Most people think of sexual assault as being something totally unacceptable and reprehensible that a man does to a woman. But for me and millions of other men and boys just like me, there’s a different reality. A reality in which we are also victims and the perpetrators are of any, or no gender identity or sexual orientation. The problem is just so often ignored. The culture we live in makes it so that men are approximately four times less likely to report sexual assault in comparison to women and are often ridiculed when they do. A large part of this is due to with patriarchal gender roles and standards, which include the belief that men always want sex or sexual contact (from my experience especially in a heterosexual context) but also, and more dangerously, the often ignored discriminatory legal classifications of sexual assault which disproportionately fail anyone with a penis or anyone whose rapist or abuser happens to have had a vagina.
The problem is just so often ignored
Knowing all of this makes it incredibly important for me, as a man who has been sexually assaulted on two occasions (once by a man and once by a woman) to take a stand and encourage a better approach to male sexual assault and its victims. Aside from men being vastly less likely to report being victims of sexual crimes than women, there are very few resources available for male victims. Most resources that are currently available apply only to male survivors of childhood sexual abuse, so as a male assaulted during adulthood resources are even further limited. I have personally come to the conclusion that campaign groups need to be much more inclusive of male victims and give them more of a platform from which to speak.
Thankfully, in 2014 the coalition government set up the first dedicated fund to support male victims, which is a good start but much more needs to be done with regards to funding. If you are a male victim of sexual assault or rape, there are thankfully excellent charities out there, like Mankind, a charity benefitting from National Lottery funding and which provides specialist support for men who have been sexually abused. There are also more general charities like Samaritans who really helped me in my darkest hours and are able to direct you to other charities with specialist resources in the field. Suffering mental health complications as a result, I contacted the University’s Wellbeing Services who were extremely helpful and whom I would thoroughly recommend to any student. The whole experience really did affect my mental health. In fact, I spent a week at a Buddhist festival just outside Taunton with a couple of my closest friends, not having fun, but crying in a nearby field and having repeated panic attacks.
Women are seen as incapable of sexual misconduct and of course, what man wouldn’t want it?
Perhaps the greatest challenge for me personally was the reaction of my friends. During both episodes, two different groups of friends seemingly stood-by and did nothing (in one case despite my repeated pleas for help). I was confused as to why and was very angry at them for a long time, but I realise now that they acted the way they did simply because society tells them that because I’m a man, they couldn’t possibly have been watching me be sexually assaulted because that just doesn’t happen to men. It’s part of our social conditioning and we all have a collective responsibility to point this out and challenge it wherever we see it.
Moreover, in the aftermath, friends and acquaintances poked fun at me and joked about it happening again- particularly with regards to the incident where a woman was the perpetrator. Women are seen as incapable of sexual misconduct and of course, what man wouldn’t want it? Well I certainly didn’t! There was also a knock-on impact, particularly in regards to the closest of my close friends. My understandable need at the time for a great deal of protection and support from one very close friend in particular caused a real rift in the relationship and hurt her very badly too. I’m eternally grateful that the bond between her and I is entirely mended now, but the fact that me being sexually assaulted could so badly damage someone else in addition to just myself really put everything into perspective. It’s never okay, regardless of gender identity or sexual orientation.
I’ll close by addressing the two people I was victim to. I give you both my total forgiveness and all my love; I don’t even hold a grudge. The only recompense I ever want from either of you if you happen to someday chance upon this piece is that you think about what you did to me and that you never do it to anyone else in the future: it’s never okay.