Broadening the Conversation on Sexual Violence: Male Victims in the Military Sexual Assault Epidemic
We have come a long way as a society in recognizing the pervasiveness of sexual violence in some of our most longstanding institutions like the military and the university. White House inquiries in to these institutions show the extent to which the work of antiviolence activists can now be heard. But even when these advancements are made, continued attention must be paid to those still left out of the broader conversation on sexual violence. Though the majority of rapists are men, the majority of men are not rapists. Many men are indeed victim-survivors themselves. Therefore, it is important to build a more nuanced understanding of sexual violence, beginning with recognition of the large numbers of male (and boy) victim-survivors.
In the military, a little over half of all sexual assault victims are men. While, proportionally, women are still at a much greater risk of sexual assault in the military (the numbers suggesting 1 out of 3 women in the military experience sexual assault), the number of male victims is astoundingly high—as is the silence concerning this particular feature of the military sexual assault epidemic. I only recently realized the large numbers of male victims in the military and this came after years of being exposed to research on this subject as well being a peer educator. This is distressing. As a society, then, what are we missing when it comes to building a more comprehensive fight against sexual violence?
The silence on the part of male victims is understandable. Attacks of this nature reverberate harms well beyond those of a physical nature. Many victim-survivors experience shame and in particular, male victims may experience harms compounded by societal expectations of ‘manliness’ as well as the taboo against homosexuality. This is one way in which challenging norms of masculinity (and in turn, femininity) relates to sexual violence prevention and healing. We need to make it possible to hear male victim-survivor stories alongside females’ and from there, work to build broader prevention strategies.