Community beliefs and misconceptions about male sexual assault
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The misconceptions and stereotypes
- Real men cannot be raped:
- Men are the perpetrators of sexual assault, not the victims.
- A man would be too strong to be raped; he would be able to fight off his assailant.
- Only gay men rape other men:
- Male sexual assault is a subset of homosexual behaviour.
- A gay man would find sexual assault pleasurable.
- Only gay men are raped.
- A woman cannot sexually assault a man:
- A man would have to be aroused to be raped by a woman - and doesn't arousal constitute consent?
- Women are not naturally sexually aggressive; it is men who initiate sex.
- When would a man refuse sex with a woman? Surely a man would always accept any sexual offer from a woman.
Impacts of these misconceptions
- A 2003 study showed that 84% of male survivors reported concerns about their sexuality, gender roles and/or body as a result of their experience (ACSSA, 2003, p. 16). This differs significantly from the responses of women survivors of sexual assault, who do not report comparable impacts on their own perceptions of their gender or sexuality.
- Male survivors have reported high rates of fear that they will not be believed or taken seriously if they report the offence (ACSSA, 2003, p. 16).
- Male American college students reported that a strong barrier to reporting sexual assault was a concern that they would be judged as gay (Sable, Danis, Mauzy, & Gallaghar, 2006, p. 157)
On cultural responses:
- A number of studies have shown that, in comparison to heterosexual male victims, gay male victims of sexual assault are more likely to be assumed responsible for their assault (Davies & Rogers, 2006, p. 372). Respondents in other studies speculated that gay men might find sexual assault a "more pleasurable event" and that they would not be as traumatised by such an assault as heterosexual men (Mitchell, Hirshman & Nagayama-Hall, 1999).
- Because of the cultural assumptions surrounding sexuality and heterosexual sex, heterosexual male victims of a female perpetrator of a sexual assault are more likely to be thought to have encouraged the assault than gay male victims of a female perpetrator or heterosexual male victims of a male perpetrator (Davies, Rogers & Bates, 2008). Davies and Rogers (2006) noted:
It could still be argued that women have fewer rights than men, but in some cases it is more acceptable for a woman to deny sexual access to a man than for a man to deny sexual access to a woman. (p. 372)
Countering the misconceptions
- "Real men cannot be raped":
- Recorded crime statistics and victimisation survey data show that men do experience sexual assault. Adolescent males are especially likely to be victims.
- Just like women, men can be coerced, tricked, forced or threatened into sexual activity that they do not want to engage in with another person. And just like a woman, any man can be overpowered, outnumbered, or threatened with a weapon, emotional blackmail or some other form of coercion. Men can also be rendered powerless by fear.
- "Only gay men rape other men" and "only gay men are raped":
- Sexual assault is perpetrated by both heterosexual and gay men against men of either sexual orientation (Mitchell, Hirshman, & Nagayama-Hall, 1999, p. 369). Misconceptions around the sexuality of these roles are based on assumptions similar to those associated with female sexual assault, in which sexual assault is understood to be primarily motivated by sexual attraction and sexual desire. However, sexual assault is actually motivated by a desire to have power over another person. It is perhaps more useful to think of these acts as physical assault with a sexual element.
- "A woman cannot sexually assault a man":
- Sexual assault encompasses a wide range of unwanted behaviours. Again, sexual assault is not primarily about sexual attraction and desire, but about the exercising of power. Research shows that a small proportion of sexual offenders are actually women (Bourke, 2007; Lewis & Stanley, 2000)
For further information about sexual assault against men, please visit:
Living Well is a resource that offers a range of services specifically designed to assist men who have experienced childhood sexual abuse or sexual assault, their partners, friends and family and service providers. Living Well hosts a range of useful information on their website.
Other resources specifically for men include:
- Survivors and Mates Support Network (SAMSN); and
- Service Assisting Male Survivors of Sexual Assault (SAMSAA).
- Australian Bureau of Statistics. (2007). Recorded crime: Victims, Australia, 2006 (Cat. No. 41510.0). Canberra: ABS.
- Australian Centre for the Study of Sexual Assault. (2003). Male survivors of sexual assault. Aware, 2, 15-18.
- Bourke, J. (2007). Rape: A history from 1860 to the present day. London: Virago.
- Davies, M., & Rogers, P. (2006). Perceptions of male victims in depicted sexual assaults: A review of the literature. Aggression and Violent Behaviour, 11, 367-377.
- Davies, M., Rogers, P., & Bates, J. (2008). Blame toward male rape victims in a hypothetical sexual assault as a function of victim sexuality and degree of resistance. Journal of Homosexuality, 55(3), 533-544.
- Heenan, M., & Murrary, S. (2006). Study of reported rapes in Victoria 2000-2003: Summary research report. Statewide Steering Committee to Reduce Sexual Assault. Melbourne: Office of Women's Policy, Department for Victorian Communities.
- Lewis, C., & Stanley, C. (2000). Women accused of sexual offenses. Behavioral Sciences & the Law, 18(1), 73-81.
- Mitchell, D., Hirshman, R., & Nagayama-Hall, G. (1999). Attributions of victim responsibility, pleasure and trauma in male rape. Journal of Sex Research, 36(4), 369-373.
- Sable, M., Danis, F., Mauzy, D. L., & Gallagher, S. K. (2006). Barriers to reporting sexual assault for women and men: Perspectives of college students. Journal of American College Health, 55, 157-162.
At the time of writing, Kirsty Duncanson was a Research Officer with ACSSA at the Australian Institute of Family Studies.
Duncanson, K. (2013). Community beliefs and misconceptions about male sexual assault (ACSSA Resource Sheet ). Melbourne: Australian Centre for the Study of Sexual Assault, Australian Institute of Family Studies.