Once Bitten

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.

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17 thoughts on “Once Bitten

  1. “And while many social workers simply won’t have the experience of having worked with actual victims,…”

    Invisibility training.

    Except, if you believe anything like the 1 in 6 statistic, they absolutely will and have. Perhaps every day. Men just won’t disclose, understand it as such, see it as worthy of focus.

    It’s just so hard to see men as victims. And women are quick to be see that way. Can you imagine a group of women in an alcohol addiction group, and think “We can safely assume none of these women are victims of violence.” And I think we do that for men routinely. So many men tell me they’ve tried to talk about being molested in CD treatment and were told, “Don’t talk about that–you have to get your addiction under control first.” What if suppressing those memories are why you are getting drunk all the time? Which men also tell me.

    Otherwise a good article.

  2. Allan, I think the 1in6 page is pretty good. It is carefully written so as to not turn away the few men who do abuse others.

    As for social workers not working with actual victims, the issue lies more with how abuse has been framed. Socially and politically speaking, abuse is framed as something that men do to women. This idea gets parroted to social workers who either never ask boys if they were abused or dance around the problem. And because male victims are viewed as potential abusers first, a lot of the issues that stem from their abuse get sidelined to deal with the symptoms of those problems.

  3. 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.
    This is a very good point. When it comes to rape one extra fear that women have is the possibility of being impregnated by a rapist. I can’t comment on how that would feel with any definitey (but FTR the idea of having such a reminder INSIDE of her, and literally living off of her for nine months sounds horrible to me) but I would think its a terrible ordeal. But even still people don’t tend to jump to the conclusion that such an experience would turn that woman into an abuser. No the presumption of a maternal instinct wins out and they talk of how even though she went through such a traumatic experience she is a strong woman for living through it.

    But when it comes to male rape victims the first thought is the presumption that he will become a rapist too

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  5. “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.”

    This is precisely the goal. Being a former social worker I can state that the goal of the industry is to get as many people into therapy as possible. It keeps the industry going. All abuse victims must be treated and if they aren’t they will most certainly be the ones who will become abusers is the prevailing attitude. Therapy is not for everyone and although it might be helpful, all abuse victims do not require therapy.

    You have touched on one of my pet peeves, the misrepresentation of research. It may be true that the majority of abusers have suffered abuse in their past. Research tends to indicate this. But the Vampire Syndrome is not supported by this research. In fact, it is contradicted by it. Most victims do not become abusers.

    Excellent article.

    TDOM

  6. Toysoldier: Was this the piece you were solicited for over at TGMP? Will it be published there as well?

  7. Toysoldier: Was this the piece you were solicited for over at TGMP? Will it be published there as well?

    Yes, however, I have not heard back from them. If they decide to post it I will edit this post and add a link to the TGMP article.

  8. Good post brother.
    You’ve got a chestful of heart and that’s why I read your writing.

    Our society has to allow voices such as yours to be heard,especially
    with the new epidemic of female teacher on male student violations.

    Lucky guy!
    (not)

  9. Flipping Heck Typhon – I haven’t seen that study for quite a few years – and I was even wondering where to find copy very recently.

    It is fascinating, but can be very disturbing for people to read, mainly as a survivor. Many hone in on specific elements and parts. The sample is quite unique and in so many ways unrepresentative of many male survivors. The language is also quite UK specific and can take some decoding.

    It’s main value is highlighting that protective measures to supposedly help abused children of all types are not preventive but reactive. The only true way to protect kids long term and all their lives as adults is to stop abuse before it starts – and that is all types of abuse, emotional, physical, sexual and above all else to prevent domestic violence and make sure that services are there for the child’s interests – not adults.

    It is a study I was needing to make that DV point in relation to fathers leaving and taking children away from DV – so thanks for being and angel and mystically answering a prayer!

  10. @Typhon – Just part of the never ending treadmill of providing people with back up and info to convince sceptics, officials and paid “apparatchiks” that reality is not what they believe – reality is what it is!

    It is one of those terrible things that to get many points across people have to “use” children quite literally as an emotional bargaining chip. I speak out against “Emotional Trafficking” – people using highly emotive language, images and ideas to get support and even gull people into accepting a false reality. It’s Macro Manipulation. On the other hand you can also use the same techniques backed up by reality to get Micro Reality Results by manipulating people out of false realities and into the light.

    You can say that Male Victims of DV need support and you get sympathy. But if you show that the children of Male Victims of DV are at long term risk, it starts to get some grease under the immobile mountains of sympathy and start things moving.

    All too often it’s how the message is presented that get action – and for want of a better phrase “The More Emotionally Charged and Abusively Manipulative It Is The Better”. That is the horrible balance that is made to play out when it is all made political! Use The Kids as an emotional leaver. It’s not actually abusive – but that is how so many see it when you are de-constructing their long held beliefs and ongoing errors.

    Of course parents don’t wish to do that. I had to help one chap who was seeking emergency rehousing for him and his kids. He was being protective and kept saying “He” had to be rehoused and why. He was ignored. it went on for months. I was called in and I said “The Kids Are At Risk Unless Rehoused Immediately” – the kids were rehoused in 24 hours, and daddy had to go along and look after them. It was the exact same information presented, but the order made all the difference.

    When you are dealing with middle management power brokers, who are convinced they know all about DV and who it happens to and how they are affected – sometimes you just need a little gem that their boss can be given and then put their minion back on a very short leash! Knowledge is power – you just have to know how to use it and who to give it to!

    I Hate Politics – and I hate middle management politics the most! I also hate assessment procedures and tools that have Gross Systemic Bias and Institutional Bias built in and idiots are allowed to manipulate them to suite their own bias and supposed beliefs! Convincing some that the computer is wrong takes some nifty logic and evidence! I would prefer a Big Hammer – but that is just to relieve Frustration. P^)

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