Being a Boy: The Only One

Originally posted on August 1, 2009

It is a weird feeling to think that one is the only one who has ever been sexually abused. It is like a person standing in the middle of a major city with no one around for miles. It is one of the loneliest feelings imaginable because, according to everyone else, the person is technically to blame for what happened. As a result,there is always this battle raging inside between feeling horrible and wanting to be normal while knowing that what happened was “deserved.”

Yet, even if a person does accept that, no one else wants to hear anything about that person’s experience. After taking responsibility, the person is told to shut up, proving just how low that person is. After a while, the person starts to think perhaps the abuser was right. Perhaps the abuser is the only one who might care. Perhaps the person should focus on the “good times” and push everything else aside. The person would do that, except there are people who do not just demand that the person keep quiet, but they also tell this person that what happened did not really happen. It could not be that bad because of the person’s gender. It could not have been forced because of the person’s gender. It could not have been violence, abuse or rape because of the person’s gender. This person is not a victim (not that the person ever made such a claim) because of the person’s gender. Anything that might have happened does not need to be mentioned, and if for some reason the person does speak up, that person is a lying, whining rapist who cannot be trusted around women or children.

Male victims constantly face this kind of isolation. In many ways, they are damned if they do and damned if they do not. Remaining silent means staying in the shadows, all alone, but coming forward means being placed on public display mockery and ridicule and blatant denial. While female victims may experience something like this (sans the denial of potential victimization), it is not nearly as socially and politically reinforced as it is when it is directed at male victims. Not only is there an unwillingness to discuss male victimization in society and in the media, but even victim groups seem hesitant to broach the subject. There is little outreach done to raise awareness, and the few organizations that do rarely receive media attention or coverage. The lack of visibility, along with the lack of discussion, the victim blaming, stereotypes and politically motivated denial, unfortunately sends the message that male victims simply do not exist. For a boy or a man struggling to cope with his abuse, the profound feeling of being the only one can be and often is crippling.

Despite growing up in a situation in which I knew I was not the only one, I always perceived what we went through as something unique to our family. As I got older, I became aware that my family situation was not the norm, which only proved my assumptions. Even once I learned that others lived through similar experiences, I continued to separate the two because no one seemed to grow up in the same situation I had.

Of course, that was far from true. However, at the time no one even mentioned those kinds of things, let alone that specific kids were targeted while others were not. Worse yet, when I discovered the technical word for what happened, all the literature claimed that such a thing could only happen to girls. That proved that we were the only boys to experience anything like that at the hands of biological family members. It was confusing and frustrating, although surprisingly reassuring. (The latter because if we managed not to do the same thing to our own sons, no other boys would have to go through what we went through. Later it dawned on me that my family could have more children down the line, but I assumed we would just take those kids and raise them ourselves.)

It took years after I was out of the situation to realize that we were not the only boys this happened to, nor were we the only boys singled out because we were male. Yet, I only learned that because I sought the information out. Had I listened only to the news and only to victim advocates I would have continued to assume boys could not be victims.

Victim advocacy groups do nearly half the victims of rape and sexual abuse a disservice by pretending that male victims are rare and presenting the false notion that sexual violence has a lesser impact on boys and men than it does on females. If those groups made a better effort to reach out to male victims they might realize that there are more men and boys who have been abused than anyone believes is true. Most researchers acknowledge that the 1 in 6 rate is a low estimate. It is probably higher, meaning the literal rate of sexual violence against males is likely much closer to the rate of sexual violence against females. There are, however, those who benefit politically by keeping advocacy for male victims down and keeping male victims silent.

To that extent, it is difficult to hold advocacy groups completely responsible since they receive much of their information from feminist-run studies and organizations. Feminists, in general, have no particularly interest, need or use for male victims because it provides them with no political leverage. Instead, they use sexual violence against females to further their agenda, often putting out misinformation and distorted or false statistics to create an air of perpetual threats against women. Unfortunately, this has occurred for so long and is such an integral part of feminist doctrine that many feminists deny and dismiss male victimization even when solid evidence demonstrates males are victimized more often than people imagine. The misandry and androphobia is so commonplace, so intuitive and intrinsic among feminists, that it prompts some to make statements such as, “If I’m a teen or adult [male], and if I can stay out of prison, my odds of being raped [or sexually assaulted] are so low as to be negligible.” Such blatantly false statements stem from the feminist theory of “Patriarchy Hurts Men Too,” a notion purporting that all sexual violence (including female-on-male and female-on-female violence) results solely from men oppressing women, with the responsibility for it lying both individually and collectively in the hands of all boys and men, including male victims.

Those kinds of comments can have a devastating affect on male victims. It renders their experiences of rape and abuse ironic anomalies in which males cause their own abuse; and since all males are responsible for it, those kinds of comments can lead male victims to the obvious conclusion that they deserved what happened. Worse yet, such statements imply that male victims cannot be trusted, perpetuating the myth that abused males will, without question, go on to abuse others. Unfortunately, from the feminist perspective, this conclusion serves feminists’ purpose. It is a not too subtle way of silencing male victims by blaming and shaming them, or essentially guilt-tripping them into silence, therein maintaining the position that sexual violence is a female victim-only crime.

Of course, when such comments are held to feminist standards or if they were said to female victims, feminists would call them sexist, accusatory and “rape apologism,” leading them to presume that the intention was specifically to cause harm. While few feminists would argue that the latter statement would be unfair to male victims, particularly not those who agree with the quoted comment, it is surprising that it never occurs to feminists that those words could cause serious harm to male victims. Granted, from the feminist perspective, sexual violence against males is at best ironic and relatively benign, both on its own and certainly in comparison to sexual violence against females. However, one would think that a group of people who frequently comment on how certain views and remarks can hurt female victims would at least realize the same could hold true for male victims and their words could give male victims who do have the courage to come forward a profound reason to remain silent, further isolating them and blaming them.

Like feminists, people in general prefer that male victims remain silent. Like feminists, society constantly sends the message to male victims that they are responsible for their abuse. Society’s silencing of male victims is not politically motivated as it is with feminists, nor does it result from the desire to dissuade criminal and civil charges like with various religious and secular organizations that hide abuse allegations and alleged abusers. Rather, society’s tendency to silence male victims stems from people’s overall desire to keep bad thing out of sight and out of mind. People tend to believe that only certain types of people commit bad acts and only certain types of people are victims. This idea, distorted as it is, leads many to assume that rape and sexual abuse victims did something to cause it. Of course, if a person can cause act, they can also prevent it, so any victim must have wanted it to happen otherwise the victim would have done something to stop it. This warped thinking leads then to the presumption that if precautions can be taken, but were not, even if people believe the victim could do nothing to stop it, the victim still deserved it.

However, society’s view of males further skews this by pushing the false notion that males can always fight back. This grossly inaccurate notion plays out in a rather insidious way by challenging the masculinity of male victims since “real” men would not be victimized. Yet, as if not to be taken lightly, society demands that males keep their feelings and experience to themselves, never to be disclosed.This view is not just bolstered by society’s general unwillingness to hear about bad things, but also the presumption that men can handle any problems on their own. Ironically, society chastises men for keeping things inside, often portraying those men as old-fashioned and weak, leaving male victims (and men in general) with the contradicting messages of being told to keep it to themselves, then being chastised for not feeling, only to be mocked and told to shut up should they try to open up.

Unfortunately, people also tend to draw rather horrible conclusions about consent based on social perceptions about males. People tend to think that male-on-male sexual violence makes boys and men into homosexuals or that they were gay to begin with. People tend to think that erections imply consent and a desire to participate. People tend to think that all males want sex with women all the time and that boys and men are lucky no matter how violent or humiliating the abuse is. People tend to think women are incapable of sexually violating males, even children, or that should something happen, because a woman did it the act was harmless. And of course, there remains the assumption that any sexually abused male will go on to abuse others, and therefore cannot be trusted until they receive treatment, not for their own mental stability, but to ensure they will harm no one else. These all serve as justification, from a social perspective, for treating male victims as tainted, untrustworthy and ultimately victims of their own lacking masculinity.

All of these factors and expectations work in concert with the cruel comments abusers tell their victims — no one will believe you, no one will help you, it is your fault, no one cares about you, you must like it because you have an erection, you could make it stop if you were a real man, you are gay, you are weak, you need this — leaving male victims in the rather bleak situation of being somehow unlike other males. After all, most people’s perceptions of the world and who they are come from society’s presentation and presumptions. Since society does not reflect male victims’ experiences as part of the general male experience, boys and men who have been abused are left feeling as if they are individually the only ones this has ever happened to.

Faced with that, male victims, unsurprisingly, keep quiet, unfortunately reinforcing the false perception that they are the only ones. Reasonably, no boy or man wants other boys and men to be abused. Few people would wish that on anyone. But when faced with the despair of reality, there is not much to fall back on. It is often better to simply believe that one is the only man or boy who has been hurt than fight with people who think it is a joke or argue with people who resort to rhetoric retorts. But, as clichéd as it is to say to male victims:

You are not the only one.

Despite what society, victim advocacy groups and feminists say, you are not alone and could not and did not do anything to even remotely deserve what was done to you. There are more people struggling and fighting through the same trials and pain that you are than you may realize. You do not have to remain silent, and if people do not want to listen, keep speaking anyway because you are not doing it for them. You are doing it for yourself and for others like you, and that is what ultimately matters.

And if you, like me, found a way to accept that others did not deserve it, but rationalized why you are responsible for what happened, I suppose that both you and I, despite how we might feel, being bound to logic, must at least acknowledge to some extent that we are not responsible for the actions of others.

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16 thoughts on “Being a Boy: The Only One

  1. “If I’m a teen or adult [male], and if I can stay out of prison, my odds of being raped [or sexually assaulted] are so low as to be negligible.”
    I’ve seen this on a few male privilege lists as well. I suppose this is saying that it doesn’t happen very often therefore not worth talking about.

    Keep spreading the truth TS.

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  3. Hello TS.
    After finding your website today, I just wanted to share some information with you that I hope will be helpful to you and maybe to others. You are correct–the abuse of men is a hidden problem that needs to be brought into the light and those effected treated with compassion and allowed to heal.
    Thomas Edward knows first-hand the emotional and physical pain associated with sexual abuse and neglect. He understands what it’s like to suffer in silence with nowhere to turn. And he’s passionate about helping other male survivors heal from the aftermath of their abuse and move from surviving to thriving.
    Tom wrote Healing a Man’s Heart, a workbook designed to help Christian men face, admit, and deal with their abuse. He says, “I wrote this workbook for men who are stuck just like I used to be—men whose hearts long to be set free, but fear dampens and steals any ray of hope.” His goal is for men to become comfortable addressing the issues within them and eventually arrive to a point of breaking the silence.
    Tom also conducts “Healing Broken Men” workshop retreats, which are great for participants to start or continue their healing in a safe, private, and supportive environment. Workshop sessions include losing the victim status, removing the fear factor, destroying lies and myths, repainting your picture with truth, and reclaiming God’s identity for you.
    For more information about Thomas Edward, the Healing a Man’s Heart workbook, or the Healing Broken Men workshops, visit http://www.healingbrokenmen.com.

  4. Gail, thank you for telling me about Tom’s site. I will add it to my list of available resources.

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  6. @TS

    Its interesting for me to read much of what you talk about in this piece in regards to how we feel certain things as men. What I feel is that the violence inflicted on me is less than what you experienced because it was not sexual in nature. Intellectually I realize that this is not the truth, but emotionally I have a hard time with it. Even tonight, discussing this with my wife, she gives more of a special nod to sexual violence. Though I no longer remain quiet about the things that happened to me I totally get why I still want to.

  7. I don’t want to encourage your comparison, or minimize your abuse at all. A lot of variables enter into how a certain abusive experience effects someone, and it’s those effects that are the trouble over time, not exactly the abuse. So, sometimes a “minor abuse” generates a huge impact, because the person was very young, or had very few resources (like safe, supportive relationships with adults) to deal with it.

    That said, a friend talked to me once about why people are often sexually tortured, like at Abu Ghraib. He said, that basically, they do it because it works, to break people down quickly. It works, better than physical torture.

    I think there is something particularly harmful about sexual abuse that way. It gets in deeper somehow. That comparison isn’t particularly helpful in many contexts. No one deserves any kind of abuse, period.

  8. Allan – I was struck by your comment:

    “That said, a friend talked to me once about why people are often sexually tortured, like at Abu Ghraib. He said, that basically, they do it because it works, to break people down quickly. It works, better than physical torture. ”

    I have heard quite a few debates around the differences in attitudes to Male Sexual Abuse Victims based on country. In Europe, there have been significant changes, particularly at government level, and this has been linked back to the events of the Yugoslavia War 1991-1995 and subsequent trials and findings at the International Criminal Court and other Courts such as the International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda. The use of rape against both male and female as a tool of warfare was heavily documented and treated as a war crime for the first time. This has an impact upon International Law.

    The Geneva Conventions ARTICLE 27 had to be addressed as it was not gender neutral, linking rape to only women. “Women shall be especially protected against any attack on their honour, in particular against rape, enforced prostitution, or any form of indecent assault.” – and that has allowed Male Rape and Sexual Abuse to be used as a Weapon Of War seen as outside of the conventions.

    The definitions of rape now operating under international law are significantly wider that those of many countries. The main changes stem from International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda (ICTR) – Akayesu judgment – which redefines rape as:

    (a) a physical invasion (penetration) of sexual nature, (b) committed on a person (male or female), (c) under circumstances which are coercive (against the victim’s will or without her or his consent).

    However, the judgment also makes it clear that Physical Contact is not required – and that objects can also be used to commit rape – and that even the mental threat of rape can itself be rape and coercive.

    Also – “the essence of rape is not the particular details of the body parts and objects involved, but rather the aggression that is expressed in a sexual manner under conditions of coercion.”.

    Where Coercion is identified, consent in any form is not required – so the argument that a male erection in any way implies consent is struck down. Rape by envelopment is recognized in International Law – where coercion is used. Coercion does not have t be physical, it can be psychological and even sociological.

    The background and changes in International Law are addressed in a useful document “Impunity or immunity: wartime male rape and sexual torture as a crime against humanity”.

    There has been and there still is significant resistance to change, due to international politics. In particular, with Abu Ghraib, if certain international law standards were applied from the date of incident and trial, then there would have been far longer Jail Sentences – including life. Now there has to be a slow change in definitions so that the pointing of international fingers is kept to a minimum.

    The matter has recently arisen again with attempts to have US law changed relating to Army Operations – “Army Field Manual” – to allow activity that does not agree with Geneva Conventions – Defense Authorization Bill (SA 1068) before congress November 2011. Repeated attempts to subvert the Geneva Conventions – including the term “enemy combatant” which is made to mean “unlawful combatant”.

    It haws been said that “The organizing principle of any society is for war” – and that causes changes in laws within societies to often occur as a result of that principle – before – after – and during periods of warfare.

    This has a knock on within the USA on how rape and sexual assault is seen, defined and treated. The issues are politicized on both and national and international level, so it’s not just an issue of dealing with indifference but also deliberate resistance.

    The US refusal to ratify and accept the International Criminal Court which would have had jurisdiction over Abu Ghraib, is just part of a larger picture in politics that means within the USA government and laws have to be very carefully couched, coached and drafted to protect an international position that would be struck down if the US ratified the ICC and the “Rome Statute”.

    Where US law and legal definitions were in conflict with the ICC and “Rome Statute”, The US Laws, at least on an international basis would not stand – so the definitions of rape and sexual violence from The ICC and related tribunals would be used – thereby causing pressure across the US judicial systems to change. It seems that the FBI have recently yielded in part – but attempted to re-write in a way that maintains a separation from International law and now accepted norms.

    Who would think that crimes in other countries would make it harder for victims and survivors in the USA to fight their corner and have voices heard.

    Politics is a dirty busniess.

  9. Titfortat, I think the difference lies in what the two types of violence do to a person. Sexual violence preys on a person’s normal responses to sexual stimuli. To rape someone is to literally control how their body works, and that is disturbing. There was literally nothing I could do to stop myself from getting an erection during certain acts, even acts that I absolutely hated. Worse, I think that I may have learned to respond sexually to certain acts almost in a Pavlovian sense. Physical abuse at worst teaches a person to tune out pain, but it does not create that same level of control over a person’s body.

    That said, being tied up and having someone torture you has the same mental impact as being raped. It is still a total violation of a person’s body. One is not necessarily worse than the other, but they do have slightly different impacts on people.

  10. That said, a friend talked to me once about why people are often sexually tortured, like at Abu Ghraib. He said, that basically, they do it because it works, to break people down quickly. It works, better than physical torture.

    I would not say that it is better, but it is certainly faster. It is a more immediate violation of a person’s body, especially for men since they are expected to have total control over their bodies. Also, people will be less inclined to tell others about what happened, forcing them to rely on the torturer for support. However, just like with physical torture, people can get used to sexual torture, and so the threat of it loses its impact. I think this is why most sexual torture includes some threat of physical violence or actual physical violence.

  11. Thanks MH. Now I understand better my questioning the FBI’s new rape definition. It really gets ugly.

  12. @ Titfortat: A recommendation for you would be to read some texts on “emotional incest”. It is a concept which describes how and why some forms of abuse not sexual or even perhaps physically violent at all can still have an equally devastating effect as rape.

    Emotional abuse is an extremely dangerous matter and has many death victims (suicide, insanity). The perpetrators are often female and hide beneath the same protective cover which is described on this site in relation to pedophile acts committed by women.

    Forced emotional intimacy and “feeding” can create the same serious symptoms in a victim as can rape – in fact the feelings of being thoroughly soiled, shamed and destroyed as a person, are very alike.

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