One in six men in the US is sexually assaulted before age 18, according to studies from the 1980s to the early 2000s, and about seven percent of men reported being sexually assaulted while attending college, according to a 2015 study by the Washington Post and the Kaiser Family Foundation. Those men can experience complex barriers to talking about the assaults and seeking help.
Many of the challenges are defined by social pressure, including the false ideas that sexual assault makes them less masculine, that women can’t assault men, or that “real men” don’t talk about, let alone get help for, painful experiences. Faculty, staff, parents, and other supporters can make this conversation more effective by validating male students’ experiences and letting them make choices about what to do next.
Allow students to make their own decisions about what they want to do
Don’t push students who’ve experienced sexual violence to any particular course of action. One reason that sexual violence is so harmful is that it takes away people’s autonomy. By allowing students who’ve experienced sexual violence to make their own choices, you’re putting power back in their hands.
How to talk about the sexual assault of men
- Avoid pronouns that assume the gender of the perpetrator.
- Make clear that you’re not making presumptions about the survivor’s experience based on his identity, especially his sexual orientation or gender identity. “Signal your openness to hearing a more complex narrative, about, for example, ‘people of all genders,’” says Dr. Melanie Boyd, assistant dean of student affairs at Yale University in Connecticut.
- Some people don’t use the word “rape” or “assault” to describe what may seem to be sexual violence, or relate to the terms “victim” or “survivor.” It’s not your job to apply those words to his experience.
Promote campus and community resources
Make sure your students are aware of campus and community resources that can support them if they (or a friend) experience sexual violence. Emphasize that these resources are available for students who aren’t sure if their experiences qualify as sexual misconduct or for students who are concerned about a friend.
Here’s how other colleges and universities are addressing it
- The Princeton SHARE Center’s website shows the wide range of choices available to students who’ve experienced sexual misconduct in a simple, clear layout. This lets students know that they can reach out for help without fear of being pressured into a certain course of action.
- Grand Rapids Community College uses a video to explain the Title IX reporting system step by step. The video approach makes university resources seem more personal, accessible, and easy to understand.
- Colorado State University’s Women and Gender Advocacy Center’s website gives helpful advice to students supporting survivors. This gives students tools to help their friends and signals that the university is a supportive space.
Bella Alarcon, bilingual clinician, Boston Area Rape Crisis Center, Massachusetts.
Melanie Boyd, PhD, assistant dean in student affairs; lecturer in women’s, gender, and sexuality studies, Yale University, Connecticut.
Jim Hopper, PhD, independent consultant and clinical instructor in psychology, Department of Psychiatry, Harvard Medical School, Massachusetts.
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