In this blog post I want to share thoughts related to sexual violence from the perspective of men who have been targets of sexual assaults. In our work at Sopu, unit of Loisto setlementti, we have worked with several male clients who have faced sexual violence.
Sexual abuse of men or boys can happen in different places and in various circumstances. Some of them face this situation inside their families, so that the abusive person is a member of the family or a close relative. Others have encountered sexual abuse in another country, where they have been living in the middle of a war or a conflict zone. Some others have faced abuse and violence at the reception centers or in other places. Most of these victims think that the aim of sexual violence is to show the perpetrator’s power over the victims, and to dominate and control them.
One common consequence of sexual violence and sexual abuse is the feeling of shame and culpability. Most of the people I have met share this feeling. Many of them have been thinking that they were victims of sexual abuse because they didn’t look manly enough, or they weren’t strong enough to protect themselves, or because they belong to a gender or sexual minority. Also, this feeling of shame can be stronger when the perpetrator is female.
In the context of shame, stigma, and silence surrounding sexual violence against men and boys, acknowledging this phenomenon is a condition to provide adequate services and care. It is also important to challenge the social and cultural assumption that men are not vulnerable, along all the other stereotypes about boys and men.
Shame is one of the reasons that can make the recovery of a survivor take a long time. Shame can affect the way people see themselves, also in the eyes of others, and it can make them question whether they can trust their feelings and experiences. This feeling can also affect their relations with their families or/and their communities. This is why many of the survivors of sexual violence/abuse are also victims of honour related violence.
From the point of view of family or community of the victims, the victim has brought disgrace for the whole family, and caused a public humiliation for other family members/community. Those thoughts come from the social roles and norms of men and boys, and all the stereotypes related to manhood. Therefore, they can abandon the victims and punish them to clean the shame that was caused, in their eyes, by the victim’s action.
I think no one should live in this feeling of shame or feel dishonorable. The great responsibility is in the hands of the society, by questioning the definition of men/boy in different social contexts, also by questioning the expectations towards men and boys. I believe that it’s important for all the families to teach our kids that it’s “ok” to cry and feel vulnerable, no matter what your gender is. No one should have a need to be strong all the time,if you don’t feel so.
Kirjoittaja Hassen työskentelee Kunniakäsityksiin ja -konflikteihin liittyvän työn yksikössä Loisto setlementissä
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