You Are Not Alone
The sexual abuse of male children is more common than many people think. Research in New Zealand and overseas suggests that around 1 in 7 boys under the age of 18 have had an experience of sexual abuse. However, it is suspected male sexual abuse is widely under-reported for several reasons.
Two hundred male survivors of sexual abuse on the Oprah Winfrey Show stand together showing photos of themselves as boys in the 2010 TV production.
Why Don’t Men Tell?
- Survivors of sexual abuse often feel a sense of shame or self-blame, regardless of what gender they are.
- Men often feel they are less likely to be believed than a woman might be that the abuse has happened.
- Men can feel that they should have been physically stronger and fought off their abuser, that they somehow “let it happen”. They often feel humiliated and angry with themselves for being victims.
- Some people imply that males are “lucky” to have had the experience if an older woman has perpetrated the abuse.
- Men often wonder if they are gay as a result of the abuse.
- Many men feel unsure about what effects the abuse may have on their long-term sexuality, and what it says about them as a person.
The idea that “real men don’t get sexually abused” is a myth that encourages men to stay quiet about the abuse they suffered as children and not get the support they need. Some men feel that the abuse has robbed them of their masculinity. This is because our society sends strong messages to males about what it means to be a ‘real man’ (e.g. someone who no-one messes with, and who doesn’t feel emotional pain or hurt).
Remember: You are not to blame for the abuse.
Effects of Sexual Abuse
While many of the effects of sexual abuse are the same for both males and females, males more typically experience some effects. These include:
- confusion/anxiety over sexual identity and relationships
- over-compensation to prove they are ‘real men’ by engaging in very macho-type behaviours.
- abuse of alcohol, drugs or other addictions. These behaviours frequently become self-destructive and damaging to others and can make it extremely difficult for men to heal from their abuse.
As our society encourages men to suppress their feelings and emotions (other than anger) from a young age, it can be hard for men to open up and tell people about their abuse. However, breaking the secrecy around the sexual abuse is a vital first step in enabling you to deal with it and begin to heal.
- It is your choice who, when and how you tell. You should never be forced into telling someone.
- Getting support for yourself (e.g. counsellor) can be useful as they can help you work through your feelings about the abuse.
- Give family and friends you tell some time and space to process what you have told them. You may want to give them some information to read to help them understand what you have been through (see For Family and Friends).
- Think about what you would like others to do that would be of help to you and share this with them.
- Not everyone will necessarily react in the way you would hope. It’s not your fault and do not be discouraged. You have shown a great deal of strength to tell someone, which is an important step.
There are some specialist support services for male survivors of sexual violence in New Zealand that you may wish to contact for additional support (see Links).
If you would like more information, please contact us.
Below is a short list of books that other survivors have found useful. All should be available through bookshops or libraries.
Hunter, Mic 1990 Abused boys: the neglected victims of sexual abuse. New York: Ballantine Books.
Lew, Mike 2000 Leaping upon the Mountains: Men proclaiming victory over Sexual Child Abuse. Berkeley, CA: North Atlantic Books.
Lew, Mike 2004 Victims no longer: The classic guide for men recovering from sexual child abuse. 2nd ed. New York: Harper Collins Publishers.