When we frame any sort of sexual abuse as a “sexual relationship” or call a male survivor of sexual abuse lucky, we harm survivors of any gender.
Another story rolled through my newsfeed this week about a female teacher who allegedly committed statutory rape against a male student. I’m sick of these stories. I’m sick of adults abusing children, and I’m sick of the way the media portrays male survivors of abuse as willing accomplices or “lucky boys” when the perpetrator is a female.
Why do we do this? Why aren’t we willing to protect our boys and stand up for them? Why don’t we think they deserve the right to bodily autonomy and consent?
My own personal opinion is that we are so attached to our gender binary when it comes to sex that we are willing to harm pretty much everybody to maintain it. This myth promotes the idea that men are sex-hungry beasts and women are the guardians of virtue, and harms people of any gender, pushing us deeper into shame and secrecy.
I reached out to Peter Pollard and Steve LePore of 1in6, an organization with a mission to help men who have had unwanted or abusive sexual experiences in childhood live healthier, happier lives. I wanted to know the history of the messages that say boys who are victims “wanted it.”
We’re all raised in a culture that says boys are always supposed to initiate and enjoy a sexual experience and males are never supposed to see themselves or be seen as victims.
We all go to great lengths to avoid feeling vulnerable. So it shouldn’t be surprising that we scramble to find a reassuring explanation to convince ourselves that we, or someone we love couldn’t possibly be forced to unwillingly engage in something as intimate as a sexual act. The easiest default is to “blame the victim,” to say “he wanted it,” “he must have chosen that.”
It’s even more confusing if it’s a boy who is in the less powerful role. Even the boy has a stake in believing he “wanted it” rather than being seen by himself or others as a “victim.”
Since first taking note of the way the media covers these stories, calling them “sexual relationships” and “hot for teacher” scenarios, I’ve wondered how language that frames abuse as a mutual relationship can affect male survivors, and why the media insists on framing these stories as inherently consensual when they are not. Steve LePore explained:
“A lot of the confusion about sexual abuse is the result of focusing on the “sexual” aspect rather than the “abusive” use of power over someone who is in some way dependent. The most damaging impact of sexual abuse has more to do with a child experiencing a lack of control, a sense of betrayal, and loss of trust toward someone who was expected to be in a protective role.
And it’s not just the child in question who may be affected by the way the media or people in his life discuss it. Other survivors may feel the language used by the media and people discussing the case diminishes their own experiences and feelings. Steve elaborated on that point, too:
The description of it being a “relationship” can feel like a mockery of those feelings for any boy or man who has been abused. Especially in a student/teacher situation – because of the built-in power imbalance that that role gives a teacher over the life of a student – no child can ever be in a position to consent to a “sexual relationship” with a teacher.”
Chris Anderson, who advocates for and works with men who’ve survived sexual violence or abuse through MaleSurivor.org explains how damaging the “lucky bastard” mentality of believing that all boys want sex can be:
“The conversation around sexual violence routinely minimizes the experience of boys and men who are victimized. Comedians like Bill Maher joke repeatedly about how a boy or man who is raped by a woman is “lucky.”
This creates an environment where males don’t recognize rape and abuse for what it is, shames men who have been victimized, and stigmatizes the few boys and men who do have the courage to come forward.”
Kristen Sukura, Executive Director of the Sexual Violence Center in Minneapolis, which supports survivors and works to help end sexual violence, and also offers a 24-hour support hotline for survivors of any gender or sexual orientation, agrees that it’s dangerous to make light of the experiences of male victims.
When we treat certain acts of sexual violence as less serious than others – or something worth joking about – we are reinforcing the often-crippling shame suffered by victims of sexual violence who are not female-identified. Because what we are telling each other – and young people – is that a ‘victim’ looks a certain way, and acts a certain way, and anyone not fitting into that mold couldn’t possibly be a victim. And, therefore, what happened to them could not possibly be considered sexual violence.
To Sukura’s point, when we start naming who can and cannot be a victim, we are also sending a message to female survivors re-enforcing the incredibly dangerous notion that there are some victims who matter and others who don’t, or some rapes that count and some that don’t. With the prevalence of victim-blaming against women and girls as well as men and boys, the last thing we need for anybody of any gender or orientation is more shame.
So, what can be done by those of us in the media, and people in general, to help support survivors? First, we have to stop using terms that imply consent of the victim when we discuss sexual violence or statutory rape. We need to stop ourselves, and evaluate how we speak about any survivor, and challenge our ideas of what it means to be a boy or man. As Dr. Andrew Irwin-Smiler wrote, the myth of the “roving inseminator” must die. Men and boys deserve to give consent and to have it respected.
To fellow editors and writers: Take the time to look over your headlines and content relating to the abuse of boys to be sure you’re not encouraging dangerous stereotypes and victim-blaming mentality. Statutory rape isn’t a “sexual relationship,” it’s rape.
Peter Pollard further explains that the emphasis should be less on the sexual aspects of the story, and more on the violation of trust and power that occurred.
Talk about the impact on the other students, what lessons the teacher has conveyed to the rest of the students and how that impacts their dependent relationships with other teachers. What are parents’ expectations of safety when they send their child to school? Explore the responsibility of other teachers, administrators and staff to speak up if they have concerns about a teacher behaving inappropriately with a student.
It’s our responsibility to support survivors of sexual trauma and abuse, and one way we can do that is by watching the language we use. We need to make our world a safe place for victims and survivors to come forward and receive the help and healing that is available to them.
For support and resources or to learn more about the advocates and experts quoted above, see below:
The Sexual Violence Center of Minneapolis 612-871-5111
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This is an important and well-written article, Joanna. I know that you have dealt with this topic not only as a writer, but as an editor for my own submission on the topic a few years back (https://goodmenproject.com/good-feed-blog/adam-sandler-and-rape-culture/). This thread in response to your piece runs through a full range of perspectives here – consistent with the motto of this site. You’ve certainly sparked the conversation, and it is an important one.
If the majority of contributors have failed to get this publication to stop erasing male victims and female abusers – after years of constant pressure and complaining, how are “we” supposed to influence the media at large to change?
@ BAT I’ve been critical of GMP also, but I do need to stand up for them here. We should be able to accept growing pains when things actually change. I have seen some improvement in the coverage of issues affecting men. When initially discussing the Ray Rice incident, GMP was deleting any comments suggesting that Rice was defending himself effectively denying the fact that Ray Rice could show fear (of a smaller person) or doubt. GMP was essentially supporting the myths that men can’t be abused because they’re bigger, while 18% of men / boys reported that women used… Read more »
I don’t share your optimism.
These aren’t gowning pains. Its being stagnant for years. Watch how they will keep promoting the myths, while paying lip service to debunking them. The management are ideologically predisposed to promoting these myths.
“Why do we do this? Why aren’t we willing to protect our boys and stand up for them? Why don’t we think they deserve the right to bodily autonomy and consent?” The reason? Because we would have to tell women not to rape. When we talk about anti-rape campaigns targeted at men we say don’t rape. When we talk about how to help our boys and men, we say change the language. That might be a necessary component. I’m not arguing that, but the focus should be on preventing victimization in the first place. That’s how we’d approach it if… Read more »
John Anderson, spot on.
It IS spot on. I’d like to see a campaign with pictures of attractive people of both genders and the caption: “Who’s the perpetrator?” and then under that, “They both are,” Rather than gender reversals, I’d like to see it become a non-gendered issue entirely. I think women fear that they will lose credibility and compassion if men are given equal consideration when it comes to assault and abuse, but I believe the opposite will happen. If rape is taken seriously and trauma is better understood, and if BOTH genders are treated with equal care and respect, wouldn’t that be… Read more »
Honest to god serious question here, Joanna. How can you- and by that I mean GMP- run this article mere days before you ran this one: https://goodmenproject.com/featured-content/homeland-challenges-stereotypes-hot-guys-fat-women-shesaid/
…I mean, here you have a sober woman taking advantage of a severely drunk woman, and we’re expected to believe that this is empowering? Because she’s a fat woman?
This is rape.
Or does the “you can’t consent while drunk” thing only apply to women?
In an earlier comment I mentioned the behaviour of my country’s womens’ magazines in their “reporting” of cutesy “romances” between little boys and adult women. At least those magazines don’t make any pretense about it. At least they don’t pretend to be oh so caring and empathetic towards male victims and victims of female perpetrators in order to lure them in to what is not a safe environment for them.
Excellent point! (P.S. You had an error when you said it was a sober woman taking advantage of a severely drunk “woman”–I know you meant “man”.)
I am rather new to GMP’s website (but not to them on twitter), and I agree there are articles here on GMP that contradict others. Therefore, I am not able to truly understand what GMP stands for/its values. This comes from not enough close review of articles before they are published.
Join the club on that one. This website was supposed to be about telling mens stories, and trying to find solutions to the problems experience by them.
Unfortunately GMP has a rather large percentages of stories about women, their problems that have nothing to do with problems men are having.
C’mon, we know this is a feminist driven liberal sight and I’ve accepted it. I have noticed that there is a slight increase in showing real male issues but I don’t expect the site to go full tilt, it’s just not going to happen. So I’ve resigned myself to accepting the few bones that are thrown in that direction. What I will continue to struggle with is the silencing of many where responses are removed. At least give some leeway to allow voices to be heard and not silence them because it goes against the grain. In my experience this… Read more »
„This comes from not enough close review of articles before they are published.“ I don’t think so. I believe it is because there are only very few people (male and female) who have an interest in the issues presented here. I’d guess most women don’t really see why they should engage themselves in men’s issues at all, and most men either don’t realize there are any issues – or they chose to deal with them in a very different (and in my mind utterly non-constructive) way, namely by joining MRA anti-feminist websites. So in short, contradictory positions are published, because… Read more »
Theorema Egregium , as I am rather new to their website, I was giving them the benefit of the doubt. However, I will defer your opinion. Thanks.
At this point in history, the most influential promoters of the myth that women don’t rape and men cannot be raped are the people that control the stats and continually and deliberately give out the stats for male to female rape, while always omitting the stats for male victimization and female perpetration.
Thank you for writing this article, as it is a subject that both needs to be discussed in open and honest ways and one the public and media need to be better educated on. (FYI, I RT your tweet about this article from my Twitter account.) However, I was wondering whether you are aware of and can cite any recent, credible studies relating to HOW people (of different genders and different age groups) feel about female teachers being arrested for having sex with underage male students and WHY they feel that way. While the stereotype of males ‘getting lucky’ (I… Read more »
I think having sons (as the author) changes your perspective some. I don’t mean that in a negative way. Having 3 daughters made me more aware of the obstacles women face in education and carrier choices. In my ‘neck of the woods’ there have been about 7 or 8 ‘Female teacher sexually abuses male student cases in about the last year or so (the last one about a week ago) Every time I see the headline I think to myself “Wow, I wonder how many hours of community service she’s facing.” as most of these cases are ‘pleaded down’ to… Read more »
I know I’ll be lambasted for this, but I have to say, I’m a little divided on the subject. On one hand, I’m completely for the equal concern and treatment for boys and girls, men and women. And if someone has been genuinely used and abused, particularly by someone with the authority of position or age, I sincerely hope they are believed, and helped. On the other hand, when it comes to sexual encounters that are merely considered nonconsensual by statute only, I balk at the insistence on calling it “rape,” particularly when the the “victim” engages willingly and does… Read more »
I once dated a woman who, while in high school, had a sexual relationship with one of her teachers. She never felt like a victim, never felt abused, never felt ashamed. It had been a pleasant experience for her. I was a bit surprised by this, but I realized I had no basis for telling her that her feelings about it were wrong.
If that is your position, perhaps you should not republish articles that minimize women’s violence against men (an article published after your admonition). Doing otherwise would give the impression that one’s concern about dangerous stereotypes and victim-blaming mentality is more spurious than it already appears.
Jacobtk, thanks for raising that point and that article. FYI, the article has been removed!
That article was up for no more than an hour or two – the section that mentioned that Hope Solo’s DV wasn’t the same as Ray Rice’s had alluded the editor (who was new that week) and I took it down the MOMENT my eyes landed on it. It was a mistake, as you can see from the editor’s note that I personally wrote, and even that editor felt absolutely sick about their mistake. Jacob would rather focus on the short-lived and immediately removed mistakes we make than the hundreds of articles we publish every year that support male survivors… Read more »
Excellent! Thanks so much for your article. True Dat!
As someone studying sociolinguistics and masculinities at the PhD level, I agree with the author. Language is ridiculously powerful social element, and the intersection between the gender binary that we presently have and the language value attached to it is one of the major components that drives this issue. Hegemonic models make it hard to define men who are sexually abused by women as “victims” because of the (erroneous) assumption that they wanted it, and that this assault in itself can reinforce manhood. This also has to do with a cultural narrative which pushes the idea that men have to… Read more »
Joanna, Love the follow up to the sharing of my story, and the story of 2 other men… who were sexually abused. The change has to come from Men who have healed through this trauma… and yes it is a trauma. After more Men have healed and overcome their past is when we can move on to making this change. Too many Men are responsible for this BS myth. Those Men make me chuckle with their false bravado and Manly words… I know the child that is hiding on the inside throwing those barbs and I know his pain. Why?… Read more »
Mat Bryan, I definitely understand what you are saying about men healing to bring about change; however, I must respectfully disagree that (as is inferred) this is the only thing needed for positive change. I don’t believe the rest of us have to wait for all abused men to heal before we do our part to address the sexual abuse of men/boys, including by women. At the end of the day, in my opinion, as sexual abuse and IPV cross all demographics, they are a “people” problem and it will take “people” to come together to help solve them.
Ephebophilia is the primary or exclusive adult sexual interest in mid-to-late adolescents, generally ages 15 to 19
From a recent NYT’s Op Ed “The Americans With Disabilities Act of 1990 and Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973 prohibit discrimination against otherwise qualified individuals with mental disabilities, in areas such as employment, education and medical care. Congress, however, explicitly excluded pedophilia from protection under these two crucial laws. It’s time to revisit these categorical exclusions. Without legal protection, a pedophile cannot risk seeking treatment or disclosing his status to anyone for support. He could lose his job, and future job prospects, if he is seen at a group-therapy session, asks for a reasonable accommodation to take… Read more »
I remember when Barbara Walters gave validity to a female teacher who’d has sex with a teen student by having the both of them on her show (he had grown to an adult). This was back in 2004. Watch the interview, it was sickening in that there was no hard hitting “What you did teacher was sexual assault/rape.”
Oprah did the same thing, iirc
We are trying to change that. We are working very hard at it, too.
“Oprah did the same thing”
As do womens’ magazines in my country. Regularly. In fact one of those magazines – New Idea – paid the travel and living costs for a US woman who traveled to Australia to consumate her internet grooming of a 14/15 year old boy. It, as with all other instances, was treated as a cutesy romance.
Oprah Winfrey and those womens magazines know exactly what they are doing. They are successful BECAUSE they cater to exactly what their audiences want.
These comments remind me why I have been staying clear of any women’s magazines since delving into them over one or two summers at my aunt’s when I was 12/13. The world they portrayed had nothing to do with the reality around me and it wasn’t a world that I wanted to live in.
To be clear, Oprah was the first mainstream media outlet to TRULY cover male survivors of sexual abuse, and give them a forum to draw HUGE national attention to the issue, without shame and in a very empowering way.
It doesn’t mean she’s been perfect on the teacher thing, but let’s remember the good Oprah’s done on this subject, too.
As soon as Oprah Winfrey referred to them as “my victims” I realised that Oprah is in it for Oprah. This is an article about attitudes to victims of female perpetrators. She has demonstrated little interest in them. Just like many institutions and settings** the male who is abused by another male will be heard or accepted. Victims of female perpetrators can eat cake. And what’s this “teacher thing”? Not all the female perps Oprah treated as celebrities were teachers. Only about eight percent of female perpetrators ARE actually teachers. The only reason we hear mostly about teacher perps is… Read more »
Ophra walks lock step with the rest.
No mention of female perpetrators, erasing most of the male victims.
“It doesn’t mean she’s been perfect on the teacher thing”
Still waiting for a response here. What is “the teacher thing”? Is this yet another euphemism for female perpetrated child sexual abuse?
Statutory rape isn’t a “sexual relationship,” it’s rape…spoken like a true victim of brainwashing…so a 16 year old dating his 21 year old gf whos in a loving realionship and it happens to be “rape” and i use that term loose cause its a bs term in this case…in one state but yet not rape in 32 other states your gonna sit there and blanket call all these types of realionships rape..stautory rape is a made up term that changes in every country and state its so fluid one person whos “raped” in one state is another states wonderful loving… Read more »
I would be hard pressed to think about a teenage male that didn’t dream about that chance encounter with a hot teacher during my years in high school. Its a pipe-dream for many at that age. Not saying its right but it was a reality that I witnessed. Kids joked about it and talked about the what if’s is Ms. So-and-So asked them to stay “after class.” The reality is most kids didn’t know what sex really was and probably would have freaked out if something like that presented itself. I think most times, men think back to those times… Read more »
That’s precisely why this whole issue is so delicate: because teenagers (and actually even children) do have a sexuality – and in teenagers this sexuality is becoming mature. Female students also dream about teachers. And a few teenagers may even really want a sexual encounter. This is where strict differentiation must be practised, and teachers must always be mature enough to handle the blossoming sexual desire of young people. It is our responsibility as adults to guide young people towards a responsible sexual conduct, even and especially young people who may be infatuated with us (if we are their teacher… Read more »
depends on the situation and in many cases abuses wouldnbt be the right word..stuatory rape is a legal term but abuse has to be something abusivive a blow job is not abusivive if consneted and yes 14 and 15 year old boys can give thier consnet
You suggestion about changing language IS NOT the first thing we should do to change this attitude. The first thing we should do in any story, media coverage, Blog or any writing or video is to stop saying “Men get raped/sexual assaulted but women have it worse”. If we do this then it will make the sexual assault of boys (and men) meaningful in and of itself and not be conditional on what is happening to girls. A good example (though not sexual assault) is the episode of the “The Talk) where a man got his penis cut off by… Read more »
I don’t understand your complaint. Did I not just write an entire article where NOT ONCE did I reference who “has it worse”? Did I not just write an entire piece supporting male survivors and talking about how, for some reason, our society doesn’t feel the need to protect our boys and young men (and even grown men)? I don’t understand why, when I put out the effort to do something like this that is INCREDIBLY close to my heart, there is someone who comes in and tells me that it’s not enough, and accuses me of doing something that… Read more »
I thought you did a wonderful job of dealing with the topic. It’s especially nice to hear women refusing to take sides in that asinine contest of who get abused the worst.
I remember Dr. Phil said in one of his books that it doesn’t matter whether that guy your sharing a hospital room with is in a full body cast, it doesn’t make your leg any less broken.
Joanna: I wasn’t talking about YOU or even this article, I was talking about the conversation as a whole, I was saying that if we truly want to help boys and men we have to deal with the problems that have , NOT on the condition that they be helped but only if we helped girls and women first OR MORE.
This site has plenty of example of Authors who feel the need to justify their help of boys by pointing out they women have it worse.
Jatc I just don’t think your negativity needs to be here. I think it hijacks the comments unnecessarily and draws attention to the point of THIS article, and what needs to be done.
Joanna, you know I’m as critical as anyone when it comes to my views of GMP and the balance of articles regarding abused women vs men BUT to GMP’s credit, I have seen some changes that give me a feeling that there are attempts to balance the issue. What I take from what Jatc is saying is that there not only be more awareness of males being abused but an entire retooling with respect to how society sees men in general and on many levels. We should be pointing out areas where main stream media facilitate the degradation of men/boys.… Read more »
I am disappointed in your approach. There is a comment area for a reason—so people can comment and provide their opinions, as long as the debate is civil.. He was not bashing your particular article, only disagreeing that correcting language should be first in helping to resolve the problem.. Further, he expressed what he thought should be first, which was asking people to not say women have it worse then men (as survivors of sexual abuse) and that something needs to be done about a society (and women on the Talk) that make fun of the mutilation/cutting off of male… Read more »
Jatc, I understand what you are saying and believe you have a right to say it here, as you are responding to some of the pointswithin the article. People don’t have to agree and that is why there is a comment forum—mature people understand this.
I believe what Jatc is trying to convey is that we shouldn’t have to pay lip service to female victims and women’s issues in order for male victims to be recognized and be considered legitimate. Yes, women do have it bad but isn’t this already recognized and therefore should go without saying? Does acknowledging male victims somehow undermines the status of female victims as unimportant? Men’s issues should be considered important in and of themselves and shouldn’t have to piggyback women’s issues. Vice versa, If we recognize women’s suffering as a big problem then it should be unnecessary to devote… Read more »