#Me(n) Too: Why Sexual Abuse is a Men’s Issue Not Just a Women’s Issue

More and more men are being recognized as sexual abusers and more and more women are coming out telling the truth about having been abused. We have gotten used to seeing rich and famous men including Bill Clinton, Bill Cosby, and Donald Trump being held to account for their abusive behavior. More recently we have learned about the abusive behavior of Roger Ailes, Bill O’Reilly, Harvey Weinstein, Mark Halperin, Kevin Spacey, Louis C.K., Roy Moore. The #MeToo movement has encouraged more and more women to confront their fears and tell the truth about what happened to them.

Ten years before the allegations against Harvey Weinstein became public knowledge, Tarana Burke was already helping young women talk about sexual assault. Working with girls at an organization she co-founded called Just Be Inc., she heard a lot of reports of sexual violence, and she wanted to offer young survivors what she needed in the aftermath of her own assault: empathy. So, she started the Me Too campaign “to spread a message for survivors: You’re heard, you’re understood.”

Now, the You Too movement has gone viral as it has spread through the web. There is a Facebook group with more than 8,000 members and Twitter shares women’s experiences widely. One Twitter post which caught my eye says, “Multiple men call a woman a slut or a whore, you believe it. Multiple women call a man a rapist, you question it. Enough is enough. #metoo.”

But sexual harassment and abuse happen to men as well. I still remember my mother deciding I needed enemas when I was 6 years old because they thought I was constipated. I remember being held down by her and a neighbor woman while they forced the tube up my rectum and I had to hold in the water that was filling me up until they said I could get on the toilet. I thought I was going to burst. I can still hear the neighbors voice as she screamed at me. “And you better not shit on me or I’m going to kill you.”

I never thought that was a form of abuse and never told anyone until I was in a therapy group as an adult. If this was done by a father and his friend to a 6-year-old girl, we would recognize it as a form of physical, sexual, and emotional abuse. We are opening our eyes to the abuse females experience, but male sexual abuse is still mostly hidden.

When I was in junior high there was the usual joking about sexual things, but I also remember being cornered in the bathroom by some older boys. I was a small kid and was often picked on. One boy laughed while he put his arm on my shoulder. “You want a blow job?” he whispered. “No,” I said and pulled away. “Well, I’m going to give you a blow job,” he said menacingly. “I’m going to stick my dick in your mouth and blow out your brains.” The other boys grabbed me and I tried to pull away. Luckily the bell rang and the boys left. I was terrified for weeks thereafter and had nightmares for months.

We hear a lot about women being raped and I’m glad more and more people are being heard and are willing to say, “me too. Rape must end.” But most people don’t think about males that are raped, or if they do, they assume it’s a problem for gay men only. But here’s a reality that needs to be spoken. Rape is a men’s issue, not just a women’s issue.

RAINN (Rape, Abuse & Incest National Network) is the nation’s largest anti-sexual violence organization. They say: “Millions of men in the United States have been victims of rape.”

“As of 1998, 2.78 million men in the U.S. had been victims of attempted or completed rape. About 3% of American men—or 1 in 33—have experienced an attempted or completed rape in their lifetime. 1 out of every 10 rape victims are male.”

These aren’t insignificant numbers but they may greatly under report the rate of male victims of sexual assault. Like women, men often feel ashamed when they are victims of sexual violence. Many fewer men than women are willing to report a rape and even fewer are willing to come out publicly and say, “Me Too.”

But the true statistics are well hidden. Most rapes occur in prisons and other detention facilities and there are many more men than women in prisons. According to statistics from the Department of Justice and reported by the Daily Mail, a UK newspaper, “More men are raped in the U.S. than women.”

The study concluded: “More men are raped in the U.S. than woman, according to figures that include sexual abuse in prisons. In 2008, it was estimated 216,000 inmates were sexually assaulted while serving time, according to the Department of Justice figures. That is compared to 90,479 rape cases outside of prison.” As we continue to lock up more and more young men, I expect the true number of males raped in prison is even higher now.

My purpose in sharing this information is not to create a competition of whether men or women are more subject to rape or abuse, but to recognize that sexual harassment and rape are men’s problems as well as women’s problems. And men’s failure to join in and say, “Me, too, sexual assault needs to end,” helps keep the problem hidden.

Men can learn from women in coming out and acknowledging sexual harassment and assault. But women can learn from men by taking more responsibility for the things they do that put themselves at risk. To take responsibility for our own actions, does not mean we’re blaming the victim as Lexa Frankl points out in her article, “Why I’m Uneasy With the #MeToo Movement.”

This article is my own statement of solidarity. I hope there are other men who are willing to share their own stories. Please leave a comment at the end of the article.

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Comments

  1. Thank you for reminding us of the reality that men, too, may become or have ben victims of sexual abuse.

  2. Jack Weber says:

    Thanks for this, Jed. This article brought up something for me. When I first started dating the woman I am seeing now, she did something I haven’t really ever experienced. It doesn’t seem to have lasting effects, but I want to voice it because I might learn more by doing so.

    We were lying in bed ready for sleep. She was feeling sexual and I was not. She kept putting her hands down at my crotch and a couple times I removed her hand. On about the third time I told her I didn’t want to be sexual. She heard me. But then she proceeded, again, this time to fondle my penis. I reacted and grabbed her hand and got angry, telling her, “I told you I’m not in the mood and want to go to sleep.” She ceased.

    I’ve never had this happen to me. I was upset about it the next day and we talked about it. She said she persisted because she felt rejected and has an abandonment issue (don’t we all). Yet, she seems to tie sexual desirability and attention to her feelings of validation. Therefore, to not feel rejected, she pursues when the answer is “no.”

    While I don’t feel ptsd, this incident was a first for me. It had me question whether I was raped or abused in the past, and I can’t remember anything and my body does not seem to indicate so. So, I’m mostly sure I was not. This seems to be a novel incident.

    Whatever the case, it shines a light on how our insecurities can cause us to act out, often violating others. This incident led to my partner feeling ashamed and that she could not initiate sex. I told her I hear her but that that’s not true n my end. It’s simply that when I say no, or you get a clear signal (like my lifting her hand from my crotch), that means no and to please stop. Otherwise, feel free.

    I’m wondering if anyone reading this thinks this incident is more serious than I make it out to be. It doesn’t seem to be for me, and I have not even thought about it much since it happened. But I ask because the majority of people minimize and trivialize sexual violations only to find out later that they were affected more than they wanted to admit.

  3. Jack, thanks for sharing your experience. I think both men and women have accepted a level of sexual abuse as “normal” because it is so common and ties into childhood abuse that we have blocked out.
    I shared an incident with my wife recently that I had not told anyone about. We were having a party at our house with a group of close friends. A woman, who was a close friend of both Carlin and me, came up behind me and grabbed me by the ass. I was startled since it was so unexpected. I have had fantasies of having beautiful women desire me sexually and even imagined one throwing herself at me. But I wasn’t prepared for the visceral feeling of violation I felt from someone grabbing me without my permission or any indications that I was interested or available. We never talked about it, and until my wife and I began talking about the MeToo movement, I hadn’t ever told her. At the time it seemed trivial and I justified it as a friend, just drinking too much.

    I suspect more men (and women) are going to come out and talk about incidents that we’ve overlooked, accepted, or justified, as being “too trivial,” when they are actually painful and abusive.

    Of course there’s a range of abuse. Having my butt squeezed without my permission by someone who is smaller than me and not physically threatening, is a long way from many women’s experience of being assaulted, raped, or threatened with losing their jobs if they didn’t allow unwanted sexual contact.

    But its time we acknowledged that any unwanted sexual contact is potentially abusive and needs to be acknowledged, first to ourselves, then to someone we can trust, and finally for those who are ready, to share our experiences with our larger community.

    I look forward to your comments.

    • Jack Weber says:

      Thanks for sharing that Jed. Certainly unwanted sexual advances span a spectrum of violation. Since you can’t speak for me, andI am learning about this: did your friend’s grabbing your ass have lasting effects for you? did she know you were married?

      • Yeah, we were close friends and both Carlin and I knew her well. That was some of the surprise. The only lasting repercussions is that I buried the memory, but I’m sure it made me more wary around her and confused about what message she was sending. I suspect that this is way more common for women being grabbed by men, but it may be more common than we think, since I suspect, most men like me don’t speak up about this. I know when I’ve talked to boys who were had sexual contact with older girls or women, they often don’t recognize it as abuse, often voicing it as “I got lucky early,” which adds to the stereotype that all males are after sex all the time and if we get sex when we’re a child at the hands of an older girl or woman, we don’t recognize it as abusive and for sure the effect are negative and often long-lasting.

        • Thanks, Jed. Really good point at the end there about “getting sex early.” I have really enjoyed the series “Transparent” on Amazon Prime. Have you seen it. I HIGHLY RECOMMEND IT. It’s centered around a Jewish family and brilliant. One of the characters is haunted by abuse of this kind and the whole series has opened my eyes in several ways and helped me in my relationships in my Jewish family. Hug, Brother….

  4. Millions of American men have been sexually abused at birth by a doctor! If we want to reduce sexual harassment, we must stop doctor-victims from completing the cycle. They had half of the skin of their normal penis forcibly cut off at birth, they know in their heart of hearts that they can never have normal sex, because they have lost the most sensitive part of their penis, and they grow up determined to take it out on future victims. And the tragic cycle goes on! We have been asking our colleagues to stop for years, but their compulsion overrides everything, but possibly the law. It is already illegal to perform a circumcision in the United States, but that has not stopped them, because no one has enforced the law. So we must sue doctors into submission.

    • Thanks for that perspective, George. I was circumcised and have had normal sex my entire life.

    • Yes, it’s technically illegal to abuse children physically. But both infant male circumcision and corporeal punishment don’t attract much attention. If we talk of banning male circumcision, the Jewish and Muslim communities will start screaming discrimination. Some Jews, especially, will feel targeted. I personally could care less who gets pissed off. Last week the “Dallas Morning News” featured the obituary of a man who had died recently at age 99. He was a Nazi Holocaust survivor and ended up in the Dallas area some 60+ years ago. He had gone into business for himself, but also became a “mohel,” which means he was a professional circumciser. I simply call it was it is: a penis cutter. He wasn’t a mohel; he was a mutilator. According to the write-up, he described himself as a “baby doctor.” I guess the same term could be applied to Joseph Mengele.

      Either way it’s disgusting. The process should be banned without regard for anyone’s religious sensibilities. Whenever human rights clashes with religious freedom, human rights should take precedence. Every year in the U.S. up to 300 infant and toddler boys die because of botched circumcisions. If up to 300 adult females (especially adult White females) were dying every year in this country because of some surgical procedure, you damn well better believe the U.S. government would move Heaven and Earth to get it banned.

      As for corporeal punishment, again males comprise the bulk of victims. They seem to be specifically targeted in most cases. There are school districts around the U.S. that will permit corporeal punishment to be administered to boys, but not to girls. Apparently, when children are at school, it’s the only place where they can be legally abused.

  5. We really will never know how many sexual abuse victims there are – female or male – but that the crisis impacts both genders can’t be underestimated. Sadly, it happens and will never end. But discussing it openly is important. Male victims of sexual abuse, however, have a much tougher road to acknowledgement. As more and more women are coming out now and saying this man or that man sexually molested or assaulted her, I wonder how many men can share similar experiences, but won’t because of the stigma. Some people still can’t believe, for example, that women can be sexual abusers. And when men have the nerve to come out and announce it, they’re often ridiculed. So, if women have trouble stating it openly, how do we think men feel?

    The above tweet that many people automatically believe it when a woman is called a “slut,” but question when a man is called a rapist is ridiculously untrue. In this era of extreme political correctness, men accused of physical or sexual abuse are almost always presumed guilty until proven innocent. And the burden of proof is placed on the men. It’s a total subversion of the traditional justice system.

    Another fact that gets downplayed is that males are more likely to be victims of violence than females. Starting with childhood, men suffer the brunt of society’s wrath. To be fair, most of this violence is perpetuated by other males. But women are part of the overall culture that states violence against males is socially acceptable; whether it’s corporal punishment or the death penalty. Yet we have a special Violence Against Women Act that now protects even lesbian and transgendered women and a law to protect infant females against so-called circumcision, even though that’s never been practiced here in the U.S.

    Until we focus on all of these problems, we’ll never see gender equality.

  6. Another great piece on this important issue. I am one of many survivors of sexual abuse by a teacher at a boarding school. I know of many male victims from my school — it’s about 50%. Some of the abusers were male and at least one was female. Of course no one was punished, except for the victims. I relate to your account so well. You are helping so many. Thank you!

  7. I regret having to reply to Jack but he claims he has had normal sex all his life as a circumcised male. The fact that this is simply not true is why many of us are committed to eradicating this drastic invasion of a person’s human rights. Listen to the voice of a man who was circumcised as an adult. “On a scale of 1-10, before it was a 13, and now it is a 3.” Twenty thousand nerve endings (Meissner’s Corpuscles) are brutally and forcibly removed forever. Why is America the only nation that uses a lot of lubrication during sex? This is one of the major reasons that this atrocity must stop being performed by doctors, of all people!

  8. I’m male. I was circumcised, though neither Jewish nor Muslim. I was whipped frequently as a child. I, too, was held down for the administration of enemas. I was spanked in school once. Then I was raped as a 18 year old. I don’t remember the circumcision and have never considered it to be abuse. The whippings from my mother were by far the worst. She went at me a small child and would not stop until she was exhausted. When I got spanked at school, it was an almost amusing 3 swats. The rape involved a guy who put a rag soaked in ether over my face as I slept. I feel responsible for that rape and as a result it has not happened again. In fact, my personal sense is that as long as I consider myself victimized, I get stuck in the past as well as angry and from that anger, I am more likely to lash out at somebody, thus becoming an abuser.

  9. Rw,
    Thanks for sharing your experiences. Of course, compared to other forms of child abuse, circumcision is far less damaging, though we can never know for sure what our lives would be like if any form of abuse had never happened. I like that you can accept what happened, yet not make yourself a victim. Victim thinking and victim language can limit real healing and recovery, though everyone has to find their own way to heal.