Survivor Safety: Supporting Male Survivors

Mar 23rd, 2021

By Caroline Cooney, Program Intern

Take a moment and google the phrases sexual violence and sexual assault victims. As you scroll through the thousands of results, you will see several black and white images of young women covering their faces, experiencing distress, or being pinned to a bed by a male figure. This sends the message: that men are not victims of sexual violence, but the perpetrator.

Despite this limited view of sexual violence, men and boys do experience sexual violence. According to the 2012 National Intimate Partner and Sexual Violence Survey, it is estimated that 1 in 6 cisgender men will experience contact sexual violence during their lifetime. This may include being forced to penetrate, attempted or completed rape, sexual coercion, and other nonconsensual sexual contact.

Data suggests men underreport sexual assaults. Growing up, young boys are socialized to believe that physical and mental toughness and heterosexual prowess defines one’s masculinity (Amin et al., 2018). Phrases such as “being a ladies’ man” or “boys will be boys” encourage these behaviors and teach them from a young age that its acceptable to be aggressive and should be proud of attracting women. This results in toxic masculinity, which focuses on power, strength, and aggression. With these ideas, men are told that they cannot afford to be weak and must be in control at all times. This can be detrimental for male survivors of sexual violence because it suggests they can never be a victim.

As a result, male survivors experience different victim blaming messages depending on the gender of their perpetrator. In incidents where an individual who identifies as a woman commits the violence, the male victim is told they “got lucky.” This relates back to society’s idea that a man must have sex in order to become a “real man” and should embrace any form of sexual activity with a woman (Lowe & Rogers, 2006). Having this belief in society invalidates their experience and discourages survivors from coming forward. In contrast, cases involving male perpetrators result in others questioning the masculinity and physical strength of the victim.

Men of color may face additional challenges as they face racial bias in addition to gender expectations.  For example, Latino men may be expected to embody machismo-or a strong sense of masculine pride. This concept forces men to develop “identities and roles associated with force, risk, independence, and courage.” and may crate reporting barriers for Latino man who experiences a sexual assault.  Stereotypes associated with the African American community can also prevent these survivors from acknowledging the abuse and reporting the incident. Men from this group may face racist beliefs that they are aggressive and strong, capable of being perpetrators but not victims. As a result, these individuals are more likely to experience backlash when speaking out about sexual violence they experienced. This was seen when Terry Crews came forward during the #MeToo movement to speak about his sexual assault. Several high profile Hollywood stars including rapper 50 Cent and comedian D.L. Hughley mocked his response to the trauma. Crews, who naturally froze after experiencing the assault, was criticized by these men for not violently fighting off the perpetrator. These Hollywood stars demonstrated society’s hypermasculine expectations of how men should react with violence. This misinformed understanding of the demographics of sexual violence reinforces the stigma associated with male survivors and makes it more difficult for others to come forward (Nelson, 2019).

As advocates and believers of those who have experienced sexual violence, we must actively work together to strengthen our support for men and boys sexual assault survivors. Like all victims of sexual violence, the initial response is the most important one as it will influence how the survivors will come to view their experience and how they will share it in the future. This is especially true when working with male survivors since these groups experience a stronger stigma that discourages them from speaking out (Kennedy, 2018). Thus, it is critical to provide emotional validation and remind them it was not their fault.

Furthermore, we must continue to expand our resources for these individuals. A qualitative study conducted by Røberg et al. (2018) found that men who experienced sexual or physical trauma as a child benefited from participating in small male support groups. During the interview process, several participants stated that having an all-male environment made the group feel safer and helped them feel more comfortable expressing their feelings, especially those that showed weakness. Liddon et al. (2018) also found similar results of men preferring support groups and noted that participants would be more inclined to get help if male friendly services were available.

Several organizations have adapted this idea of creating a safe environment for male survivors. For example, 1in6, an organization specifically designed to support victims and provide information on sexual violence towards men, has partnered with RAINN to create a 24-hour chat hotline dedicated to these individuals. A website called Malesurvivor has also created moderated forums and chat rooms for male survivors to support each other and have listed several online and in-person support groups on their website.

Although expanding national resources is imperative, we must evaluate our individual organization’s accessibility and inclusion of male survivors. By creating a safe space for these individuals and educating ourselves on the unique challenges they experience, we can encourage survivors from all genders and cultural backgrounds to speak out get the services and support they need.


Amin, A., Kågesten, A., Adebayo, E., & Chandra-Mouli, V. (2018). Addressing Gender Socialization and Masculinity Norms Among Adolescent Boys: Policy and Programmatic Implications. The Journal of adolescent health : official publication of the Society for Adolescent Medicine, 62(3S), S3–S5.

Kennedy, Megan, "Gender Differences in Sexual Assault and PTSD Stigma" (2018). Research in the Capitol. 7.

Liddon, L., Kingerlee, R. and Barry, J.A. (2018), Gender differences in preferences for psychological treatment, coping strategies, and triggers to help‐seeking. Br J Clin Psychol, 57: 42-58.

Nelson, Michael. (2019). Traditional Gender Roles: The Culture of Toxic Masculinity and the Effect on Male Rape Victims. In BSU Master’s Theses and Projects. Item 71. Available at

Perrott, S. & Webber, N. (1996). Attitudes toward male and female victims of sexual assault. Journal of Psychology & Human Sexuality 8(4), 19-38. Doi: 10.1300/J056v08n04_02

Røberg, L., Nilsen, L., & Røssberg, J. I. (2018). How do men with severe sexual and physical childhood traumatization experience trauma-stabilizing group treatment? A qualitative study. European journal of psychotraumatology, 9(1), 1541697.


Related Articles

Stay In The Loop

Sign up for our mailing list to receive Frontline, MCASA’s quarterly eNewsletter, and stay updated on MCASA’s programs and upcoming events and training in Maryland.

Sign Up