How Can Child Sexual Abuse Affect Male Survivors?
Many male survivors of child sexual abuse suffer from shame. We understand. You are not alone, and it is safe to talk about how you feel it.
Why is shame so crippling?
- Boys are conditioned from birth to be “tough,” “brave,” and “strong.” Maybe more significantly, boys are taught that they are expected to protect themselves and others from harm. So, when a boy is sexually abused, the survivor often feels like he failed to protect himself. He might blame himself for not fighting off the attacker, which is what “being a man” would have meant. So even though the abuser may have been someone the boy loved and trusted, this often brings a sense of shame that haunts many survivors for their entire lifetime.
- Sexual abuse of a child is an extremely confusing experience for that child, as it often involves the abuser exploiting trust and love in order to abuse the child. Abusers might manipulate the child by suggesting that the abuse is a healthy expression of love, which can leave lasting effects on the child. This confusion can manifest itself in harmful ways throughout the child’s life and male survivors can be plagued with persistent confusion throughout their life, including sexual identity crises and homophobia.
- Many children never report what happened because they do not think they will be believed. Sometimes those fears materialize when a survivor does come forward to friends and family and is not believed or even shamed into silence. This can create added resentment and confusion as the child feels further harmed by those who he trusted to help and who had the opportunity to help and failed to help them.
These factors combine to establish clear trends in self-destructive behaviors that are common among many male survivors that manifest themselves in many harmful ways, including suicide, substance abuse, and violence.
How can male survivors fight and defeat this shame?
- Understand that you were just a child and that it was not your fault. Predatory grooming is a powerful force against a child: Less than five percent of child sexual abuse is perpetrated under threat or force. Instead, predators “trick” kids by using things like gifts, flattery, secrets, alcohol, and drugs, pornography, “rites of passages” (made-up events that the predator says will make the “boy” a “man”), sports hazing, mentorship, coaching, or acceptance. A survivor should remember that they were a child under significant pressure to obey these authority figures and that predators know that. Predators use these methods to get children to comply – you are not alone.
- Talk about the abuse and get help. There are groups and therapists who specialize in addressing the unique needs of male survivors of child sexual abuse.
- Report the abuse to keep other kids safe. Survivors coming forward over the past decades has done so much good for children today because nobody can deny that it happens anymore. Under this type of scrutiny, organizations are forced to take steps to keep kids safer in ways that may have helped you. Telling the truth helps protect the future.
- Never forget: child sexual abuse is a crime of power. It has nothing to do with the sexual identity of the victim and does not define you or your identity as an adult.
- Understand that you were just a boy—a child—when the abuse occurred. While you were once powerless against the abuser, you have the power to heal and feel whole again.
Researcher, author, and TED Talk speaker, Dr. Brené Brown says, “Shame is the intensely painful feeling that we are unworthy of love and belonging. It’s the most primitive human emotion we all feel – and the one no one wants to talk about. If left to its own devices, shame can destroy lives … shame needs three things to grow in our lives: secrecy, silence, and judgment.”
When we address the secrecy, silence, and judgment, we will change lives, heal our pain, and keep boys safer from abuse right now.