Part 1: Men are survivors, too.
I belong to several organizations that support mental health, survivors of violence, and wellness. It makes me proud to be involved in these organizations because they have the ability to positively impact the communities they serve. Yet often, I feel misplaced, especially regarding the value or insight I bring to the group. Usually, I find myself as the only person or among the few identifying as male in these spaces. But men can be survivors, too. I often wonder why more men do not speak about their wellness and mental health or share their stories and experiences with abuse or assault.
It is more common than you think: relationship, sexual abuse, and assault among men
Abuse doesn’t discriminate; anyone can be assaulted despite their race, gender, or socioeconomic status. Assault amongst men is more common than you think. One in 10 men have experienced rape, physical violence, and stalking by an intimate partner, but unfortunately, that’s a fact a lot of people aren’t aware of. Researchers found that 1 in 6 men experienced sexual abuse or assault as adults or in childhood. Although these numbers seem high, it is underestimated as men who have experienced assault or sexual abuse are less likely to disclose or seek help than those who identify as female. I also want to acknowledge that while we often think in terms of binary gender, anyone, regardless of your ability or gender identity, can be impacted by abuse, and those who identify as non-binary or trans can be at greater risk for abuse.
In our society, men are expected to embody strength, not show emotions or be vulnerable, and constantly protect themselves and those they love. Men may feel guilty that they were not “strong” enough to prevent the abuse or assault. This enforces the traditional stereotype that men must always be emotionless and resilient in every aspect of their lives. It normalizes victim-blaming and adds unnecessary pressure on the survivor rather than putting the responsibility on the one causing harm.
A well-known example of victim-blaming in mainstream media is when Terry Crews bravely came forward about being sexually assaulted. Instead of people supporting Crews during the difficult situation, people questioned how he could allow this to
happen. Crews also shared he invested half a million dollars to prove his assault. If it was difficult for someone like Terry Crews to demonstrate what happened to him because of the backlash and resistance, imagine someone with less access to resources or notoriety. I have read countless stories of men, just like Terry Crews, coming forward for help and instead are not taken seriously or ridiculed by their peers or professionals.
We need to educate people on the spectrum of abuse and sexual assault. Personally, I didn’t fully understand that my past experiences fell under sexual assault. For the longest time, I believed sexual assault equaled rape, and I didn’t realize unwanted touching fell under that definition. I’ve dealt with my fair share of mental health challenges, suicide ideations, and past trauma of unwanted touching from men and women. While my past of sexual assault is incomparable to others, I understand the short-term and long-term effects of feeling ashamed, embarrassed, and powerless. These moments affect my sense of security, body issues, and how I express intimacy and vulnerability. Being a Hispanic man who is queer and disabled, I have different intersectional identities, making it more difficult to process what happened to me on numerous occasions.
Breaking the stigma of sexual abuse and men
One of the biggest problems I encounter is people who cannot comprehend men as victims or survivors. They firmly believe men can’t be sexually assaulted, abused, or victimized. Often, they think that men who are sexually assaulted are better off and experience less harm compared to women survivors; this is far from the truth. In fact, it perpetuates harmful forms of masculinity and a power dynamic that makes all genders more vulnerable to abuse. Relationship abuse and sexual assault is sexual assault, no matter who experiences it. Every assault is different, and each survivor will react differently, too. Men can be and are survivors — their stories are equally valid. We must take EVERY assault seriously because everyone deserves to feel validated, supported, and loved.
In pop culture, a standard solution to ending men’s problems is vulnerability and allowing themselves to cry. While people must discover their vulnerability, it looks different for everyone, especially men. Crying is not the only way healing can occur. Men should feel empowered and comfortable to speak up, but it is their decision. Based on an article by Mission Harbor Behavioral Health, men are more likely to hide their emotions because they have been conditioned from a young age to uphold a specific male image. But masking your feelings will likely lead to turmoil, anger, and even more intense emotions, which isn’t healthy for your physical and mental health. Many men have concealed their feelings for almost their entire lives, so taking the step to understand their emotions isn’t a simple process. This is a complicated, complex issue; we must be proactive and patient simultaneously.
We need to create more spaces for men to openly discuss vulnerability and positive forms of masculinity in a non-judgmental place, advocate for more domestic violence shelters that serve male survivors and survivors of all genders, and incorporate genderless, inclusive language when describing survivors and abusive partners.
Although it may seem like most services for sexually abused or assaulted victims are focused on females, I want men and all genders to know that there are services for them too. So, if you are concerned that you or someone you know might have experienced relationship abuse or assault, regardless of gender or sexual orientation, contact love is respect. Their advocates are there to listen and offer support and resources 24/7/365 to all victims and survivors, including men.
Feel free to call love is respect at 1-866-331-9474, chat with our advocates at loveisrespect.org, or text “LOVEIS” to 22522.
By: Zane Landin
love is respect Youth Council Member
Answers shouldn’t be hard to find.
We're here to help!