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Male sexual abuse is no laughing matter

News day / The article was written insensitively and failed to protect the victim’s right to anonymity, because except for adding sensationalism there was no reason for the level of graphic details, nor was it necessary to provide the background information which made it easy for the victim to be identified by his peers.

The degree of victim blaming and shaming on social media has been startling, and will result in secondary victimisation and re-traumatising of the victim – he was mocked, condemned, ridiculed and laughed at, which reminded me of a young man I met last year.

He was sexual assaulted by a family friend and though the physical scars had healed, he continues to carry deep emotional pain, shame and embarrassment. He said the thing that troubles him the most is the guilt he feels for not being “brave” enough to report the assault to the police. He also feels that he has to keep the painful secret from his family because they will not believe him, he will be labelled a trouble maker and forced to move out of the family home.

Though the majority of stories we hear of survivors of sexual abuse are about women, we must not forget that men are also at high risk of sexual coercion, fondling, voyeurism, rape, and intimate partner violence.

There is also the myth that it is not possible for a man to be raped by a woman, but even though unwanted stimulation can cause a traumatic reflex erection, it does not mean that the victim is willing, consenting to, or enjoying the act.

Males, including children and adolescents are sexually molested, abused and exploited, but because of enforced secrecy by family, and a lack of disclosure by victims the true prevalence is unknown. The Centre for Disease Control and Prevention estimates that one in six boys under the age of 18, and one in nine men are sexually abused. It is also assumed that one in 15 men are made to penetrate someone else, and one in 71 males are raped by either a man or woman. These are estimates and it is believed that the actual figures may be higher.

Sexual violence is compounded by hyper-masculinity, premature sexual initiation, sexual entitlement, and discrimination against people with diverse sexual orientations and gender identities.

In addition, technological advancement has made it easier for perpetrators to contact, manipulatively groom, and stimulate subtle sexually exploitative interactions including coercion into sending nude photos which is now very common. Sadly, such subtle abuses are being normalised, even though they can cause the same level of emotional pain as more aggressive violations. It is also disturbing to see the proliferation of videos on social media of young boys being cheered and encouraged to dance, wine and gyrate on adult women to the point of arousal. But, such exploitation of their sexuality for gratification is no joking matter. If the aroused youngsters have not been exposed to age and cognizant appropriate sex education it opens them to the possibility of being unwittingly receptive to manipulative violations by others. Quite rightly, sexual abuse of minors will elicit a very public outcry, however, equally damaging but subtler exploitative episodes against men do not get the same reaction and outrage, instead many times there is public victim blaming and shaming.

Sexual violation of any kind carries considerable shame and guilt and most male survivors will keep the unhealthy secret, which can go on to manifest into a range of emotional challenges including depression, post-traumatic stress disorder (PTS D), anxiety, addiction, emotional numbing, low self-esteem, compulsive behaviours and in some cases promiscuity. They may also choose to estrange themselves from certain family members, friends and social settings. Unfortunately, some will also go on to be perpetrators themselves as a way of expressing the anger, rage and the emotional struggles of coping with their own abuse.

Survivors do not deserve mockery or ridicule. Instead, they need empathy, support and access to therapeutic interventions including safe autonomous spaces where they can openly and confidentially discuss the issue. The Government should also play their part by initiating a multi-agency strategic approach that includes research, legislative enactment and enforcement, policy development, public education and awareness raising.

So, for those who engaged in victim blaming and shaming I hope you understand that male sexual abuse is no laughing matter.

Dr Yansie Rolston FRSA is a UK based disability and mental health specialist advisor. She is a social strategist and trainer who works internationally at various levels of government, business and civil society.

Contact her at [email protected]

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