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.