Sexual abuse from a different perspective: men speak about sexual assault

Editor’s Note: The names of the subjects in this article have been changed to preserve the privacy of those interviewed. Language and description in this article may trigger those who have been sexually assaulted. All communication with these subjects was done over email.

The #MeToo movement has effectively unraveled some of the untold stories about celebrity abuse and, according to PBS, has become a trending hashtag in over 85 countries.

It is noteworthy, however, that the #MeToo movement predominantly centers around women. According to the Rape, Abuse and Incest National Network, as of 1998, approximately 17.7 million American women had been victims of attempted or completed sexual assault.

While this is a larger percentile than the number of men sexually assaulted in the United States, the number of men affected by sexual assault is significant. Also according to RAINN, 2.78 million men in the U.S. had been victims of attempted or completed rape as of 1998.

Of these men affected are Alex and Tim, two men who had been repeatedly sexually assaulted and betrayed by the people they had put all of their trust and care into: their own family members.

Alex in particular had never shared his entire story with anyone before, as he explained what his half-sister did to him at a very young age.

Graphic by Hope Daluisio.

“When I was seven or eight years of age, my half-sister, who is a few years older than me, abused me for a period of around a year and a half,” Alex said.

According to an article by GoodTherapy, it is reported that up to 93 percent of children who have been sexually abused know their attackers and over a third of the abusers are family members.

Alex recalled that it started one night when his parents were absent and his sister was left to babysit him. After they had left, his sister began forcibly kissing him on his bed and covering the two of them up with a blanket.

“I hated every second of it, but she was my older sister,” Alex said. “I felt like I shouldn’t tell her to stop because it was probably what most siblings did.”

Alex noted that while this was the first time he can remember it happening, he did not believe it was the first time it happened. Alex recalled it frequently happening after that first instance, however, as his sister’s actions continued to become more obscene.

“She started to make me touch and kiss her breasts. Then that escalated into her making me touch her vagina,” Alex said. “I felt disgusting and awful and I knew what was happening was wrong.”

Though Alex came to this realization, he was too afraid to tell his parents in fear that he would get in trouble for even participating, so he instead chose to stay quiet.

“Eventually, she moved on from forcing me to touch her and she started to touch my penis,” Alex said. “It wasn’t until one night when she left her clothes on the floor in the basement that my parents finally discovered what was going on.”

Alex’s mother confronted him about his sister being naked, though Alex initially denied this accusation out of fear. Alex’s mother later questioned him about inappropriate things they were possibly involved in together and Alex finally broke down and admitted to the events in question. This put an end to his being abused.

Tim suffered from a similar case of abuse; however, he unfortunately was met with less sympathy than Alex was. Tim was repeatedly abused by his cousin and uncle from the age of 7 to 10.

“I really liked spending time in this uncle’s house,” Tim said. “I’d stay at his house during my summer vacation and that’s when it all started.”

Graphic by Hope Daluisio.

Tim recalls that one night, while he was staying at his uncle’s for the week, his uncle called him into his guesthouse and made him close his eyes.

“I thought we were going to play something. Then he told me to get on my knees,” Tim said. “Then he and my cousin took turns raping me.”

Like Alex, Tim recalls that he did not know exactly what happened but instinctively knew that it was wrong.

“I spent the entire night not knowing what had happened once it was done, but I felt used and just horrible,” Tim said.

The abuse would continue throughout Tim’s stay at his uncle’s house and when he finally returned home, Tim revealed to his mom what had happened. Much to Tim’s dismay, his mother refused to believe him and scolded him for lying.

The next summer, against his own will, Tim was forced to stay at his uncle’s for another week. The abuse worsened.

“It happened again, this time worse, and they told me horrible things and made death threats against me,” Tim said. “Let’s say I have a burn mark on a very personal part of my body.”

This continued to happen for years after but eventually stopped. Tim was left feeling defeated and depressed, feeling as though he could not share his story with anyone because of the way his mother had responded to him.

Both Tim and Alex suffered similar outcomes: symptoms of post-traumatic stress disorder and major depressive feelings. Alex himself picked up on subtle changes following his abuse that contributed to his trauma, such as wearing baggy clothes because he felt exposed in anything tight, isolating himself from people and feeling hyper-sexualized as a child.

According to a study by the National Violence Against Women Prevention Research Center, almost one-third of all rape victims developed PTSD sometime during their lifetime and more than one in 10 rape victims still have PTSD today.

“One example of this was at a sleepover when I was a kid and my friend took his penis out as a joke,” Alex said. “I really wanted to go over and touch it, but I didn’t because there were too many people around.”

Alex also proceeded to ask his friends if they have ever “had sex with themselves,” — alluding to masturbation — because he believed that was normal for an 8-year-old to do. His friends were confused by his question and he did not bring it up again.

Alex’s failure to understand what exactly had happened with his sister led to him putting much of the blame on himself, feeling as though he was involved in those actions willingly.

Tim suffered with putting his trust into other people following his mother’s response to his sexual abuse.

“I just lost the whole ‘loving your family’ thing that supposedly everyone feels after what happened, really,” Tim said. “Because of this, I’m suffering from chronic depression, PTSD and a particularly unfortunate personality disorder I wouldn’t like to refer to.”

Though it has been years since the abuse, Tim and Alex still find it tough to move past. Alex only recently checked into therapy after having a series of nightmares involving his sister.

The two men agree that while sexual abuse amongst men and women should be treated with the same amount of weight and care, sexual abuse towards men is far more overlooked and treated less seriously.

The literature study “See no evil, hear no evil, speak no evil: why do relatively few male victims of childhood sexual abuse receive help for abuse-related issues in adulthood?” reveals that males who are sexually abused are less likely to disclose that than females are.

Tommie Wilkins, the violence against women on campus grant coordinator at Cabrini University, also acknowledged that men are often overlooked in terms of sexual harassment.

Men are seen as only abusers and perpetrators because they are supposed to be stronger, which has nothing to do with sexual assault or domestic violence,” Wilkins said. “We have to be aware that sexual assault and domestic violence and assault against anyone, regardless of their gender, is inappropriate and wrong.”

“My very mother thought a child would lie about getting raped,” Tim said. “There are many cases of women being dismissed in this sense, but when it comes to men, it seems to always be a common factor. No one believes the victim, or the victim gets laughed at.”

“Part of why it took me so long to realize I was sexually abused was because I thought it was only possible for females to be abused and that made me feel disgusting and ashamed for years,” Alex said. “I thought that I was completely alone in being a guy and being abused for quite a long time.”

Even through their tough times, Alex and Tim look with hope towards the future. Alex has been seeing a therapist for the past six weeks, while Tim, who has been suffering with suicidal thoughts for quite some time, still remains slightly optimistic.

Graphic by Hope Daluisio.

“It’s hard to just get past it, but I’m of the belief that regardless of anything, life goes on and I just push myself to move on from this,” Tim said.

The two advise anyone going through this issue to refrain from putting blame on themselves and to seek professional help immediately.

“I would tell them not to think of what they could have done to stop the abuse because there is literally nothing good that can come from that train of thought,” Alex said. “The only thing that’ll happen is you’ll make yourself feel stupid and useless.”

Wilkins also suggested starting campaigns that address that anyone can be a victim.

“Hopefully, more victims come forward and dispel myths about male sexual abuse,” Wilkins said.

Tim hopes that others will start listening to the stories of other abused men.

“Just listen to them, take them seriously,” Tim said. “That’s something I know I wish people had done for me.”