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Disregarded and Overlooked - Sexual Violence Against Men and Boys

By Cornelia Olabisi Thompson

Sexual violence is a severe violation of human right. Existing evidence demonstrates that women and girls bear the brunt of sexual victimisation in conflict and non-conflict contexts. However, some men and boys are also sexually victimised in these settings. Persons with diverse sexual orientation, gender identity and expression, and sexual characteristics are particularly vulnerable to sexual victimisation.

Sexual assault can happen to anyone, no matter their age, sexual orientation, or gender identity. Male victims of sexual assaulted or abuse may have many of the same feelings and reactions as other survivors of sexual assault. Still, they may also face some other stigmas because they are male. Some men/boys survivors of sexual assault feel shame or self-doubt as adults, assuming that they should have been strong enough to fight off the perpetrator(s). Men who were sexually abused as boys or teens may respond differently to those who are sexually assaulted as adults.

The following symptoms affect men/boys who have survived sexual assault: anxiety, depression, post-traumatic stress disorder, flashbacks and eating disorders. They also avoid people or places that remind them of the assault. Feelings of lesser than a man or that you no longer have control over your own body are also prevalent.

The perpetrators of sexual assault can be any gender identity, sexual orientation, or age. They can have any or no relationship with the victim. Like all perpetrators, they might use physical force or psychological and emotional coercion tactics. Knowledge about female victims in our societies is well established. Still, male victims of sexual assault are often overlooked or disregarded due to shame, stigma, and the like.

Indeed, some may find it surprising that about 1/6th of boys are sexually abused before their 18th birthday. This number rises to 1 in 4 men who experience unwanted sexual events during their lifetime.

The public and some health care providers may hear the words 'men and sexual assault' and automatically assume that the male is the perpetrator. Somehow seeing men as the targets of sexual violence is difficult to comprehend. The truth is, it is hard for most men to see themselves as victims or as someone who has been abused. That is one of the reasons why we need to encourage men to see themselves as survivors, too, a small but essential change in language that connotes resilience and empowerment.

It can be hard to tell someone that you have experienced sexual assault or abuse. You may fear that you will be judged or not believed. Male survivors may find it challenging to consider themselves victims because of masculinity stereotypes, especially where the woman is the abuser. We need to give listening ears to victims; many people in crisis feel that no one understands them and that they are not taken seriously. Tell them directly that you care about them by saying something like 'I care about you' or 'I am here for you. That is a little way to express concern.

Even if you are curious about what happened and feel that you want to understand it fully, avoid asking for details of how it all happened. However, if they choose to share those details with you, try your best to listen in a supportive and non-judgmental way, as it takes trust to share their experience with someone.

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