Surviving sexual abuse (young men)
Abuse; sexual; incest; assault; rape; sex; gay; feelings; pornography; trust; self esteem; nightmare; memories;
Sexual abuse is a serious crime and can have many short and long term effects on a victim/survivor. The effects of sexual abuse are not the same for every person, individuals may feel varied emotions that can depend on their own circumstances. The abuse may have happened a long time ago, or be more recent.
This topic will explore feelings related to abuse and offer ideas that can help. This topic focuses on issues related to young men who have been subjected to sexual abuse and the issues they may experience. For information regarding young women and sexual abuse see our topic Surviving sexual abuse (young women)
If you are currently at risk or in a situation of abuse and live in South Australia, you can call Police Attendance on 131 444, or 000 immediate assistance.
For further assistance in South Australia you can call:
The South Eastern Centre Against Sexual Assault offers a range of information resources specifically for male survivors
In other states and countries please call your local crisis service or police service.
Sexual abuse can be physical, verbal and/or emotional. It is an abuse of power and often of trust by someone who exploits their power over you and uses you for their own sexual pleasure. A sexual assault is any action or group of actions that are of a sexual nature that makes you feel uncomfortable, frightened and is unwanted. Being a man and having experienced sexual abuse is not a rare thing and more men are choosing to come forward and talk about their experiences.
are sexual abuse?
- having parts of your body touched in a sexual way.
- being kissed inappropriately which made you feel uncomfortable.
- being told to touch parts of your own body.
- making you touch parts of his or her body.
- being made to watch him/her masturbate or touch his/her own body in a sexual way.
- being forced to act or model for pornographic purposes.
- being forced to watch pornographic material.
- being watched whilst showering or changing.
- putting objects (including penis and fingers) in the anus or mouth.
- making you have sex, or do sexual things with other people.
- making sexual comments and suggestions to you.
/assault and the law
Sexual assault and sexual abuse is illegal. The law says that if you did not freely agree to any sexual acts then you have not said yes. It is not OK for someone to offer money, favour or gifts to try and get you to do sexual things that you do not want to do.
If you have been subjected to sexual abuse then you are a victim of a crime. When people sexually abuse others they know what they are doing and that it is against the law.
If you wish to report a situation of abuse you can contact the police even if the abuse happened many years ago.
In South Australia if you wish to report a situation of abuse you can contact your local Police station or the Sexual Crime Investigation Branch on 8172 5555 in Adelaide for support and information about the reporting process and the legal steps after this.
If you do not feel comfortable reporting to the police you can speak with a counsellor or health professional at many community health centres and youth health services. It is important when you choose to disclose your information that you choose someone who is safe and will treat your information with care.
The commonly held stereotype of a sexual abuser is that of an old man in a raincoat hanging around in parks. The reality is that most sexual abuse is perpetrated by people known to the victims. Men and women who sexually abuse young men come in many different shapes, ages and jobs. It can be difficult if the perpetrator of the abuse is a woman as men are often told that any sexual contact with a woman is good. If you have been sexually abused by a woman this can lead to feeling isolated and confused. Men also rape and sexually abuse other men and this can be very difficult for young men to cope with.
If you have been sexually abused it may have left you thinking "why me?" This can leave you feeling like you have somehow attracted the abuser to you or somehow you deserve to be abused. This is not the case at all. People who sexually abuse other people do not do so because you have done something to make yourself attractive to them .
No person, male or female, has the right to make any child or young person do sexual things they would not have freely chosen to do.
- why is it hard for young men to tell?
Some young men feel that if they disclose (tell someone about what happened) they will be harshly judged by those around them. Sometimes young men feel like they are less masculine and feel like they should have been able to fight the perpetrator off. This makes it harder for young men to talk about the abuse. What is important is to remember that sexual abuse/assault is an abuse of power and it is not your fault.
People who abuse may use tactics to stop you telling anybody about what has happened to you. Some of these may include the following:
- making threats of violence to you or your family.
- giving you gifts, money or favours to keep you from telling anybody
- making friends with your family or others
- convincing you that it was your fault and the repercussions of telling will be negative for you and your family
- acting in a threatening or frightening way.
Not telling anybody does not mean that you are weak, stupid, that you wanted it or could have stopped it. It may have been the safest option for you at the time. Only you can make the decision about when you want to report the abuse, after you have talked to people about it and gained the information and support you need to do so.
Some people in your life whom you might choose to talk to may include teachers, counsellors, social workers, doctors or nurses. All of these people are mandatory notifiers and have a legal responsibility to report any form of abuse they have cause to believe may be occurring in relation to young people under 18. This will mean they may need to report your situation to Families SA who may or may not take action. For more information about mandatory notification talk to your counsellor or health professional.
The effects of sexual abuse can vary a great deal between survivors. You could be reminded of the abuse in many different ways and at different times and often this might feel out of your control. There are no time limits on how long you may feel the effects of sexual abuse. Even if you have access to help that you find supportive, it will not take the past away, but may lessen the long term negative effects and help you to develop more coping skills. Choose someone you feel completely comfortable with, who respects you and listens to you, to help you through this very difficult time.
It is helpful to understand the effects of the abuse so that you do not blame yourself. The offender or perpetrator of the abuse is responsible for all of the effects you experience. Following are some of the effects that you might relate to.
- The abuse may have been perpetrated by someone you knew, making you feel unsure and afraid of trusting again, it may have been someone you were in a relationship with.
- Often perpetrators manipulate your trust and it might be helpful to think about how that person used their power to exploit your trust.
- Stop and look around and you may find other people you have relationships with and who have never betrayed your trust. This may be a teacher, friend, counsellor or family member.
- The abuse need not mean that you will never trust again.
Poor Self Perception
- When you have been sexually abused, someone has taken away your human rights and choices, and that may have left you feeling like it doesn't matter what you think.
- Your self esteem or perception of yourself may have changed and would be different to that of someone who has not experienced such trauma.
You have survived a horrific experience and have immense inner strength and courage.
Spending time realising this and all of the other great things about you will really help to undo and reverse the damage caused by the abuser. Here are some questions you could ask yourself that might help:
- What have you needed to get you this far?
- What does this say about your own courage and ability to survive?
A counsellor or close friend may be able to spend the time with you, helping you to recognise your strengths and to re-build positive feelings about yourself.
Nightmares or Flashbacks
An effect or reminder of the abuse can come in the form of nightmares. The thing about these is that they can come in the middle of the night and really interrupt that all important thing – sleep! It is common to experience nightmares, and sometimes memories of traumatic events such as abuse will only surface while you are in a dream state.
Triggers can affect you in a similar way to nightmares.
- They can be little or big things (places, smells, rooms, clothes) that remind or trigger memories of the abuse.
- Mostly they are unpredictable, sometimes you do not even know the things that will trigger you until they do, and so they can feel out of control.
- Being "triggered" into a memory does not mean that you are regressing or not coping.
- Memories are unavoidable, but better managed if you can talk to someone and think of ideas of how to avoid the ones you know and how to cope if you are triggered.
As there can be so many effects from sexual abuse, your emotions can have a difficult time dealing with so much at once. You may not believe that the abuse has affected you but then feel strange emotions that you can’t explain or experience sudden mood swings. These feelings might be your mind's way of letting you know you need some help. Again, you may not have the same feelings as someone else who has been abused, but these are some emotions survivors often comment on.
- You may have felt a very strong sense of fear at the time of the abuse because of the abuser.
- You may have felt afraid about what was happening to you and your body; you may have been in fear of severe physical violence.
- You may have been forced to keep the abuse secret (possibly with threats, bribes, manipulation and physical force).
- You may not have spoken out in order to protect yourself, fearing that you would be at more risk if the offender found out that you reported it or told someone.
Anger is a very powerful feeling that needs an outlet.
- You may feel angry toward the abuser who has taken so much from you.
- You may feel angry toward yourself thinking that you should have been able to stop it from happening.
Anger is a normal reaction to the abuse that for you was wrong and worth getting angry about. What you choose to do with that anger is up to you.
- It is good to release anger, but make sure it doesn't involve hurting yourself, other people or any property (this may have consequences you don’t want).
- Try some relaxation or expressing your anger in a artistic way through writing, drawing or painting.
- Some men find it useful to express their anger in a physical way such as using a punching bag or going for a run.
- Although there is a high prevalence of sexual abuse, feeling alone and isolated are common feelings that can overwhelm you.
- Often feeling 'different' can make you fearful of telling someone about the abuse. Find a person who you feel comfortable with, whom you can trust. You may wish to talk to a counsellor or attend a group and meet other young people who have had similar experiences. Knowing that there are other people you can relate to may help you to not feel so isolated.
The crimes committed against you have taken many of your choices away.
- You may feel sad about the invasion into your privacy and for your loss of rights. Feeling sad is a normal response to this kind of abuse. If this sadness makes you feel tearful and like crying, then you go right ahead. This is your body's way of saying it needs to release some pretty strong emotions, so let it go! You may need some extra tissues around this time, but it can feel a whole lot better than keeping it in.
Guilt is a terrible emotion to feel during or after a sexually abusive situation and must be reversed. The offender should feel guilty, not you. The offender is responsible for these feelings you are having.
If the abuser has told you that the abuse is your fault, this is not the case. Abuse of any form is about power, not about sex. If you are feeling guilty then the abuse will still be living strongly within you and it is important to change this. You may be asking yourself some of these questions which are unfair and shift the blame away from the perpetrator. If you can relate to some of these questions then a good friend or counsellor may be able to help.
- "We have been going out for a few months, maybe it was fair?"
- "Should I have seen the signs earlier and stopped going to see him?"
- "Could I have put up more of a fight?"
- "Should I have walked home that way?"
- "Should I have got stoned/wasted/drunk because I was not in control?"
With all those emotions it might be fair to feel confused. You may even still love the abuser or not know what to think. Do not be hard on yourself for feeling confused, remember you are a survivor.
felt like I enjoyed it?
Some young men worry because their bodies may appear to become sexually aroused by what is happening to them even though it frightens them. This is a physical reaction and is your body's way of coping with the situation. This does not mean that you wanted or enjoyed the abuse.
It may be confusing and distressing to you as you cannot understand how your body can react so differently to a situation where you feel violated and scared. Ejaculating or having an erection does not mean that you enjoyed being abused. It is your body’s way of reacting and does not mean that you are in any way consenting to the abuse.
become an abuser too?
Often in the media they make it seem that young men that are sexually abused go on to become abusers themselves. This is not true and the link between the two is in no way proven. You have a choice about whether this is true for you. There is no reason that if you have been abused you will become a perpetrator of abuse in the future. You have control over your life and make choices based on what is right for you.
road again to healing your self esteem
Some young people who are survivors of sexual abuse have started on their own journey towards improved self esteem. You may have felt some of these feelings at different times from the abuse:
- down, low, depressed
- as if you have no control over your life
- that you are bad or evil
- dirty or unwanted
- as if you have no rights
- more likely to worry about other people's needs before your own
- find difficulty expressing how you feel in words.
It is time to get back in contact with the 'real' you. Get to know yourself again, put what you want as the number one priority. Here are some things you could ask yourself as you get 'on the road again' to healing your self esteem:
- What things do I like to do?
- Who is a good person to talk to when I need it?
- What things do I value or believe in?
- What is my personality like? How would someone describe me?
- What am I good at? (Talking, reading, playing tennis, being messy)
- Do I want to talk to a counsellor?
- Would I like to join a support group?
- Maybe I’d like to read some books on self esteem or sexual abuse?
If someone you know has decided to tell you that they have survived sexual abuse, chances are it was one of the most difficult things they have ever had to do, and that they trust you heaps! This is a compliment to you because you have obviously made them feel safe enough to do so. It may also freak you out a little!
Some of the following points suggest ways that you can support someone who has disclosed sexual abuse and also support yourself. You may feel that it is too difficult for you to talk about or you don’t know what to say.
- Make sure he knows you that you believe him. Listen to what he says, do not expect him to tell you everything about the experience to prove that what he is saying is true.
- Acknowledge what has happened, what he is saying and what he is feeling.
- Encourage him to seek support to help him deal with all that he is feeling, but don't pressure him. Telling you may be where he is at the moment.
- Be open to helping him in any way he wishes, do not pressure him. Try and be clear with each other about the boundaries of helping for both of you.
- Do not expect any particular behaviour from him, different people deal with things in different ways.
- Don't make judgements or support the abuser.
- Don’t put pressure on yourself thinking that you must come up with complex solutions for your friend's complex issues. Sometimes simple ideas can help the most.
- Make sure that he is physically safe from both the perpetrator or from harming himself.
Reassure him that he has survived a huge trauma and therefore is a strong and courageous person. Thank him for telling you and acknowledge the courage it has taken to do so.
Being subjected to sexual abuse can get you feeling very confused about the notion of sexuality and intimacy. You may feel a variety of emotions if you are presented with making a decision about sexual intimacy.
- You may find that you go numb during sex, completely blocking out what is going on, as you may have done in the past to protect yourself.
- Avoiding sex altogether is common, as it is too fearful to imagine the experience.
- You may need to set very clear sexual boundaries with a partner who will respect you and your level of comfort.
- You may be targeted by people who see you as vulnerable with sexual intimacy. Your experience may have left you feeling like your purpose is to satisfy other people's sexual needs. This is not the case and shows that your self esteem is low.
- Flashbacks of the abuse may occur when you are intimate with someone, triggered by a location, form of touch and so on. Try to identify what triggers the flashbacks and make some changes.
- You may find difficulty trusting someone enough to become intimate.
Finding difficulty becoming intimate is a natural reaction because in the past it has not been a positive experience. You may redevelop trust with someone who is not using power over you and when you are making choices which are supportive of your safety and comfort levels. Again, you may wish to have the support of someone to talk with about this, in a safe and confidential environment.
Does this mean I'm gay?
It is common, but wrong to think that being sexually abused by a man means that you become sexually attracted to men. Being attracted to other men is not related to whether or not you were sexually abused by men. Being same sex attracted is about love and forming positive relationships. Being raped or abused does not need to impact on whether you are attracted to men or women.
References and further reading
Shopfront Youth Health and Information (A division of Northern Metropolitan Community Health Service) Booklet: One in every six young men are sexually abused - information for young men' Contact Shopfront on (08)82811775.
Fergus L, Keel M, 'Adult victims/survivors of childhood sexual assault' Australian Centre for the study of sexual assault 2005
South East Centre Against Sexual Assault Australia 'Working with adult survivors of child sexual abuse'
Yarrow Place 'The rights of survivors of rape and sexual assault' Booklet
The information on this site should not be used as an alternative to professional care. If you have a particular problem, see a doctor or other health professional.