Males survivors of sexual abuse are in the news with the #MeToo movement and the ongoing crisis in the Catholic Church about pedophile priests. Estimates show that one in six men has been sexually abused, but the reality, similar to the reality for women, is probably higher. With these high numbers, it is important not only for the survivor of abuse to understand how to cope, but also for the partner of the survivor, and we explore things that can help your male partner to not just survive the abuse, but to thrive.
14 Ways to Help Male Survivors Of Sexual Abuse
There are many things a partner can do to help. These include both female and male partners, and while the dynamics may be different, there are coping skills that can be utilized by any partner. These include:
- Listen to his description of the abuse. He needs to do this on his time frame for this is a very emotional and painful subject. Listening means being compassionate and loving no matter what he tells you. While you may be overtaken with sorrow for him, realize that this is his issue to deal with in the manner that works best.
- Believe him. As therapists, we know that survivors who are believed have a better outcome of recovery, and while this has mostly been examined when the person was abused (mostly childhood abuse), belief is very powerful for an adult survivor as well.
- Understand that male survivors may have a significant amount of shame not only because of being abused, but because of society’s focus on “men being men” – this could be about not being able to protect himself (from childhood abuse) or being harassed if he was abused by a female (“You should have just enjoyed it”).
- Support his getting help if he engages in self-destructive behavior or has PTSD from the abuse. Symptoms may include struggling with trust, depression, nightmares, and anxiety as well as self-mutilation such as cutting and burning.
- Realize that there may be issues regarding sexual orientation such as, “If I was raped by a male, maybe he saw that I was gay even though I think I’m straight” or, “How can I ever have loving sex with my male partner when I was raped by a man?”
- Offer encouragement regarding how he’s coping with the abuse. You can continue to be a support, but do not try to take on the role of his therapist.
- Let him know it’s not his fault that this happened. He was a victim. But also relate that he can become a healthy survivor instead of staying a victim.
- Understand that he may be concerned that he might be a sexual perpetrator. Let him know that abuse doesn’t cause one to be a perpetrator.
- Also, he may feel guilty if he orgasmed during the abuse; this is not uncommon. It doesn’t mean he enjoyed the abuse, it just means that the body responded to sexual stimulation.
- Recognize that he may struggle with intimacy and sexual relationships. This in an important area to discuss – when you are not having sex. Participate in intimate actions that don’t always lead to sex.
- Support him in seeking a survivor’s support group and/or therapy.
- Focus on how he has coped with the abuse with a survivor’s mentality and honor his recovery.
- If you’re a survivor, make sure that you are dealing with your own abuse issues.
- Take care of yourself and seek support as needed. You may also want to attend a support group and/or counseling.
There's hope with connection and acceptance and compassion. The survivor and you, his partner, can do a lot to help along the healing path. Abuse is horrific but with healthy coping, it can be turned not only into surviving, but thriving on the path of life.