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What No One Wants to Talk About: Male Sexual Assault

Ceremony recognizes Military Working Dog, MWD, Kevin, who died while on his tour of duty
Sexual assault is typically identified as a form of gender-based violence.   Women are more likely to be assaulted at any age, and cultural acceptability of sexual violence drove women in the 1970’s to establish rape crisis centers across the country. And while the movement has done fantastic work breaking the silence around rape and changing the culture, at least for survivors, viewing this problem through the lens of oppression has left behind one group: men.

It’s a thing

Unfortunately, male sexual assault is not uncommon. Consistently, studies find that an estimated 1 in 6 men have been sexually assaulted before the age of 18. Think about all the men that you encounter each day—while commuting or shopping or at work or school. It is highly likely that you have encountered male childhood sexual assault survivors without even realizing it.

Adulthood does not confer immunity to male sexual assault either.  Military sexual assault has entered the public conversation, which is necessary for change.  And make no mistake, women in the military are far morel likely to be victims of sexual assault than men.  However, men make up the vast majority of people in the military.  And enough men get raped that there are actually more male military rape victims than women.  According to the DoD, in 2012 there were 13,900 male rape victims and 12,100 female rape victims.  To be clear, only 14.6% of people in the military are women but they make up 47% of military rape victims, hence the focus on safety for women in the military. That said, too many men are suffering and they’re suffering in silence: among military survivors, women are 10 times more likely to report their assault.

The silence

It’s extremely important to pay attention to male survivors of sexual assault.  A lot of the symptoms they experience are the same as women: classic trauma symptoms of flashbacks, hypervigilance and avoidance, in addition to the additional impact of interpersonal violence: isolation, difficulty trusting others, challenges with intimacy.

Men struggle more with finding social support, largely due to the shame and stigma.  As a society we teach men that they are supposed to be strong, and in the military this message is particularly emphasized.  It’s difficult for them to talk about it.  It can also be harder for them to get professional support since many centers that provide free or discounted services to survivors of sexual assault only serve women, or have names like “The Women’s Center” that are understandably deterrent to male survivors.

One option I often recommend to men who are anxious about identifying as a survivor are online forums, which are anonymous.  MaleSurvivor has wonderful forums designated by topic, all of which are moderated to keep things appropriate and safe. Another great website is 1in6, which also provides resources for this group. If you’re still struggling with an assault that happened to you these can be a gradual start in figuring out how to get more support.

What No One Wants to Talk About: Male Sexual Assault

Sara Staggs, LICSW, MPH

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APA Reference
Staggs, S. (2014). What No One Wants to Talk About: Male Sexual Assault. Psych Central. Retrieved on June 6, 2020, from


Last updated: 17 Apr 2014
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