Men Raped: Supporting the Male Survivor of
Sexual Assault on the College Campus
by Lester J. Manzano
Sexual assault has become imbued in campus culture. Although colleges and universities have combated this culture in many ways, what has resulted is a sexual assault survivors’ culture dominated by women. Issues of male sexual assault have not been addressed fully. Are institutions of higher learning prepared to support the male survivor on college campuses by doing away with the female-dominated culture of rape crisis and women’s centers and replacing them with gender- and sex-neutral centers? Are rape prevention education programs inclusive of men as victims of sexual assault? This article examines issues encountered by the male survivor of sexual assault, in addition to student perceptions of sexual assault, gender- and sex-inclusive rape education, and the under-reporting of sexual assault—male sexual assault in particular. Finally, the author discusses student affairs’ role in creating an inclusive environment in which the male survivor can break his silence.
My friend sat across our usual table in our familiar coffeeshop. Between sips of coffee, which had the dual role of satisfying a caffeine fit and stalling the conversation, my friend described and shared with me an incident of sexual assault. My friend disclosed a horrific story, complete with all the familiar characteristics of an acquaintance rape. This story, however, had what many would call a "twist"—my friend, the survivor, was male.
The occurrence of male sexual assault, wherein the victim is male, and the perpetrator is either male or female, has been overlooked by administrators at colleges and universities. General public and popular culture have traditionally viewed rape and other forms of sexual assault in the context of violence against women (Scarce, 1997). Scarce found that an estimated 5% to 10% of all rapes committed in the United States involve male victims. Sexual assault can happen to anyone. Laurent (1993) described the rape of a man or woman: "It’s not primarily a crime of sex—it’s a crime of violence, perpetrated against those who are seen to be vulnerable" (p. 19). In this respect, it is imperative that we take into account the occurrences of male sexual assault.
Statistics of female sexual assault, however under-reported, are well-known. According to Simon and Harris (1993), one in four college women will be a victim of sexual assault. For many student affairs professionals, this information is not new. However, what is striking is that Simon and Harris also found that one in six college men are victims of sexual assault. Further research by Struckman-Johnson (1991) supports the findings of male sexual assault on college campuses. She found that from 12% to 16% of male college students were forced into sexual intercourse by dating partners, and from less than 1% to as many as 7% of men reported being physically coerced into sex by dating partners.
Though the occurrence of male sexual assault may be minute compared to the number of assaults reported by women, the findings of these studies suggest that male sexual assault warrants attention. Efforts must be made to understand the effects of male sexual assault so that we, as student affairs professionals, can support the needs of male college students inclusively.
The Effects of Male Sexual Assault
Female vs. Male Sexual Assault
While society, to an extent, dictates differences between a woman’s and a man’s reaction to assault, similarities exist between the post-traumatic experiences of both. "The terror men feel can be just as great as that experienced by a woman, and fear freezes people" (Laurent, 1993, p. 19). According to a survey conducted by Struckman-Johnson and Struckman-Johnson (1992), 60% of male survivors believed they were going to be killed during the assault. Furthermore, these researchers found that men are raped by the full range of methods similarly used against women (e.g., use of weapons, threats, entrapment in rooms or cars, intoxication so as not to resist or give consent). Emotional issues of guilt and blame—common feelings of the female survivor—also make their way into the realm of male sexual assault. Laurent found that "men...have...guilt feelings that they must have done something and sent out some signals, rather than being in the wrong place at the wrong time" (p. 19).
Despite these similarities, it is important to note that the socialization of men in many cultures is reflected in many male survivors’ coping mechanisms. According to Rogers (1995), male victims are more likely than females to show a controlled manner (e.g., men are less likely to seek help at rape crisis centers, and men express less emotional struggle than women) as opposed to disorganizational manner (e.g., lost sense of control) in their initial response to the assault.
Rape Trauma Syndrome and Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder
It is a common result of sexual assault: Survivors often experience the psychological ramifications of an attack in the form of rape trauma syndrome and post-traumatic stress disorder. Struckman-Johnson (1991) reported that male survivors experience a type of post-traumatic stress disorder involving nightmares, flashbacks, recurrent thoughts about the assault, or panic attacks. Further, in the weeks or months following the assault, most male victims—like female victims—report changes in their mood or life-style, some experiencing depression, inability to sleep, and loss of appetite.
Post-rape trauma syndrome refers to the two-stage reaction of assault seen in many female survivors. An acute "disorganizational" phase lasts a few days or up to two to three weeks when physical symptoms and fear are prominent. A "reorganizational" phase then occurs during which the woman gradually comes to terms with the rape. The extent to which these same reactions can be seen in male victims has not been studied; however, research suggests that men who are sexually assaulted undergo a trauma syndrome that is similar, but not identical, to that of women (Burgess & Holmstrom, 1974).
Supporting the Male Survivor
Men who have been sexually assaulted face many issues beyond the disbelief that the assault took place. They are likely to find their sexual identity as much in question as the actual occurrence of the assault (Laurent, 1993). The issue of being perceived as a gay man is a typical concern for the survivor. In supporting male survivors, we must be aware of this concern in addition to the underlying fears of having lost strength and control.
Society believes that men are emotionally strong, and many people assume that male sexual assault survivors are able to cope with the experience (Struckman-Johnson & Struckman-Johnson, 1992). However, men are more likely than women to blame themselves for not being able to resist the attacker (Laurent, 1993). These differences in male and female responses to sexual assault may be seen as a reflection of sex-role socialization. Emotional expression in men is perceived as a sign of weakness and vulnerability, both of which are evidence that they are less than "real men." However, most findings suggest that male victims of sexual assault experience very similar responses to those of females (Struckman-Johnson & Struckman-Johnson).
Beyond support from friends or professionals, male survivors must consider the challenges of reporting sexual assault to campus police or other authorities. It is important to realize that a male survivor’s masculinity has already been challenged once by the attack, and he may feel that it will be challenged again by authorities (Laurent, 1993).
Lack of Support on the College Campus
Under-Reporting of Male Rape
Sexual assault, in general, is a rarely reported crime. Male sexual assault is even more under-reported. Much of this is a result of the myths about such incidents. College students’ beliefs such as "it can’t happen to men" or "men are able to handle such a situation" contribute to stereotypes, prejudices, and disbelief when it comes to reporting an incident of male sexual assault (Struckman-Johnson & Struckman-Johnson, 1992). These researchers stated:
To the extent men believe that being sexually assaulted reflects personal blame or weakness, they are unlikely to report the incident. To the extent that police, medical, and legal authorities accept male rape myths, they will fail to ask male victims if rape has occurred, or may respond inappropriately if rape has clearly happened. Consequently, a cycle of silence is maintained. (p. 98)
Further, Scarce (1997) recognized gender differences in reporting, possibly due to socialization in many societies, and found that fewer men than women are willing to report being raped.
A Female-Dominated Culture of Support
Campus cultures long ago moved toward becoming supportive of women in a male-dominated world. Across the nation, colleges and universities are establishing women’s centers to serve as resources for women. Often, sexual assault education and prevention programs are set up through women’s centers. Meanwhile, other institutions may establish their own rape crisis centers, usually staffed by women and displaying women-specific literature. "Male survivors of sexual assault may be less likely to report or seek treatment for their assault, in part because these men view rape crisis centers and hot-lines as having been established to serve only women" (Scarce, 1997, p. 172).
For the male survivor of sexual assault, the dilemma is that college rape education and prevention programs are often housed within these women’s centers or run by organizations that provide services and funding to female survivors. Many of these programs have mission statements that define their priority as the improvement of the campus climate for women while empowering them to overcome obstacles of sexism (Scarce, 1997).
What can administrators at institutions of higher learning do to create a more inclusive environment, so that male survivors will feel they have an outlet for resources and are supported on the college campus?
Heightening Awareness and Offering Support
Creating an Inclusive and Open Campus Community
Firkaly and Benn (1995) analyzed characteristics of a rape-prone culture and a rape-free culture. Although their suggestions are modeled after a sexist culture of male dominance, the characteristics can be applied to campus environments such that colleges and universities become rape-free environments. They described a rape-prone culture in which men are socialized to be the "stronger" gender; political, economic, and religious powers are held by men; and traditional "women’s work" is devalued. The researchers went on to describe a rape-free culture in which both men and women are in respected and influential decision-making positions; religious rituals are shared equally by men and women; and male and female qualities are valued equally. Much of these characteristics can be applied to rape-prone and rape-free campus environments.
Meanwhile, Scarce (1997) offers suggestions for increasing awareness of male sexual assault on college campuses through six different areas. Within these areas, administrators at a college or university can measure and evaluate whether or not services are offered which would support the male survivor of sexual assault:
1.Prepare resources and referrals for male survivors (i.e., publish male specific or gender-neutral literature and provide counseling for male-specific issues).
2.Provide training to campus health clinic and emergency room staff (e.g., forensic collection of evidence in rape cases should include male-specific content).
3.Determine and address the legal implications of same-sex rape (i.e., Do law enforcement officials receive sexual assault sensitivity training? Is the occurrence of male rape addressed? How does law define sexual assault?).
4.Ensure that campus policies apply to same-sex sexual violence (e.g., be sure that language is inclusive of the reality of male sexual assault).
5.Conduct prevention and education work in addition to treatment. Reacting is not enough. "Absence of attention to male rape denies the reality of same-sex rape and subsequently renders male survivors invisible" (Scarce, p. 173).
6.Provide culturally competent programs (i.e., address not only male issues of sexual assault, but issues regarding ethnicity and concerns of gay, lesbian, bisexual, and transgendered students).
College and University Peer Education Programs
Peer education and prevention programs provide outreach and disseminate information regarding sexual assault on the college campus. In doing so, it is important to engage students in discussions of male sexual assault. Subsequently, such programs heighten awareness, and students begin to view the occurrence of male sexual assault as more than a myth.
Currently, information about male sexual assault is frequently absent in campus rape education and prevention programming, because the general public and popular culture have traditionally viewed rape in the context of violence against women (Scarce, 1997). What we must move toward is rape education and rape prevention programming inclusive of the topic of male sexual assault. Further, literature must become gender-neutral to avoid giving men the impression that rape or other forms of sexual assault cannot happen to them.
Male sexual assault is a reality. It is a reality which can no longer be overlooked by administrators and educators at colleges and universities. In light of the findings of the prevalence of male sexual assault and the special concerns of the occurrence of male sexual assault, it is important to establish a campus environment where male survivors feel supported and not neglected by the present culture of campus environments and the current support services in place for female survivors of sexual assault.
Research has found male survivors suffer from effects of assault similar to that of female survivors. Rape trauma syndrome and post-traumatic stress disorder are common psychological manifestations of sexual assault. With societal constructs of men’s emotional strength and stoicism, there are additional concerns for men who have been sexually assaulted. In all areas of colleges and universities’ support services and in areas of rape prevention education, it is important to address the issues faced by both male and female survivors.
Areas of college and university services which must become aware of male survivors’ concerns include: student health, campus police, counseling, rape prevention and awareness education, and women’s and rape crisis centers. When these areas come together to create an environment where the incidents of male sexual assault are not overlooked, but rather addressed and valued, a campus environment in which male survivors are comfortable reporting incidents and seeking support will be fostered. It is this community of inclusive support which will help the male survivor to break his silence.