Sexual Assault

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Sexual Assault

Sexual Assault


Since the 1970s, feminists have done much to publicize the plight of rape victims, and many support services have been developed for women who are coming to terms with the effects of rape. Ironically however, the publicity that rape has received as a feminist issue has contributed to the isolation experienced by male victims of sexual assault (Mezey & King, 1989). The sexual assault of adult males had received little attention in the research literature or by the public (Stermac, Sheridan, Davidson, & Dunn, 1996), and there is still no clear societal strategy to address this important issue (Rogers, 1998).

It is estimated that research, help, and support for male victims is more than 20 years behind that for female victims (Rogers, 1998).

The aim of this paper is to provide a selective review of the literature on adult male victims of rape and sexual assault.

Thesis Statement

Studies included in this paper concern the rape and sexual assault of men in the community. Studies that concern institutionalized sexual assault, such as prison rape or the sexual abuse of boys, are not included.

Victims of male and female perpetrators will be considered, and both gay and heterosexual victims will be discussed in relation to the need for specific support services for these different victim groups.

Male rape myths and victim blame

Ignorance and disbelief about male sexual assault has perpetuated myths about this phenomenon in psychology, medicine, and the law (Stermac et al., 1996). Male rape myths — prejudicial and false beliefs about male sexual assault victims and the perpetrators of such assaults (Struckman-Johnson & Struckman-Johnson, 1992) — stem from the traditional view of masculinity, which dictates that men should be strong, assertive, sexually dominant, and heterosexual (Herek, 1986). Myths, such as “men cannot be raped” or “sexual assault is not as severe for a man as it is for a woman” minimize the impact of sexual assault on male victims and serve to blame the victim for his assault (Groth & Burgess, 1980).

Male victims use male rape myths as a way to blame themselves for their assault. For example, victims may feel that they did something to provoke the assault, or did not do enough to prevent it. Men, before their assault may have never considered that they could become victims of sexual assault:

Because most men have internalized the societal belief that the sexual assault of men is beyond the realm of possibility … men may have trouble accepting their rape experience as real, not only because it happened to them, but that it happened at all. (Garnets, Herek, & Levy, 1990)

Some experimental evidence suggests that male rape myths operate more strongly when the perpetrator is female (Struckman-Johnson & Struckman-Johnson, 1992). This adds particular strain to the recovery of male victims of female perpetrators, who may, for example, find it particularly difficult to conceptualise their victimization as a sexual assault and to come to terms with its effects (see later for a full discussion on this ...
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