Commentary: Boys and men are also victims of abuse

It is wrong to assume that only women and girls benefit from laws and treatment.

Francisco Kjolseth | The Salt Lake Tribune Donna Kelly, Sexual Assault and Domestic Violence Resource Prosecutor, talks about the release new data on the economic burden of sexual violence in Utah. This is the first time data on the total financial costs of sexual violence in Utah has been compiled. In Utah, one in eight women and one in 50 men will report being raped and nearly one in three women will experience some form of sexual violence. Utah ranks 9th in the nation for reported rape.

Regarding the Salt Lake Tribune editorials of Oct. 5, “Justice for victims: New law remove cruel time limit,” and Oct. 12, “More is better: Sexual assaults get needed attention,” the authors exclude almost half of the victims of childhood sexual assault.

In the Oct. 5 editorial, twice the author states the benefits, to women, of Ken Ivory’s legislation HB279, to extend the statute of limitations for reporting sexual abuse. Again, in the Oct. 12 editorial, adult women of college age are referenced as the victims who are reporting more assaults.

In our careers at The Rape Recovery Center, we sadly learned too much about who gets sexually assaulted. Pedophiles abuse females and males. Pedophilia is not related to the perpetrator’s sexual orientation and many offenders are trusted, heterosexual males in our communities and known to the victim’s family.

Current research reveals that 10 percent to 20 percent of girls and 5 percent to 10 percent of boys are victims of child sexual abuse. One in six males are sexually assaulted at sometime during their lifetime. There has been a barrage of news stories about sexual assault of boys at storied institutions including Penn State, Horace Mann Academy, Canadian Hockey Jr. League, the Catholic Church, the Boy Scouts, etc.

Additionally, assaults disguised under the banner of “hazing” often include sexual and genital contact or harm. Heterosexual men are known to assault men perceived as “weak,” to “teach them a lesson.” This, along with numerous other scenarios, result in males being the victim of sexual assault.

Your editorials about the Ken Ivory bill removing the statute of limitations states the benefits to “women, (abused as minors) who could not face a public lawsuit until many years later.” Boys and men deal with the shame and scaring of being victimized by a pedophile in additionally complex ways.

Boys wonder, just as girls, “what is wrong with me that the predator chose me?” They also wonder, “does this mean I’m gay?” It complicates maturation and the abuse is repressed for many years. This bill should help Utah men and “women stand up for themselves and bring abusers to justice.”

Young adult men and mature men rarely report sexual abuse. The victim-shaming is acute for men. If a man thinks about reporting, he may (wrongly!) ask himself, “how could this happen to me?” “what did I do to cause this?” “How can I be a ‘real’ man?” Unless he seeks professional help, there may be no one in a man’s life who has knowledge on how to believe and support a male survivor. Assault is non-consenting and usually includes manipulation, control and anger. Yet, male assault is seldom labeled as “rape.” A “real” man is expected to be able to defend himself or enjoy any sexual experience, even those involving domestic abuse, coercion and violence.

Reporting about issues of sexual assault must include all victims, not just women and girls. Additionally, all boys, girls, men and women of certain populations are more at risk for assault and less likely to be able to report, be believed, and provide evidence. The elderly, differently abled, hearing and visually impaired, sexual and/or gender diverse individuals, homeless, undocumented, etc. are viewed by perpetrators as more easily overpowered and less likely to report.

Resources for male survivors include the national non-profit websites for Helping Men Heal Weekends of Recovery, One in Six, RAINN, and the Rape Recovery Center in Salt Lake City.

Jim Struve

Jim Struve, LCSW, is manager of Weekends of Recovery and has been a therapist and a social justice advocate for male survivors of sexual trauma for 41 years.

Martha Jaye Rieser

Martha Jaye Rieser, MSW (retired) worked in social service administration in the fields of substance abuse, with the Mayors Coalition, and sexual violence, with the Rape Recovery Center in Salt Lake City.