Male Disclosure of Sexual Abuse and Rape

Jennifer C. Yeager, MSc; Joshua Fogel, PhD


Topics in Advanced Practice Nursing eJournal. 2006;6(1) 

In This Article

Rape Myths

The reactions that men are likely to receive upon disclosure of rape can also affect their likelihood to disclose. The prevailing assumption in society is that men are not as affected by rape and/or rape does not really happen to men. Although this myth has received some support in the literature,[3] research on the socialization of men has shown that this "non-reaction" to abuse is an effort to appear masculine rather than a true depiction that men are not as affected by rape as women.[4,5]

This cultural myth also carries through into psychological research, where the vast majority of studies investigating sexual assault and/or rape either excludes men completely or only includes them as perpetrators. In fact, Davies[7] goes as far as to contend that the publicity rape has received as a feminist issue has contributed to the isolation experienced by male victims of sexual assault. The concept of women as victims and men as perpetrators is so institutionalized that the majority of surveys assessing the prevalence of these occurrences also use gender-biased measures.

In general, the extensive research on rape myths shows that male and female victims tend to be perceived in accordance with gender stereotypes.[8] For instance, male victims tend to incur blame when they fail to adhere to the male stereotype (ie, being in control, unemotional, and able to fend off attack), whereas female victims incur blame according to specific characteristics (ie, if they were perceived as passive, vulnerable, or sexual).

Similarly, ignorance and skepticism about male sexual assault has also informed myths that stem from the traditional view of masculinity which dictates that men should be assertive, sexually dominant, and heterosexual.[7] Beliefs that men cannot be raped or are not as affected by rape as are women often diminish the true impact of male rape, as well as place blame on the victim. These rape myths may even be used by the victims themselves to self-blame for the assault, believing that they were somehow responsible (ie, "as a man I should have fought harder to stop being raped").

Struckman-Johnson and Struckman-Johnson[9] report evidence suggesting that male rape myths may be more influential when the rapist is female. Although men and women are raped in similar ways (ie, through violent attacks with weapons, deliberate intoxication, or verbal coercion) and by similar perpetrators (ie, friends, lovers, strangers), it is difficult for society to imagine a woman forcing a man to have sex, or for a man to be unwilling to have sex if the opportunity occurs. Also, it is difficult for people to believe that men can become aroused (and even ejaculate) during rape (even though men report feeling fear and disgust during and after a sexual assault).

These authors[9] also contend that men who report not having profoundly negative responses to rape may be interpreting the experience in terms of their masculine identity to reduce the impact of the experience. They argue that men are socialized to engage in sexual activity if the opportunity exists; as a result, sexual coercion or intimidation by women may be considered a sexual experience (albeit a negative one) rather than sexual assault or rape. However, it should be noted that although some perpetrators of male rape are female, the vast majority of both male and female rapes by strangers are committed by a male perpetrator.

All of the aforementioned factors can cause family, friends, and caregivers to respond negatively to male victims. In other words, the people a man may turn to for support may question whether or not the rape occurred or cast doubts on the victim's masculinity or sexual orientation. In turn, these reactions and retraumatization (also called a "second assault") can contribute to the survivors' feelings of blame and/or shame.[6]

Despite the extensive amount of research done to support or counteract rape myths, there are some serious weaknesses in the existing research. For example, studies concerning male victims are sparse and normally only investigate institutional male rape (ie, prison rape). This lack of research on male victims also reflects the likelihood that men will not report rape in order to avoid being labeled as homosexual or weak. In addition, the vast majority of rape myth studies investigate people's rape perceptions using rape scenarios or vignettes.

For instance, White and Robinson-Kurpius's[8] rape vignettes presented descriptions of a heterosexual female rape victim, a homosexual female rape victim, a heterosexual male rape victim, and a homosexual male rape victim. However, in each scenario the perpetrator was male and the rape depicted was a "stereotypical" stranger rape. These vignettes cannot therefore generalize to situations in which gang rape, date rape, and other rapes committed by someone known to the victim have taken place. Another limitation to the existing research is that the majority of these studies have been based on the responses of university-level undergraduate students and cannot be generalized to the population at large.


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