Forget masculinity, men are sexually assaulted too…
“I was sexually molested by my aunt when I was ten years old. I am thirty-six years old and I still struggle with masturbation and depression,” said 36-year old Emmanuel Akintola, a victim of sexual abuse.
That experience with his aunt scarred his mind and he would rather not talk about it. Eventually, he summoned the courage to speak up about the disheartening experience twenty-six years later. But the scars are deeply ingrained, and the demons of his past are always lurking in the shadows.
Gender stereotypes make it harder for men to cry out for help when they fall prey to sexual assault perpetrated by women, the supposed ‘weaker sex’. These labels are further accentuated by some erroneous myths. In some climes, it is almost a taboo for a man to say he has been sexually assaulted by a woman. The derision that comes with such confession can be more damaging than the sexual assault itself. To avoid a case of double jeopardy, men, most often than not, refrain from sharing their assault stories with people and those who can help them. Invariably, this gives a facade of men invincibility.
But reports show that one in six men have suffered sexual abuse either in childhood or as adults.
In August 2018, #MeToo advocate and Italian actress Asia Argento was allegedly accused by Jimmy Bennett, a former co-star of sexually assaulting him when he was 17 years old.
According to the New York Times, Bennett, although Argento denied the claim, it was further revealed that she reached a deal to pay him off with $380,000. Meanwhile, she was one of the first set of women to share accounts of sexual assaults perpetrated by the Hollywood executive, Harvey Weinstein which spurred more women to speak up about their personal encounter with Weinstein which were mostly smeared with rape, abuse, and assault.
Despite the prevalence of male sexual assault in our society, there is a culture of silence which obscures the severity of this menace.
“Sexual abuse is not gender neutral, both men and women are susceptible to assault, said Ayodeji Osowobi, Founder of STER (Stand To End Rape Initiative).
Toxic masculinity lends weight to the cultural beliefs which cause many men to suppress the trauma which stems from sexual abuse.
The precarious social narratives revolving around gender depict men as physically stronger with a higher propensity to crave for sex while women, in contrast, are portrayed as passive and weaker. However, many fail to realise that men can and do fall victim to all forms of violence, including sexual assault. There is a high number of male sexual abuse victims, but we rarely hear about them because compared to women, they are often shamed into silence and afraid of speaking up and reaching out for support.
“Initially, I was afraid of women but outgrew it years later. I just started to talk about the incident about 2 years ago,” he said.
Unfortunately, most men who have experienced such form of abuse do not take steps towards addressing the negative effects until their late thirties or forties, and sometimes never.
For instance, Mirabel Centre, a sexual assault referral centre, has received and treated only 92 male rape victims since it opened on July 1, 2013.
Psychologists said this trend has layers of effects as delayed recovery can have a ripple effect on the life of a survivor and the people closest to him.
“There is really no difference in the effects of sexual abuse on both men and women, except for the timeline it takes to speak up about this issue. While women tend to be more open about it, therefore, reaching out for support faster in contrast to men,” said a Psychologist, Yinkore Angel.
Male survivors risk exposure to both physical and mental health issues when they do not seek help. These include substance abuse, PTSD, chronic health conditions, depression, suicidal thoughts, self-destructive behaviour amongst others which further lead to direr social issues such as failed relationships, self-inflicted violence, moral deterioration and more.
While ample attention and resources have been devoted to catering to the needs of female victims of sexual violence intangible and abstract terms, fewer efforts have been aimed by advocacy groups at liberating men from the shackles of society imposed codes that cause them to embrace silence instead of seeking for help.
We must understand that men also experience sexual abuse and the incidence of assault perpetrated by women are high in numbers. Men need support too.
Akintola said it is important for parents and guardians to extend the same level of protection given to the girl child to boys. That way they are able to find strength speaking out. Invariable the culture that expects the woman to be vulnerable and open about her struggles but demands the man to be stoic in spite of negative consequence needs to be repressed.
We can support male sexual assault victims, by sensitizing the public about the cultural stereotypes which hamper men from speaking out, which will contribute greatly to their recovery that, it is okay to seek for help. Breaking the silence around the subject of male sexual abuse doesn’t just create a safe haven for men to step forward about their plight, it also helps them to find healing.
This report is undertaken with support from Code For Africa to amplify the Gender Gap conversation
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