Men are often looked at only as perpetrators of sexual assaults. But what happens to those men who become victims of such assaults? These men feel just as emotionally traumatised and depressed as women do, reveals new research.
Sexual assault is unwanted sexual contact — including rape — and is a traumatising event linked to numerous mental health consequences associated with negative outcomes such as depression, post-traumatic stress disorder, fear, anxiety, alcohol dependence, use of illicit substances, suicidal ideation, and attempted suicide. While there is extensive research on the collateral consequences experienced by females, almost no research exists on how sexual violence affects adult, non-incarcerated males or how it affects them as compared to females.
The new findings, published in the journal Women & Criminal Justice, challenge a sociological theory that explains that men are more likely to respond to sexual assault with anger and by engaging in criminal activity, while women are more likely to respond with depression and sadness.
“When we began this study, we thought for sure that we would find that females who were sexually assaulted would exhibit higher depression scores than males who were sexually assaulted,” said lead researcher Lisa Dario, Assistant Professor at Florida Atlantic University in the US.
“I think this is probably because of antiquated ideas that men and women experience emotions differently. What we actually discovered, much to our surprise, is that sexual assault is traumatic regardless of gender,” Dario added. The study involved a sample size of 11,860 adults in the US — 5,922 men and 5,938 women — obtained from the National Violence Against Women Survey’s database.
The researchers found that all victims of sexual assault had higher depression scores than individuals who have had not experienced sexual assault in their lifetime.
Men make up about 38 percent of sexual assault and rape incidents reported, and those in the military are particularly vulnerable and more unlikely to report an assault, according to the US National Crime Victimisation Survey results. The researchers suspect that it is possible that men may even experience depression more than women because they do not have the social outlets and support systems available to women, and therefore may wind up internalising their feelings and emotions.
“There is no room for ‘sexism’ in sexual assault research [by ignoring male victims] and we must bring attention to an issue that impacts men equally, especially if we know that their negative emotional responses are treatable,” Dario said.