Originally posted on January 12, 2012
While male survivors of sexual violence face a host of stigmas, but none are as insidious as the “Vampire Syndrome.” This stigma claims that once abused, a boy or man will become an abuser, like how a person bitten by a vampire becomes one himself.
The “Vampire Syndrome” plays out in a myriad of ways. A person might warn a young man interested in working with kids to stay away because he is a “threat.” A therapist might gear their services for male victims towards violence prevention rather than support. A political activist group might put out advertisements featuring a little boy and the tag line “When I grow up, I will beat my wife.”
Male victims already face social stigmas about their masculinity, sexuality, and their very existence. The “Vampire Syndrome” just adds to their problems. As Dr. Richard Gartner explained in an interview:
The overwhelming majority of young male victims will not grow up to become sexually abusive men. Still, they are often very afraid they will be, even if they don’t have any fantasies. Or they may think that their flashbacks of their own abuse are proof that they’ll be abusive or are having fantasies. All of this makes these victims afraid to tell anyone since they think they’ll be perceived as a potential abuser and not be allowed to be around children. I once spoke with a client that was afraid to tell his sons and daughters-in-law about a past abuse because he worried he’d be denied access to his grandchildren.
Dr. Gartner also noted in his interview that the “Vampire Syndrome” only applies to male victims. No one worries about female victims becoming rapists, pedophiles, or abusers. No one treats them as potentially dangerous or warns them to avoid children. To this point, when people talk about women impregnated by their rapists, they worry about those women bearing the rapist’s child, not whether the women would abuse the child.
However, while this myth only applies to males, it does not come from one source. It partly comes from homophobia. Many people believe that raping a man or boy makes turns him homosexual. Likewise, many people believe that only gay men rape other males. As a result, some conclude that if raping a boy or man makes him gay, it will also make him a predator.
It partly comes from how the professional community talks about cycles of violence. Few mention that most victims do not become abusers. Few mention that most victims who never receive treatment do not go on to abuse others. Instead, the professionals talk about cycles of violence in the broadest terms possible. They leave the impression that abused boys and men will become abusers unless people teach them not to abuse.
It also comes from how feminists frame sexual violence. Feminists control the discussion on sexual violence, and organizations like Men Can Stop Rape and The National Organization for Men Against Sexism frame sexual violence as something only men do to only women. When they do mention male victims, they often do so in the context of preventing violence against women and treating male victims — and men in general — as abusers, rapists, and enablers.
All those narratives feed the “Vampire Syndrome” myth, leading people to accept it as fact. While terrible on a general level, it wreaks havoc on male victims. Many boys and men end up viewing themselves as dangerous and untrustworthy. They may avoid touching, hugging, or playing with their own children. As Dr. Gartner noted, they may look at their memories and flashbacks as “proof” of their perversion. They may not come forward out of fear of how people may view them. They may also mistake their normal sexual interests, such as teen boy’s normal sexual attraction to other teens, as deviant.
As more male victims come forward, society will learn that many of the stigmas and myths about sexual violence against males are untrue. However, challenging the “Vampire Syndrome” cannot lie solely with male victims. As a society, we need to challenge these kinds of bigoted views because they help continue the abuse. They keep victims from coming forward, keep support providers from helping men and boys in need, keep the few victims who do become abusers from seeking help, and they make us treat abused men and boys like rapists rather than survivors.