Sexual assault and men. These two words go together like salt and pepper. We usually think of them only in terms of men being the perpetrator. When was the last time someone mentioned sexual assault and the first thing that comes to mind wasn’t a man abusing a woman? Mary Kay Letourneau? Sarah Fowlkes?
The incidence of female on male sexual assault is conservatively put at 15% which is compared to the 25% of male on female assault rates. All of these numbers are shady, by the way, since there is such a high resistance to coming forward with allegations of assault. Men especially are hesitant to come forward and say anything for multiple reasons; the attack on their perceived masculinity by others and their own self-image that says they should be able to protect themselves. If the assault was by another man there are the lingering issues “Does this make me gay?”, “Am I gay and don’t know it, but he did?” and then there is the generalized disgust with all things gay sex related.
This is National Sexual Assault Awareness month and it’s a topic I’ve had way too much familiarity with thanks to the ‘Cone of Silence’ that is provided by my status as a lawyer. Men open up to me about their deepest, darkest experiences. As a gay man, they feel safe letting me know that in college they got drunk and their roommate made a pass and they accepted. Or their girlfriend raped them one night and they don’t want the child.
Many men are assaulted as young boys by family members, both men, and women, and the long-term effects play out in all their relationships. There have been almost zero resources for these men and even less for their spouses – until now. My publishing client Dr. Debra Warner has put out a first of its kind book for the spouses of male survivors of sexual assault and trauma. Dr. Warner is a professor at The Chicago School of Professional Psychology and His History, Her Story is a compendium of her experiences being married to a survivor of sexual assault as a child and young man, and how that trauma has affected their relationship, and contributions from experts in the fields of mental health and trauma.
“We don’t talk about how trauma affects men. As a society we sweep the issue under the carpet and tell men to ‘man up’ or they ‘got lucky’ but the long-term effects can be devastating to men and their loved ones,” Dr. Warner told me. Working with male survivors is a passion for Dr. Warner, who founded the annual SCRIPT (Summit on Community Resilience, Intervention, Prevention, and Training) Conference (thescriptconference.com) specifically to address the issues of stopping the stigma that surrounds male survivors of sexual assault and trauma.
As a society, we have created an image of what a man is supposed to be: strong, independent, capable of self-defense, who is fearless and fearsome. What we have not done is teach men and boys how to deal with their emotions and how to defend themselves in certain situations that can be confusing and embarrassing. We haven’t taught males that they can (and should) say no to a female who is pressing for sex, if the male doesn’t want it. (I know, I know, the common myth is that men always want sex – but that’s not always true and we don’t want it from everyone.)
I have had many friends and clients who disclose to me that the babysitter sexually assaulted them when they were kids, or a cousin was playing doctor and it went too far, or that they had a teacher who pressured them for sex. I could list a dozen men who were raped by their wives and girlfriends, but they didn’t think that anyone would believe them because a woman can’t rape a man (not true by the way).
“I wrote this book because when I went looking for information I found one book written in 1987. I ordered it, and I’m still waiting for it to arrive. With an estimated population of 1 in 6 men in America being survivors of some form of sexual abuse, there is a huge population of spouses who need help understanding the issues these men and their spouses face. There are resources for the female survivors of sexual assault, a few for the men who need help, and now there is something for their spouses. We have to talk about these issues, or they will just continue to fester,” Warner said.
Dr. Warner’s book, His History, Her Story is available on Amazon.com, BarnesandNoble.com. Her website is www.DrDebraWarner.com.
David Pisarra is a Los Angeles Divorce and Child Custody Lawyer specializing in Father’s and Men’s Rights with the Santa Monica firm of Pisarra & Grist. He welcomes your questions and comments. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or 310/664-9969.You can follow him on Twitter @davidpisarra