The 'Silent Phenomenon' of Male Sexual Abuse

Like women, men can be victims of sex crimes. You just don't hear about it much.


September's issue of the American Journal of Men's Health features an editorial about the sexual abuse of men, a surprisingly common but rarely acknowledged problem. I discussed the issue with Demetrius Porche, the editor of the journal and author of the editorial. Porche, a men's health advocate, registered nurse, and dean of the Louisiana State University Health Sciences Center School of Nursing, has studied the problem for nearly a decade.

The sexual abuse of men isn't something that people are used to hearing about. Where and how does sexual abuse against men tend to happen?

Male sexual abuse happens in all kinds of settings to all kinds of men. We see it in prisons; we see it in boys' homes. Sexual assault is often part of violent crime. I've heard of burglars using sexual assault as a way of silencing and intimidating victims. Sometimes it happens within a family. Many males report inappropriate touching that escalates, in some cases, to sex. Another example is young boys "exploring" with each other. There's a fine line between exploring and getting coerced by another person who really knows what they're doing. Here in New Orleans, we've seen male sexual abuse in some college fraternities. I've worked with men who are firefighters who have reported lots of sexual activity in the firehouse. A group of guys may pop in a porn video, say, and, before [the victims] know it, they'll have ended up participating in activities they later feel guilty about. "It just happened" is something you frequently hear men who have been abused say.

Does male sexual assault meld with hazing in some cases?

Yes, some of it is hazing. Sometimes it's dorm activities; sometimes it happens among athletic teams; sometimes it happens in locker rooms. Are some segments of the male population more susceptible to sexual abuse than others?

No, it happens across the board. The problem affects men of all sexual orientations, ages, ethnicities, as well as men of all sizes and incomes. However, people tend to be more sensitive to the issue among younger men. One of the statistics that you'll hear frequently is that 1 out of every 6 boys is sexually abused by the age of 16. How common is it among older men?

Unfortunately, among older men, we don't have good statistics at this point. With the recent issues with the Catholic Church, people are more sensitive to sexual assault in younger men, and more research has been done on that group. Male sexual abuse is largely a silent phenomenon that tends to go unreported. Often men who have been abused don't consider themselves to be a victim of abuse. Why does so much sexual assault against men go unreported?

For the longest time, I thought it was the stereotype—that men were basically being macho. Now I've become convinced that in many cases men don't recognize what's happening. Our society and culture tend to associate sexual assault only with women. Men tend to think: "This can't happen to me." Parents and clinicians need to realize that male sexual assault does happen to men, and they need to have a higher index of suspicion. Does male sexual assault tend to be male against male or female against male?

If you look at outright rape, where there is some sort of penetration, it's male to male. However, if you just look at sexual coercion, it's more typically female against male. What can men who have been abused do to address and overcome the problem?

There aren't as many resources out there for men as I'd like to see. The Men's Health Network is one I recommend. There are also some support groups, though many are focused on men accused by the church. [ MaleSurvivor and MenWeb are two of them. Therapists such as Richard Gartner and Jim Hopper offer additional information for abused men.] We [as a society] really need to talk more about this issue and put it into the public consciousness. Parents need to educate their children about abuse and assault, and educate their boys about what is appropriate. Schools need to start building the issue of men's health and male sexual health into their curriculum.