothes. These activities can destroy physical evidence that could be useful if you decide to prosecute.
  • Get medical attention. Go to UT Hospital or contact the Sexual Assault Center of East Tennessee at 865-522-7273 (24/7). Even if you feel embarrassed about your injuries, it is very important to receive medical assistance. Hospital staffs are accustomed to dealing with injuries to the penis or anus and they are trained to do so as professionally as they would treat a broken arm or a heart attack. Even if you don’t seem to be seriously hurt, you may have hidden, internal injuries that can become infected or get worse with time. Furthermore, symptoms of sexually transmitted diseases can lie dormant for a long time, but early medical attention may prevent future outbreaks. If you are concerned about HIV infection, talk to a staff member at Student Health Services or an area hospital about the possibility of exposure and the need for testing.
  • Write down everything that you remember happening, with as much detail as possible. This can help you to cope with the situation but may also be helpful in any legal action you might decide to take.

The Aftermath of Sexual Assault: Am I Supposed to Feel This Way?

Whether you’re a man or a woman, sexual assault is a trauma. The trauma of sexual assault involves losing control of your own body and possibly fearing death or injury. There are certain ways that human beings react to trauma that are the same for men and women. “Rape trauma syndrome” is a term that mental health professionals use to describe the common reactions that occur for both men and women after sexual assault. “Rape trauma syndrome” is not an illness or abnormal reaction — it is a normal reaction to an abnormal, traumatic event.

Below is a checklist of common reactions to sexual assault. Though each person and situation is unique, this checklist will help you to know the range of reactions that are normal to expect. Of course, there are also ways that men are affected differently than women by sexual assault. Following the list of universal reactions to sexual assault, we’ll delve into some of the reactions to sexual assault that are more unique to men.

Universal Reactions to Sexual Assault

  • Emotional Shock: I feel numb. How can I be so calm? Why can’t I cry?
  • Disbelief and/or Denial: Did it really happen? Why me? Maybe I just imagined it. It wasn’t really rape.
  • Embarrassment: What will people think? I can’t tell my family or friends.
  • Shame: I feel completely filthy, like there’s something wrong with me. I can’t get clean.
  • Guilt: I feel as if it’s my fault, or I should’ve been able to stop it. If only I had…
  • Depression: How am I gonna get through the semester? I’m so tired! I feel so hopeless. Maybe I’d be better off dead
  • Powerlessness: Will I ever feel in control again?
  • Disorientation: I don’t even know what day it is, or what class I’m supposed to be in. I keep forgetting things.
  • Flashbacks: I’m still re-living the assault! I keep seeing that face and feeling like it’s happening all over again.
  • Fear: I’m scared of everything. What if I have herpes or AIDS? I can’t sleep because I’ll have nightmares. I’m afraid to go out. I’m afraid to be alone.
  • Anxiety: I’m having panic attacks. I can’t breathe! I can’t stop shaking. I feel overwhelmed.
  • Anger: I feel like killing the person who attacked me!
  • Physical Stress: My stomach (or head or back) aches all the time. I feel jittery and don’t feel like eating.

Unique Issues Faced By Male Survivors

There is great societal denial of the fact that men get sexually assaulted. Chances are– except for the occasional bad prison joke–most of us don’t ever hear about the topic of male sexual assault. The need to deny the existence of male sexual assault is partly rooted in the mistaken belief that men are immune to being victimized, that they should be able to fight off any attacker if they are truly a “real man.” A closely related belief is that men can’t be forced into sex– either they want it or they don’t.

These mistaken beliefs allow lots of men to feel safe and invulnerable, and to think of sexual assault as something that only happens to women. Unfortunately, these beliefs can also increase the pain that is felt by a male survivor of sexual assault. These beliefs leave the male survivor feeling isolated, ashamed, and “less of a man.

No wonder so few men actually get help after being sexually assaulted. The fact is that only 5 to 20% of all victims of sexual assault actually report the crime– the percentage for male victims is even lower. Feelings of shame, confusion and self-blame leave many men suffering in silence after being sexually assaulted.

Below are some of the unique problems and concerns that male survivors may experience:

  • For most men the idea of being a victim is very hard to handle. We’re raised to believe that a man should be able to defend himself against all odds, or that he should be willing to risk his life or severe injury to protect his pride and self-respect. How many movies or TV shows have you seen in which the “manly” hero is prepared to fight a group of huge guys over an insult or name-calling? Surely, you’re supposed to fight to the death over something like unwanted sexual advances…right? These beliefs about “manliness” and “masculinity” are deeply ingrained in most of us and can lead to intense feelings of guilt, shame and inadequacy for the male survivor of sexual assault.
  • Many male survivors may even question whether they deserved or somehow wanted to be sexually assaulted because, in their minds, they failed to defend themselves. Male survivors frequently see their assault as a loss of manhood and get disgusted with themselves for not “fighting back.” These feelings are normal but the thoughts attached to them aren’t necessarily true. Remind yourself that you did what seemed best at the time to survive– there’s nothing unmasculine about that.
  • As a result of their guilt, shame and anger some men punish themselves by getting into self-destructive behavior after being sexually assaulted. For lots of men, this means increased alcohol or drug use. For others, it means increased aggressiveness, like arguing with friends or co-workers or even picking fights with strangers. Many men pull back from relationships and wind up feeling more and more isolated. It’s easy to see why male survivors of sexual assault are at increased risk for getting depressed, getting into trouble at work, getting physically hurt, or developing alcohol and drug problems.
  • Many male survivors also develop sexual difficulties after being sexually assaulted. It may be difficult to resume sexual relationships or start new ones because sexual contact may trigger flashbacks, memories of the assault, or just plain bad feelings. It can take time to get back to normal so don’t pressure yourself to be sexual before you’re ready.
  • For heterosexual men, sexual assault almost always causes some confusion or questioning about their sexuality. Since many people believe that only gay men are sexually assaulted, a heterosexual survivor may begin to believe that he must be gay or that he will become gay. Furthermore, perpetrators often accuse their victims of enjoying the sexual assault, leading some survivors to question their own experiences. In fact, being sexually assaulted has nothing to do with sexual orientation, past, present or future. People do not “become gay” as a result of being sexually assaulted.
  • For gay men, sexual assault can lead to feelings of self-blame and self-loathing attached to their sexuality. There is already enough homophobic sentiment in society to make many gay men suffer from internal conflicts about their sexuality. Being sexually assaulted may lead a gay man to believe he somehow “deserved it,” that he was “paying the price” for his sexual orientation. Unfortunately, this self-blame can be reinforced by the ignorance or intolerance of others who blame the victim by suggesting that a gay victim somehow provoked the assault or was less harmed by it because he was gay. Gay men may also hesitate to report a sexual assault due to fears of blame, disbelief or intolerance by police or medical personnel. As a result gay men may be deprived of legal protections and necessary medical care following an assault.
  • Some sexual assaults of men are actually forms of gay-bashing, motivated by fear and hatred of homosexuality. In these cases, perpetrators may verbally abuse their victims and imply that the victim deserved to be sexually assaulted. It’s important to remember that sexual assault is an act of violence, power and control and that no one deserves it.

Remember…You Are Not to Blame… Even If:

  • Your attacker was an acquaintance, date, friend or partner.
  • You have been sexually intimate with that person or with others before.
  • You were drinking or using drugs.
  • You froze and did not or could not say “no,” or were unable to fight back physically.

Who are the perpetrators of sexual assault against men and boys?

Perpetrators can be any gender identity, sexual orientation, or age, and they can have any relationship to the victim. Like all perpetrators, they might use physical force or psychological and emotional coercion tactics.

Can being assaulted affect sexual orientation?

Sexual assault is in no way related to the sexual orientation of the perpetrator or the survivor, and a person’s sexual orientation cannot be caused by sexual abuse or assault. Some men and boys have questions about their sexuality after surviving an assault or abuse—and that’s understandable. This can be especially true if you experienced an erection or ejaculation during the assault. Physiological responses like an erection are involuntary, meaning you have no control over them.

Sometimes perpetrators, especially adults who sexually abuse boys, will use these physiological responses to maintain secrecy by using phrases such as, “You know you liked it.” If you have been sexually abused or assaulted, it is not your fault. In no way does an erection invite unwanted sexual activity, and ejaculation in no way condones an assault.

How to support male survivors

It can be hard to tell someone that you have experienced sexual assault or abuse. You may fear that you will face judgment or not be believed. For many male survivors, stereotypes about masculinity can also make it hard to disclose to friends, family, or the community. Men and boys also may face challenges believing that it is possible for them to be victims of sexual violence, especially if it is perpetrated by a woman. Below are a few suggestions on how you can support a man or boy who discloses to you that he has experienced sexual assault or abuse.

  • Listen. Many people in crisis feel as though no one understands them and that they are not taken seriously. Show them they matter by giving your undivided attention. It is hard for many survivors to disclose assault or abuse, especially if they fear not being believed because of stereotypes about masculinity.
  • Validate their feelings. Avoid making overly positive statements like “It will get better” or trying to manage their emotions, like “Snap out of it” or “You shouldn’t feel so bad.” Make statements like “I believe you” or “That sounds like a really hard thing to go through.”
  • Express concern. Tell them in a direct way that you care about them by saying something like “I care about you” or “I am here for you.”
  • Do not ask about details of the assault. Even if you are curious about what happened and feel that you want to fully understand it, avoid asking for details of how the assault occurred. However, if a survivor chooses to share those details with you, try your best to listen in a supportive and non-judgmental way.
  • Provide appropriate resources. There may be other aspects in men’s lives that could limit their ability to access resources and services after experiencing sexual assault or abuse. For example, trans men may face barriers when navigating medical care or black men may have concerns about reaching out to law enforcement. Be sensitive to these worries, and when supporting a survivor try your best to suggest resources you feel will be most helpful.

What if I experienced sexual assault as an adult?

Some men who have survived sexual assault as adults feel shame or self-doubt, believing that they should have been “strong enough” to fight off the perpetrator. Many men who experienced an erection or ejaculation during the assault may be confused and wonder what this means. These normal physiological responses do not in any way imply that you wanted, invited, or enjoyed the assault. If you were sexually assaulted, it was not your fault. You can find help at 1in6, an organization RAINN partners with that is dedicated to helping men who have survived unwanted or abusive sexual experiences.

What if the abuse happened when I was a minor?

If you were sexually abused when you were a child or a teenager, you may have different feelings and reactions at different times in your life. The 1in6 website has answers to many of the questions or concerns you might have as an adult survivor of child or teen sexual abuse.

How could this affect my relationships?

Coming forward about surviving sexual assault or sexual abuse can be difficult. It requires a lot of trust and understanding both for you and the person you choose to tell. You can find answers to some of the questions you might have about telling a partner at 1in6.

 

Getting Back On Track

It is important for you to know that your reactions are normal and temporary reactions to an abnormal event. The fear and confusion will lessen with time, but the trauma may disrupt your life for awhile. You may experience any or all of the reactions on the last few pages. Some reactions may be triggered by people, places or things connected to the assault, while other reactions may seem to come from “out of the blue.” Remember that no matter how much difficulty you’re having dealing with the assault, it does not mean you’re “going crazy” or becoming “mentally ill.”

Talking about the assault will help you feel better, but may also be really hard to do. In fact, it’s common to want to avoid conversations and situations that may remind you of the assault. You may have a sense of wanting to “get on with life” and “let the past be the past.” This is a normal part of the recovery process and may last for weeks or months.

Eventually you will need to deal with your feelings in order to heal and regain a sense of control over your life. Talking with someone who can listen and understand — whether it’s a friend, family member, hotline counselor or therapist — is a key part of this process.

It’s important to understand that you may not be able to function at 100% capacity for a while following a major trauma like sexual assault. You may have problems concentrating or remembering things and may feel tired or edgy. You may also take longer to recover from everyday stresses, kinda like when you go back to work or school too early after having the flu. Don’t be too hard on yourself — you need time to recover emotionally and that may detract from your energy for awhile.

Finding support

If something happened to you, know that you are not alone.

  • Visit the helpline. 1in6 has partnered with RAINN to offer the 24/7 helpline for men, their loved ones, and service providers who are seeking immediate information and resources related to sexual assault or abuse.
  • Visit online.rainn.org. Chat anonymously and confidentially with a RAINN support specialist who is trained to help.
  • Call the National Sexual Assault Hotline. Call 800.656.HOPE (4763) to be connected to a trained staff member from a local sexual assault service provider in your area.
  • Consider therapy or other mental health support. Some therapists specialize in issues you may be facing as a result of the abuse or assault. You may want to speak on the phone or meet with a few therapists before deciding which one is the best fit for you. You can ask your insurance company which providers are covered by your insurance plan. You can also visit use the Mental Health Treatment Locator function from the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA). Find the center that is closest to you and best fits your needs.
  • Read more at Jimhopper.com: The articles on this website provide information about the effects of child sexual abuse on adult men and their loved ones.
  • Read more at Malesurvivor.org: This resource contains general information as well as a therapist search specifically designed for male survivors of sexual violence.

 

Ways To Take Care of Yourself

  • Get support from friends and family– try to identify people you trust to validate your feelings. Spend time with people who know your strengths and positive qualities. Try not to isolate yourself.
  • Talk about the assault and express feelings — you can choose when, where, and with whom. You can also decide how much or how little to talk about.
  • Use stress reduction techniques — hard exercise like walking, jogging, biking, swimming, weight-lifting; relaxation techniques like yoga, massage, music, prayer and/or meditation.
  • Maintain a balanced diet and sleep cycle and avoid overusing caffeine, sugar, nicotine, alcohol or other drugs.
  • Take “time outs.” Give yourself permission to take quiet moments to reflect, relax and rejuvenate — especially during times you feel stressed or unsafe.
  • Try reading. Reading can be a relaxing, healing activity. Try to find short periods of uninterrupted leisure reading time.
  • Consider writing or journaling as a way of expressing thoughts and feelings.
  • Release some of the hurt and anger in a healthy way: Write a letter about how you feel about what happened to you. Be as specific as you can. You also can draw pictures about the anger or hurt you feel as a way of releasing the emotional pain.
  • Remember you are safe, even if you don’t feel it. The assault is over. It may take longer than you’d like, but you will feel better.
  • Get into counseling. The UT Counseling Center is here for you. You may call the UT Counseling Center any time during the day at 865-974-2196. Anytime we are closed, please call 865-974-HELP. If you want to report the incident to the police you may also call UT Police Department at 865-974-3111. If the assault occurs off campus, call Central Dispatch at 911.

How Family & Friends Can Help

Things you can do to help:

  • Listen, don’t judge. Try to simply understand his feelings.
  • Offer shelter. If possible, stay with him at his place or let him stay at yours.
  • Be there and give comfort. He may need to talk a lot or at odd hours at the beginning. Be there as much as you can and encourage him to talk to others.
  • Encourage him to seek professional help (See List of Resources at the end of the page).
  • Be patient. Don’t try to rush the healing process or quickly “make it better.”
  • Accept his choice of what to do about the sexual assault — don’t be overly protective. Ask him what he needs, help him list his options, then encourage him to make his own decisions. Even if you disagree. It is very important that he make his own decisions and have them respected.
  • Put aside your feelings and get support for yourself. It may be too overwhelming for him to deal with your angry feelings on top of his own. If you have strong angry feelings or feelings of blame toward the survivor, talk to a friend or call a hotline.

Campus & Community Resources

The University of Tennessee Campus Resources:

    • Counseling Center (8 am to 5 pm, M-F) » 865-974-2196
      Crisis counseling, individual and group counseling, and educational information
    • UT Psychology Clinic (8am to 8pm M-Th, 8am – 5pm F) » 865-974-2161
      A university-based agency that provides out-patient psychological services to residents of the Knoxville area
    • UT Student Health Services (SHS)
      • Appointment Desk » 865-974-3648
      • General Information » 865-974-3135
      • Mental Health Appointments » 865-974-2251
    • Student Judicial Affairs / Office of the Dean of Students (8 am to 5 pm, M-F) » 865-974-3179
      To file a complaint against another student — this may be done whether or not a police report is made or criminal charges are filed.
    • UT Police Department (24 hours) » 974-3111

Community Resources in Knoxville, TN

  • Sexual Assault Center of East Tennessee 865-522-7273
  • Knoxville Police Department Violent Crimes Division at 865-215-7317
  • Police Central Dispatch at 911

 

NOTE: For Male Survivors of Sexual Assault was originally developed by The Counseling & Mental Health Center at The University of Texas at Austin and is used by permission. Information from rainn.org has been added, and students are enouraged to use RAINN as a resource.