Perceptions

Male survivors of sexual assault, regardless of their sexual identity or orientation, face deep-rooted and complex perceptions and prejudices. The confusion of violence with sex blames the victim; when the perpetrator is another man, since the survivor “wanted it,” the conclusion is that the male survivor must be gay. Also, the emasculation of victimized men and gay men are linked; anything that makes you less of a man makes you more gay. Homophobia thus becomes a powerful force in obscuring, minimizing and denying the reality of male sexual assault, re-victimizing male survivors who have the strength and courage to report, and silencing the truth.

  1. Blaming the victim
  2. Sexism, misogyny and misandry
  3. Heterosexism and homphobia

Blaming the victim

“Innocent victims” is redundant. No one deserves to be sexually assaulted. Victim-blaming defends the observer from identifying with the survivor and feeling themselves at risk of similar victimization.

Lesbians and gay men as a group are defined by their sexuality. They're setup to be held responsible, even deserving, of their own sexual victimization.

Self-blame is the norm, defends against feeling helpless/powerless over the assault. “I shouldn’t have” walked that street/worn that dress/drunk that much. When sexual assault is viewed as sex, not violence, blame becomes sexual.

It’s important to distinguish a perpetrator’s responsibility for the crime from the possibility that a survivor engaged in what might be labeled as “risky” or “self-destructive” choices or behaviors. Almost without exception, survivors of all crimes blame themselves and try to think of what they did “wrong,” or what they could have differently to “prevent” the crime.

It’s also important to remember that recovery from trauma is neither immediate nor complete. Relevant options and issues are different for a survivor in crisis shortly after an assault than weeks, months or years after the incident. What he will be able to hear, and how he can respond, will change over time, with healing and recovery.

Sexism, misogyny and misandry

It is madness to pretend that families are anything other than heterosexual couples. Over time, we want to have an explicit bias in favor of heterosexual marriage. If you look at the pathologies and weaknesses of America today, re-establishing the centrality of marriage and of the role of a male and female in that relationship is a very central issue of the next 20 years. [Homosexuality is] an orientation in the way that alcoholism is an orientation. Newt Gingrich, April 1994, from a New York Times interview excerpted in The Washington Blade November 25, 1994

“Saving the Family” is code for protecting male-dominated society.“Growing Up Free”, a book on child-rearing

Sexism gives men, as a group, power over women, as a group. Since men are not (must not be) victims, any man who is victimized must be less of a man, less than a man, or not a man at all. Even if the male survivor has avoided or recovered from internalizing this message over a lifetime, he is sure to find it among friends, family, coworkers or service providers. As survivors of sexual assault, men are nearly invisible. Whenever rape and sexual assault are discussed in the media, in government and legislation, by service providers, in public education efforts, and so on, women are the (presumed) survivors and men the (presumed) perpetrators.

For example, in May of 1997, while researching this presentation, I found a Web page for the State University of New York at Buffalo Division of Student Affairs that described sexual assault and provided tips for prevention. The tips for women were listed under the heading “Alternatives to vulnerability;” those for the men were listed under“Alternatives to coercion.”

misandry: hatred of men

Even when the victimization of men is not denied outright, it is disguised or minimized, or is framed as important only as a cause of violence, ie: identifying the male survivor as a future offender. (3-dog argument)

Examples of misandry:

Heterosexism and homophobia

Imagine what it would be like to grow up in a society in which same-sex attractions were considered perfectly normal - if you held hands with another little boy, your relatives might tease you about having a boyfriend, but they’d think you were cute. In junior high, you could chatter on the phone with your friends to get up enough courage to ask the new boy in class to the school dance. In high school, you could greet your boyfriend backstage with flowers for his performance in the school play, give him a kiss during baseball practice, go to the prom, or neck in the woods - all without fear of being harassed, shamed, assaulted, or shunned. Rik Isensee, “Growing up Gay in a Dysfunctional Family”

Homophobia doesn’t arise in a vacuum; every hatred has a power behind it. Heterosexism is the power that creates homophobia in childhood and sustains it through a lifetime. This power is projected through every conceivable means: legislation, religion, employment, social settings, and so on. Every act and statement that rejects or denies the value of same-gender relations, or claims special privileges and rights for cross-gender relations, demonstrates this power imbalance.

Examples of homophobia

Heterosexism and homophobia are built upon the foundation of sexism and misogyny. (Gingrich quote) This link is especially important for male survivors of sexual assault. Sexism requires that (only) men are strong and (only) women are victims. Female survivors are readily blamed for being victimized: they wanted it, they asked for it, it wasn’t really rape. Male survivors are burdened with similar blame, but it carries an additional weight: men are not supposed to be victimized.

If there is a war between the sexes, lesbians and gay men can be viewed as conscientious objectors. They undermine the sexist model by opting out, by refusing to cooperate with it. Heterosexism and homophobia are responses to this threat, and sexual assault of lesbians and gay men is one means of projecting heterosexist control.

47 sexual assault cases reported to AVP in 1995 and 1996 included heterosexist bias: 23% of the 205 sexual assault cases and 4% of the 1199 bias cases reported. 21% (21 of 101) of the gay men and 33% (12 of 36) of the lesbians sexually assaulted during this period experienced anti-gay or anti-lesbian bias during the assault.

Just as sexism requires of male survivors, heterosexism requires that gay men are less than men, or not men at all. Hence the stereotypes of gay men as effeminate, in other words more like a woman than a man. Again, although a gay man may avoid or recover from this message, he will encounter it in those around him.

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