Dealing with the effects

Men dealing with the effects of childhood sexual abuse and sexual assault

There is no prescribed way of how people are affected by sexual abuse or sexual assault; everyone is different. However, we do know sexual abuse or sexual assault can have profound effects on men's lives. Below is a list of some common problems that have been identified through research and talking with men which are associated with an experience of child sexual abuse or sexual assault:

  • Drug and Alcohol abuse
  • Suicidal thoughts and action
  • Flashbacks/Invasive thoughts
  • Nightmares/insomnia
  • Anger
  • Anxiety
  • Depression – Mood swings
  • Mental health difficulties
  • Self blame
  • Guilt/Shame/Humiliation
  • Fear/Numbness
  • Sense of loss, helplessness, isolation and alienation
  • Low self–esteem, self doubt, diminished self belief
  • Difficulties with relationships and intimacy
  • Problems related to masculinity and gender identity
  • Questions and difficulties related to sexuality [1]

The above list is by no means exhaustive; some men face additional difficulties that do not appear on this list and the degree to which these problems appear and impact on men's lives differ considerably amongst men.

Problems related to 'being a man'

Unfortunately, men who have experienced child sexual abuse or sexual assault not only have to deal with some of the above problems, but a set of difficulties specifically created by our society's limited gender expectations. Below is a list of problems that men who have been subjected to sexual violence often confront and relate to the gender expectations of what a man 'should do or be' in our community. Child sexual abuse or sexual assault can lead to:

  • Pressure to "prove" his manhood:

    • Physically – by becoming bigger, stronger and meaner, by engaging in dangerous or violent behaviour
    • Sexually – by having multiple female sexual partners, by always appearing 'up for it' and sexually in control
  • Confusion over gender and sexual identity
  • Sense of being inadequate as a man
  • Sense of lost power, control, and confidence in relation to manhood
  • Problems with closeness and intimacy
  • Sexual problems
  • Fear that the sexual abuse has caused or will cause him to become 'homosexual' or 'gay'
  • Homophobia – fear or intolerance of any form of 'homosexuality.'

As is apparent from the above list, some problems are specifically related to gender expectations and the social world in which a man lives. In sorting out any of these difficulties, it is important therefore to acknowledge the social and relational aspects of any identified problems and not to over-problematise the man himself.

Additional factors which influence the impact of sexual violence

The more we learn about child sexual abuse the more we come to see the multiple factors which can influence the extent of the impact on men's lives. Research has shown that what occurred, who was involved and how the man was responded to influences the types and degree of problems a man has to deal with.

Factors which have been found to be significant are:

  • the age at which the abuse began – earlier onset is linked to greater impact
  • the duration and frequency of the abuse – the longer it goes on for and more often it occurs the greater the impact
  • the type of activities which constituted the abuse – if there is penetration, use of violence and emotional manipulation the greater the impact
  • the nature of the relationship with the person perpetrating the abuse – if the person is a close family member or someone who was previously trusted the greater the impact
  • the number of persons involved in the abuse
  • the manner in which disclosure of the abuse occurred and how it was responded to – if a man is confronted with disbelief and lack of support , it can create further difficulties [2]

Although the above factors have been found to influence the extent of problems related to an experience of sexual violence, none of the identified factors automatically damns a man to a life of misery and pain. Research suggests the following three factors can also influence the degree of impact sexual violence has on a man’s life:

  1. The basic constitutional characteristics of the child (for example, temperament, sense of self-esteem and sense of personal control)
  2. A supportive family environment (warmth, nurturance, organization and so on)
  3. A supportive individual or agency that provides positive support that assists the child. [3]

Unfortunately, research suggests that currently men are less likely to access and receive support from family, friends and specialised sexual assault service than women. [4] It is important therefore that when men do come forward and seek assistance that friends, family and service professionals take time to listen to the man and link him in with appropriate support.

Some words about dealing with problems associated with child sexual abuse or sexual assault

In more recent years people have become very aware of the horrors of child sexual abuse or sexual assault and the significant impact that it can have on someone's life. When seeking to acknowledge some of the difficulties that men can face as a result of abuse or assault, care needs to be taken to recognise men's capacity to lead full and rewarding lives. Do not fall into the trap of making sexual abuse or sexual assault as explanatory of all life's problems.

When working with men around issues related to child sexual abuse or sexual assault, Jim Hopper [5] suggests it is useful to keep in mind that:

  • All human beings suffer painful experiences, and some of these occur in childhood.
  • Being sexually abused is one of many painful and potentially harmful events that a man may experience.
  • Whether and to what extent childhood sexual abuse and sexual assault (or other painful experiences) negatively affect our lives depends on a variety of factors (see below).
  • Child sexual abuse or sexual assault, in itself, does not "doom" people to lives of horrible suffering.
  • If a person has been sexually abused and experiences some problems or symptoms, the abuse is not necessarily the primary (let alone only)reason for these difficulties.
  • All caregivers of children are sometimes unable to protect children from painful experiences.
  • We all need love and support to deal with the effects of painful experiences.
  • Everyone must find ways to acknowledge and deal with emotions generated by painful experiences – whether or not we receive support from others.
  • Many coping or self-regulation strategies work in some ways, but also limit us in other ways.
  • Following an experience of child sexual abuse or sexual assault, it is not unusual for people’s lives to become closely connected with problems related to that experience; however, seeing the person as the problem and all of his current difficulties as a result of sexual abuse or sexual assault can be counter-productive.
Putting problems out there: Questioning the problem, not the person

A useful way of dealing with problems is to put them out there, to make them external to us, to note how they came into our life and to explore the way that they work and how you might deal with them. Recognition of the fact that the origin of problems are not from within us, but related to our life experiences and the social world in which we live provides us with greater room to move.

When dealing with problems it can be useful to mark out and clearly identify the parameters of a problem. Not all problems that are associated with child sexual abuse or sexual assault are the same. Whereas some problems like physical injuries might have a clear link to sexual assault, other problems like excessive alcohol or drug use may have been a strategy for managing unpleasant memories which has taken over and become problematic in and of itself. The possibility of sorting such problems out becomes more do-able, if they are understood as a habit that got of hand, rather than directly 'caused by' the sexual abuse or assault.

When seeking to deal with a problem it can be particularly useful to notice what is happening when the problem is not present. These unique moments can provide important clues as to how to evade and outwit particularly difficult problems. Noticing these moments can help break the hold problems can sometimes have over us in that they are no longer seen as all encompassing, but influenced by what we are doing or thinking, by circumstances and who else might be around.

Image of hope Hope for change

Hope for change often involves finding ways to acknowledge the horror and pain associated with the experience, whilst separating out and disentangling the problems from the person. If we see ourselves or the person as the problem then we can quickly become overwhelmed and get down on ourselves as somehow damaged, whereby change requires a complete overhaul of us and who we are. Such ideas can be diminishing of us and can leave us less able to accept and manage any difficulties. They can invisibilise our skills and knowledge, our competency in other areas and our capacity to live a full and rich life.

References

Bagley, C., Wood, M., & Young, L. (1994). Victim to abuser: Mental health and behavioral sequels of child sexual abuse in a community survey of young adult males. Child Abuse and Neglect, 18, 683-697.

Briere, J., Evans, D., Runtz, M., & Wall, T. (1988). Symptomatology in men who were molested as children: A comparison study. American Journal of Ortho-psychiatry, 58, 457-461.

Bruckner, D. F. & Johnson, P. E. (1987). Treatment for adult male victims of childhood sexual abuse. Social Casework, 68, 81-87.

Collings, S. J. (1995). The long-term effects of contact and noncontact forms of child sexual abuse in a sample of university men. Child Abuse & Neglect, 19, 1-6.

Dimock, P. T. (1988). Adult males sexually abused as children: Characteristics and implications for treatment. Journal of Interpersonal Violence, 3, 203-216.

Dube, S. R., et al. (2005). Long-term consequences of childhood sexual abuse by gender of victim. American Journal of Preventive Medicine, 28, 430-438.

Fromuth, M. E. & Burkhart, B. R. (1989). Long-term psychological correlates of childhood sexual abuse in two samples of college men. Child Abuse and Neglect, 13, 533-542.

Holmes, W. C., Slap, G. B. (1998). Sexual abuse of boys: Definition, prevalence, correlates, sequelae, and management. JAMA, Dec 2, 280(21), 1855-1162.

Hunter, M. (Ed.) (1990). The sexually abused male: Prevalence, impact, and treatment. Vol. 1. Lexington, MA: Lexington Books.

Hunter, M. (Ed.) (1996). The sexually abused male: Application of treatment strategies. Vol. 2. Lexington, MA: Lexington Books.

Lew, M. (1988). Victims no longer: Men recovering from incest and other child sexual abuse. New York: Nevraumont.

Olson, P. E. (1990). The sexual abuse of boys: A study of the long-term psychological effects. In M. Hunter (Ed.), The sexually abused male: Vol. 1. Prevalence, impact and treatment (pp.137-152). Lexington, MA: Lexington Books.

Peters, D. K. & Range, L. M. (1995). Childhood sexual abuse and current suicidality in college women and men. Child Abuse and Neglect, 19, 335-341.

[2] Condy, Sylvia Robbins, Donald I. Templer, Ric Brown and Lelia Veaco "Parameters of Sexual Contact of Boys with Women." Archives of Sexual Behavior. v.16.1987. 379-394.

Croweder, A. (1993) Opening the Door: Treatment Model for Therapy with Male Survivors of Sexual Abuse.

Crowder, Adrienne and Judy Myers-Avis. Group Treatment for Sexually Abused Adolescents. Holmes Beach, Florida: Learning Publications, 1993.

Pierce, Robert and Lois Hauck Pierce. "The Sexually Abused Child: A Comparison of Male and Female Victims." Child Abuse and Neglect. v.9. 1985. 191-199.

Hunter, M. (Ed.) (1990). The sexually abused male: Prevalence, impact, and treatment. Vol. 1. Lexington, MA: Lexington Books.

[3] Etherington, K. (1997). Maternal sexual abuse of males. Child Abuse Review. 6, 107-117

Mezey, G. C., & King, M. B. (Eds.) (1992). Male Victims of Sexual Assault. New York: Oxford University Press.

Urquiza, A. & Capra, M. (1990). The impact of sexual abuse: Initial and long-term effects. In M. Hunter (Ed.) The sexually abused male: Prevalence, impact, and treatment. Vol. 1. Lexington, MA: Lexington Books.

[4] Washington, Patricia A. "Second Assault of Male Survivors of Sexual Violence," Journal of Interpersonal Violence 14, no 7 (1999): 713-730.

[5] Jim Hopper. Sexual Abuse of Males: Prevalence Possible Lasting Effects and Resources at http://www.jimhopper.com/male%2Dab/

 

2 Comments

  • Mary says:

    What about the partners of men who have been sexually abused! No one ever seems to offer real support to them! Only understand what they have been through, be patient, and loving! It is hard ! Get flack and nothing you say is ever right and is misconstrued.

    • Jess says:

      Hi Mary,

      You’re so right, it can be really hard to support someone who has experienced trauma. We understand that partners can face some unique pressures and challenges, and on top of that can find it difficult to access support.

      We have collected some resources on this website that we hope begin to address some of these issues. Take a look at the “For Partners” section. You might also find the relationship pages useful. Finally, if you are in the South East Queensland area we offer counselling, as well as a support group specifically for partners of men who have experienced sexual abuse or assault. If you live elsewhere we offer telephone and online counselling. Please know that you are not alone.

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