As society begins to recognize that males can and are sexually abused at a much higher rate than originally thought, there is still a fair amount of misinformation floating around about male sexual abuse. Acceptance not only means trying to figure out what to do for male victims that should be receiving the right types of support; it also opens up the door to the reality that sexual violence is a societal issue – not a “girl’s issue” and focusing on girls to change their behaviour, or their attitudes, or where they live or walk or eat or drink or breathe won’t fix the problem.
Below are a list of common myths and misconceptions around the sexual abuse of males.
Myth #1 – Boys and men can’t be victims.
This myth has been around for a long time and is constantly reinforced through the macho image that boys are often socialized towards. This macho image makes it very clear that males, no matter the age, are not supposed to be victims or even vulnerable in any way. This leaves boys, in particular young boys, quite vulnerable because we aren’t teaching them how to protect themselves in the way we maybe should be and that has more to do with feelings and learning how to stand up for yourself that isn’t relying on physical strength. Children, male or female are more vulnerable than their perpetrators and fighting back isn’t an option. The perpetrator’s power often comes from a position of authority where using money or other bribes, or outright threats – whatever advantage can be taken to use a child for sexual purposes, is common.
Did you know that heart attack and stroke is the number one leading cause of death for adult women? Yet, when you think about heart attack, the first thing most people (of my generation at least) think about is an adult male. It took the medical profession a little while to catch onto the different presentation of symptoms in females before changes could happen in how women were being treated. Male sexual abuse is not really much different from a philosophical perspective. Just because we haven’t always recognized that the presentation of behaviours might be related to sexual violence, doesn’t mean it doesn’t exist. More studies show that long-term effects are quite damaging for either sex. Males may be particularly vulnerable due to society’s refusal or reluctance to accept their victimization, and by their resultant belief that they must “tough it out” in silence.
Myth #3 – Most sexual abuse of boys is perpetrated by homosexual males.
The number one predictor of child sexual abuse is access, not preference. Adults who molest boys are not expressing a homosexual orientation any more than adults who molest girls are practicing heterosexual behaviors. While some child molesters have gender and/or age preferences, of those who seek out boys, the vast majority are not homosexual. We would be much farther ahead if our society could recognize the difference between sex and abuse.
While there are different theories about how sexual orientation develops, experts in the human sexuality field do not believe that premature sexual experiences play a significant role in late adolescent or adult sexual orientation. It is highly unlikely that someone can make another person a homosexual or heterosexual. Sexual orientation is a complex issue and there is no single answer or theory that explains why someone identifies himself as homosexual, heterosexual or bi-sexual. Whether perpetrated by older males or females, boys’ or girls’ premature sexual experiences are damaging in many ways but they do not dictate a person’s sexual orientation.
Many boys who have been abused by males erroneously believe that something about them sexually attracts males, and that this may mean they are homosexual or effeminate. Again, not true. The fact they were a child is often much more arousing than the fact that they were male.
Myth #5 – Sexually abuse boys grow up to sexually abuse others.
When professionals were first starting to get a handle on sexual abuse of children, there was this common theme that emerged where the abuser had also been a victim at some point in their past. That led to a quick and incorrect assumption that being sexually abused means you’re going to grow up to be a sexually abusive person. Researchers have identified two key factors that are important to take note of; one, early childhood experiences can be detrimental or protective for a child but one type of abuse or experience is not necessarily enough to influence a child to grow up to be abusive. It is often a combination of many things and many adults who sexually abuse others have never been sexually abused themselves.
The other factor that is very important is a key difference that is often found between victims who never perpetrated against others and those that did and it centers around our reactions to victims. Imagine, the way we respond to child victims can partially hold the key to who may grow up to heal and who may grow up to hurt others (imagine that). Child and adolescent victims who did not grow up to abuse others often told about the abuse and were believed and supported by significant people in their lives. The belief and support can become the protective factors that can help a victim heal and is something we should strive to do a better job of as a culture and society.
Myth #6 – If a boy experiences sexual arousal or orgasm from abuse, this means he was a willing participant or enjoyed it.
In reality, any child – male or female – can respond physically to stimulation (get an erection / become aroused) even in traumatic or painful sexual situations. We assume that abuse automatically means the victim’s body will not respond in the same manner as it would in a healthy sexual relationship. The reality is, we have no control over how our bodies will respond and they are made to respond in certain ways – regardless of the circumstances sometimes. Therapists who work with sexual offenders know that one way a perpetrator can maintain secrecy is to label the child’s sexual response as an indication of his or her willingness to participate. “You liked it, you wanted it,” they’ll say. Many survivors feel guilt and shame because they experienced physical arousal while being abused. Physical (and visual or auditory) stimulation is likely to happen in a sexual situation. It does not mean that the child wanted the experience or understood what it meant at the time.
In reality, premature or coerced sex, whether by a mother, aunt, older sister, baby-sitter or other female in a position of power over a boy, causes confusion at best, and rage, depression or other problems in more negative circumstances. To be used as a sexual object by a more powerful person, male or female, is always abusive and often damaging.
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