Left behind: The experiences of male sexual assault victims & survivors at Queen’s

Pervasive stigma and lack of sufficient resources present barriers to recovery 

According to professionals, male sexaul assault is extremely underreported.

This article talks about sexual assault and may be triggering for some readers.

On a chilly fall night in 2015, Mason* and his housemates hosted a party that started out like any other. 

After a few drinks, he started flirting with a girl he knew from his classes. When Mason suddenly began to feel sick, he left the party and went to his upstairs bedroom. 

A little later on in the night, Mason woke up to find the girl from earlier had entered his room. At first, she simply made conversation with him, but things quickly escalated. After the girl began to kiss him, Mason said she started to remove articles of his clothing despite his protests.  

“At first I tried to push her away, but I felt like it wasn’t like a normal thing for me to say no and she seemed annoyed I wasn’t as into it as she was,” he said. “I remember at one point she glared at me and said ‘What’s the matter with you?’” 

Mason’s classmate then proceeded to engage in oral and penetrative sex. When it ended, Mason remembered his unresponsive reaction angered her. She stormed out of the room soon after. 

“I got up probably hours later and took a shower and I remember I threw out the underwear I was wearing when she came in. I couldn’t look at myself in the mirror that whole night.” 

The next morning — and for weeks afterwards — Mason isolated himself. He stopped going to parties and didn’t attend any of the classes he shared with the girl.

“I felt abnormal. It was like I wasn’t a proper guy because I hadn’t wanted to sleep with her,” he said. 

Although it’s not typically talked about, Mason’s story is only one instance of sexual violence committed against males at Queen’s. 

According to a 2013 report published by the Canadian Department of Justice, research conducted on male sexual abuse and assault is substantially insufficient when compared to female assault. The report also revealed that as of 2010, males account for one tenth — or 12 per cent — of total victims of abuse according to police-reported data. 

Currently, there’s no agreed upon estimate for the commonality of sexual violence against males. 

Kingston Police Staff Sergeant Sean Bambrick said sexual assaults are severely underreported for a number of reasons. Some fears — being disbelieved, the complications of knowing the offender and the daunting criminal justice process — are shared amongst men and women. 

But in the same way female victims and survivors face their own gendered struggles, other factors come into play for male-identified victims and survivors. 

Barb Lotan, Queen’s Sexual Violence Prevention and Response Coordinator, said pervading perceptions around masculinity are a prominent barrier for men. 

“They feel a certain reluctance to disclose because there are some perceptions around masculinity that influence how they’re feeling about it and how they’ll be received,” Lotan said. 

Sexual Violence and Bystander Awareness Student Coordinator Lea Keren addressed other damaging rape mythology surrounding male victims and survivors. 

“Our culture sees men as being sexually insatiable, which makes it difficult for men to say they didn’t consent to a sexual act or acts,” Keren said. 

Brea Hutchinson, the Executive Director of the Sexual Assault Centre Kingston said there’s a common idea that “you can’t sexually assault a male.” It’s something she finds incredibly problematic. 

“One of those rape myths is that everyone reacts to sexual violence violently ... there’s flight, there’s fight, and there’s freeze, and so many of us just freeze up,” Hutchinson said. “And a lot of that freezing can come from harm reduction.” Stephen*, another male survivor of sexual assault at Queen’s, can attest to the ‘freeze’ reaction Hutchinson talked about. 

Stephen began to see men in early 2016. After downloading Grindr, he began chatting with an older man and eventually agreed to a date at a bar with him and his partner. They ended up at the couple’s home where the three continued to drink before they entered the bedroom.  

“This was when I started getting a little overwhelmed ... and then the one puts on a condom but the other’s isn’t there ... and I’m like: “Stop, what are you doing?” Stephen recalled.

Despite indicating he didn’t want to participate, the two men had sex with Stephen. 

“I wanted to run away, but it was weird because I was just completely frozen, I just felt paralyzed,” Stephen said. “I wanted to run, yell, get out of there, but instead I was completely frozen. I couldn’t leave.” 

Like Mason, Stephen went through periods of isolation. In the following weeks, he attempted to block out the night of his sexual assault from his mind. 

At this time, his mental health also suffered a sharp decline. He stopped seeing his friends, his depression worsened and he eventually ended up on suicide watch.  

“Basically every night I would call a friend, broken down, saying ‘I’m done,’” Stephen said. 

When it comes to supporting victims and survivors of rape, it seems males are often unintentionally left behind.

Earlier this year, Queen’s student Landon Wilcock wrote an op-ed in The Journal about his experience with sexual assault. In an interview last week, Wilcock told The Journal he researched resources for victims and survivors after his assault. However, much of what he found was predictably geared towards females.

“I really struggled to relate or find resources ... what dissuaded me from seeking out these resources was thinking, ‘As a male, if I go into some kind of centre, it just wouldn’t make sense for me, because these resources are set up for female-identified people,” Wilcock said.  

“I also felt like if I went to some kind of group discussion I might even make that an uncomfortable space for the female-identifying people,” he continued. “Maybe then I’d actually be damaging a space for other survivors, which I didn’t think was fair.” 

When it came to accessing professional support services, going to the authorities or to the hospital, Wilcock remained uncomfortable. He said this was a barrier to his post-traumatic growth. 

 “After the event I really didn’t know what to do. I never considered myself someone clueless about sexual health resources, but after the event I genuinely considered going to the hospital, and I didn’t for a couple reasons: one, I thought if I go to the hospital they won’t believe me. As well as, ‘what would they even do there?’” Wilcock explained.  

“Everything I’d ever been taught or heard under the sexual health umbrella of resources was for [women],”  he said. 

Wilcock didn’t pursue legal action against his assailant for similar reasons, citing fear of disbelief. An awareness of the unfounded rates for female-reported sexual assaults further deterred him. 

According to The Globe and Mail’s “Unfounded” investigation published in February of 2017, one in five sexual assault cases in Canada are dismissed as baseless. 

In the time since his party, Mason said he’s faced similar obstacles.

“A lot of [my friends] were confused about how their six foot male friend could have been assaulted. I got asked ‘How could that happen to you?’ more than once.” 

Mason said the expectation that men always want sex leads to disbelief and skepticism when they disclose an assault. Stigma and confusion around non-violent reactions to sexual assault further discourages men from coming forward. 

“I think people tend to picture rape as this struggle between the victim and perpetrator, with yelling and fighting. But rape can be quiet too. It can be a silent struggle,” Mason explained.

“I didn’t want to be an anomaly so I tried to tell myself it wasn’t sexual assault for so long. But it became hard to pretend like it hadn’t happened. I couldn’t find a way to box up my rape and shelve it.” 

 

*Names have been changed to protect the anonymity of individuals who shared their stories. 

 

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