The body remembers past violence as if it were happening again. A number of other study participants made similar references when describing situations in which they had unintentionally run into their perpetrators years after the sexual assault had occurred. I froze completely. I could not move. I was a child again. Alone, without support, trying to think clearly but unable to do so.
In a split second, he was a child again, standing in front of his perpetrator. Sexual assault is about power, creating a victim that the perpetrator can make shake and sweat by a mere glimpse or a flashback. The victim is reminded of the power relation and the vulnerable situation he experienced, retaining the sense of being defenseless and always vulnerable to potential threats.
This emphasis on the exercise of power in experiences of sexual assault was mainly expressed in cases in which the perpetrator had been male. One man, who had experienced forced sexual intercourse by a female perpetrator, has a different way of understanding the assault:. I was in a very unpleasant situation. I could not act as I wanted to or ward off the attack, mainly because of the situation we were in and the relation I had to her. I could have used physical violence to make her stop, but I did not. I have not felt hurt by the incident even though she used a lot of physical violence.
Resp 6. The respondent emphasizes the minimal impact of the sexual assault, even though he recognizes that the sexual activity was coerced and included physical violence. Time is recognized as having an impact on the way the victim conceptualizes the sexual assault.
He has chosen to see the violation in more positive terms over the years, coping with the experience by turning it into something positive rather than a violation. While other study participants described sexual violence perpetrated by men as coercive, violent and powerful, this participant is coping with the experience by feeling flattered by the incident in accordance with norms of male sexuality.
The majority of study participants spoke at length about how they have developed a certain sensitivity following their experience of sexual assault.
Respondent 3 clarifies this further:. I react very strongly when I see violence.
Breaking with Norms of Masculinity: Men Making Sense of Their Experience of Sexual Assault
I hate physical violence. I do not want to see people or animals exposed to violence. It has to do with the fact that I feel their vulnerability.
Even in war, I feel their insecurity, loneliness, powerlessness and the violence. In a similar way, all the respondents described how, over the years, they have opposed or taken an active stance against violence in various ways.
Several men also described having developed something like a sixth sense based on their lived experience. I see and feel violence, pedophiles and hypersexual men from miles away. I react instantly and long before other people even notice. Being oversensitive may result in always being on the lookout for dangers, which many of participants reported.
It may also result in anger and outbursts of rage. In fact, half of the participants described anger as an emotion that affects their way of acting in the world and their relationships with other people. Others described their anger as something that has vanished over the years, gradually becoming transformed into sorrow. According to Respondent 4, anger has played a major role in how he has felt and acted in his life, and he mentioned feeling homicidal rage related in an earlier quotation when he saw a group of men wearing similar clothing to that which the perpetrators had worn.
Respondent 4 related his anger to the power structures in which he grew up, to the feeling of being powerless in what he described as patriarchal structures, and the culture of men. Respondent 3 described the same reasoning as underlying his actions:. When I was around twenty, I lived out all the aggressions I had accumulated at school.
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I became very rebellious. I was already institutionally damaged, meaning that I was not afraid of being caught by the police. I was not afraid of being punished anymore. I still have a need to annoy authorities, but nowadays I do it verbally instead. Resp 3. Four participants, including Respondents 3 and 4, reported that they had become involved in criminal activity when they were younger as a way of acting out the anger that they felt in relation to the powerless situation they had experienced when they were sexually assaulted.
They reported having been involved in stealing and crashing cars, selling alcohol and drugs illegally, and also in reckless driving, robbery and violence. Two participants also reported turning their anger against themselves, among other things in the form of suicidal thoughts and self-injury. A few have spent time in prison for the crimes they have committed, but most of the study participants did not end up as criminals despite their early involvement in such activities.
Respondent 3 still reacts against and resists his experience of physical and sexual violence, using words instead of criminal activities. However, Respondent 4 explained that, despite having a good and prosperous life, he still feels the need to shoplift. Some participants did not recognize themselves as angry at all but still pointed out that they have problems with authorities and certain types of power relations.
In fact, as many as seven participants described that they repeatedly or during certain periods of their lives have ended up in conflicts with colleagues and managers at work. Many participants described similar experiences to those of Respondent I have conflicts and disagreements with my bosses and male authorities, and I react intensely. I am very vulnerable, easily offended, and I respond negatively to criticism.
We Need to Acknowledge Male Rape Victims' Trauma, Researchers Say - VICE
Men in positions of power—I still have problems with that sometimes, in particular those manly men in their fifties. Resp 2. The above description points to how study participants sensitize and respond to unbalanced power relations in everyday life. The men who were sexually assaulted by other men specifically referred to patriarchal structures and the culture of masculinity as extremely provocative. I am so grateful because the experience of sexual abuse has opened my eyes and my perspective. They are also able to reflect on how their experiences have changed their worldviews and gender perspectives in a more positive way.
All the study participants had disclosed their experience of sexual assault to families and friends, but deeper conversations were said to be avoided generally. They related this to their feelings of embarrassment or shame, which were rooted in the intimidating nature of the violation and the conflicting perceptions about their own involvement and responsibility in the assault. Similarly, the other participants reported simply mentioning their experience, avoiding details and feelings in situations involving face-to-face interactions.
Perceived or actual social responses are key to understanding why the study participants tend to avoid disclosure. The majority of men also described difficulties in accepting being perceived as a victim, in terms of an identity. Being seen as a powerless victim of sexual violence is particularly difficult for men, as this transgresses conventional norms of masculinity.
Like many other participants, Respondent 9 resists victimhood by refusing to talk about the traumatic experience with those around him. Instead, he relays his experience only to those who are able to comprehend the narrative, such as professionals. Both Respondents 1 and 3 spoke at length about how their younger brothers had suffered from various forms of extreme violence, both physical and sexual. Four of the study participants revealed that they turned to therapy in an effort to understand and process their experience and to improve their psychosocial well-being.
Most of the men also relied on various forms of self-care strategies, which all came in the form of artistic expression. Three men articulated their experience by writing books, poetry, manuscripts or diaries and notes.