April 20, 2018
The first time David, 19, of Jersey City, NJ, was sexually assaulted, he was a high school student minding his own business on a train. A man sat down next to him, showed him nude photos of himself and started touching him inappropriately. A year later, while a senior in high school, David was raped. The following year, while David was traveling abroad, a man sexually assaulted him. David had been having a rough time dealing with his identity as a gay male and blamed himself. “Because I was engaging in sexual behavior, I immediately thought I was at least partially at fault,” he says. After lots of reflection and therapy, he now states with confidence, “If you’ve been assaulted, it’s not your fault.”
April is Sexual Assault Awareness Month. We recognize this month as a time to have conversations about sexual assault, to educate ourselves and others about how to give and ask for consent and to support survivors of sexual assault. Because sexual assault is such a traumatic event, survivors often need support that can help them heal and regain self-esteem.
Sexual assault had a huge impact on David’s self-worth. “None of my first sexual encounters— consensual or not—were good and that fed into longstanding fears and shame about my sexuality,” he says. As a result, David reflects, “These experiences shook my confidence…and they have also affected the ways with which I handle relationships and sex.”
As a male survivor of sexual assault, David is not alone. According to information from the U.S. Department of Justice and cited by the Rape, Abuse & Incest National Network (RAINN), there are, on average, 321,500 victims (age 12 or older) of rape and sexual assault annually in the United States, and one out of every 10 of these victims is male. 1in6.org, a website designed to support male survivors of sexual assault and abuse, reports that at least one in six men experience “unwanted sexual experiences” before the age of 18. Despite the significant number of guys who face sexual assault, David has observed that the narrative around it tends to center around women and girls’ experiences. While he recognizes the importance of these stories, David notes that “LGBT+ survivors and men are often shut out.” One important way to support these survivors is to include them in the discussion and validate their stories as much as those of cisgender women and heterosexual people.
Reaching out for support was very difficult for David. He didn’t start going to therapy until he had a breakdown. Now two years into therapy, David is learning that despite the way his experiences colored his view of himself and his relationships, there are plenty of people out there who “respect you, your body and your wants.” Through self-reflection, therapy and support, David has recognized that “fear and guilt, whether well-placed or not, are powerful. But self-forgiveness and inner peace is more powerful. And that’s what I’m working towards.”
If you or someone you know has been sexually assaulted, call the National Sexual Assault Hotline at 1-800-656-4673 (HOPE) or visit the Rape, Abuse & Incest National Network.