The Bleak Reality of Male Abuse Survivors

Over the past year, I’ve been writing a book called, Those Who Weep, which chronicles the spiritual recovery process of abuse survivors. As I continue to write and edit, I mostly draw upon my own personal experiences. However, I have also interviewed many fellow survivors in order to identify commonalities and key issues.

To my surprise, of the nearly 60 survivors who have interacted with me, over half have been men. Based on statistics from the CDC and RAINN, I had expected most of my sources to be female. Instead, I had men of all ethnicities, ranging from teenagers to seniors, confiding in me under the stipulation that I would never reveal their names.

None of them have ever reported their abuse.

At least a dozen of them had never told a soul, before me, about what had happened to them. Because of this, I have come to believe that gender abuse statistics are severely flawed.

Despite the embarrassment and emotional overwhelm that many experienced while talking to me, these men wanted to share their stories in hopes that they could help change the perception of male abuse victims and male rape survivors in culture. Listening to their stories was quite frankly infuriating. Many of them choked on their words, and some became physically nauseous. They often told me their stories in little pieces over the course of several months because their pain at recounting was so intense.

All of the men I spoke to started out as child abuse victims. Almost all of them were abused by their parents, though some by another relative, neighbor, or family friend. Many of them had violent fathers, and their mothers were abuse enablers or emotionally abusive. Of the survivors with violent mothers, their fathers were usually deadbeat, abuse enablers, or emotional abusers, some of whom enjoyed witnessing their spouse abuse children. Some of these parents were alcoholics or drug addicts, however many were not.

A number of the male survivors I spoke with escaped their broken homes by joining the military as soon as they were old enough. Others escaped earlier and became homeless teenagers. Of these homeless teen boys, many sold sex to both men and women in exchange for food, a shower, or other provisions, but rarely were they paid money. Since some were as young as fourteen at the time, these stories are clear examples of statutory rape. Several of my male survivors admitted to being forcibly raped during their time as homeless teens, while others quietly stated that they could not bring themselves to speak of certain very bad experiences.

Of the men I spoke to who were homeless as teens, every single one had suffered from cocaine addiction. Several had smothered their pain with alcoholism, and while some have recovered, a few still battle addiction four decades later.

While there is a popular belief that many abuse victims end up being abusers themselves, I found this to be a very rare occurrence. Of the nearly 30 male survivors I spoke with, only four exhibited sexist or abusive tendencies. Almost all of them battle depression and anxiety. Some of the men felt trauma so severe, I began keeping records of their addresses so I could call the police should they ever act on their self-destructive thoughts.

During 2017, I talked several men through suicidal episodes over a dozen times. Almost all of their suicidal thoughts revolved around a misconception that they were incapable of having or maintaining healthy relationships, and that their children and loved ones would be better off without them.

The vast majority of male abuse survivors are wonderful people. In fact, they’re usually the kind of men you can trust and confide in. They are “acquainted with grief” and sympathetic to those in pain. The majority would be eager to defend and protect others, and many have.

Of the few sexist or abusive male survivors I encountered, all had brutally abusive parents. That is not to say that more extreme abuse produces abusers; on the contrary, the way some victims process (or fail to process) their trauma can lead to bigoted attitudes and abusive tendencies.

Such sexist men usually had violent fathers, but blame their mothers for not defending and protecting them. Some had violent or emotionally abusive mothers, and could not separate in their minds what their mothers had done from the female gender as a whole. It is as if, when they look at any woman, they see their mother’s sin.

In this context, it is fair to say that the sexism and anger these men feel is a symptom of PTSD resultant from severe child abuse. While their sexism is a sin in need of repentance, it is also a tragedy.

Unfortunately, as a woman, I found myself very limited in my ability to help sexist survivors. Their bias made taking me seriously a constant uphill battle for them. When I was taken seriously, the experience was often such an oddity for them that they read too much into our relationship and became obsessive or unhealthily attached. What such men need is strong male counselors, pastors, and friends in their lives who can help them identify emotional trauma and heal. Sadly, there are too few such advocates.

It is incredibly difficult for male survivors to talk about their trauma, let alone seek help. Part of this is due to the fact that male victimization, even as child abuse, is prevalently considered a taboo topic. Many of the heterosexual survivors I’ve spoken with fear being labeled as homosexuals, and many of the homosexual survivors fear being labeled as weak or damaged goods.

While feelings of shame were consistent among all my interviewees, they seemed particularly acute among men who were neglected or abused by their mothers. Some expressed the feeling that if they were undefended or unloved even by their mothers, they must be unloveable or damaged beyond repair. This, of course, is not true. However, the feelings remain.

There is a tendency for us to view childhood memories as if they were experienced by our adult selves. For example, a man who was abused by his mother may wonder, “Why didn’t I fight back? Why didn’t I stop her?”

We forget that we were mere children at the time, incapable of reacting as an adult would have. Even in the case that we were teens at the time of the abuse, it must never be discounted that our abuser was a parent who we loved, or an adult who we trusted.

The emotional and physical context we were in at the time of our abuse must never be discredited. Often, we don’t fight back or don’t report abuse simply because we loved the person who hurt us, or were too naive to understand what was happening or what to do. Love, trust, and our childhood innocence, are things we should never feel ashamed of.

When speaking with male survivors, I have found it very helpful to highlight Biblical examples of male abuse victims. Jonathan was abused by his violent father, King Saul (1 Samuel 20:30–34). Joseph was abused and sold to human traffickers by his brothers (Genesis 37:12–36). God Himself — Jesus Christ — was betrayed by his friends, brutally abused, and even murdered (John 19).

Understanding that God does not consider abuse to be taboo or the fault of the victim, goes a long way in easing our feelings of shame, self-loathing, and isolation. Knowing that we have a God who has personally experienced abuse, and who is an advocate for the oppressed and brokenhearted, is vital to comprehensive healing.

It is also critical that we, as a society, acknowledge that bad things happen to good people. Rape and abuse happen to strong, masculine people. Just because a person has been abused doesn’t make him effeminate, weak, damaged, shameful, or in any way at fault. These myths are damaging, and serve to perpetuate and prolong the suffering of many victims.

On the contrary, anyone who survives abuse is — as proven by the sheer fact of their survival — an incredibly strong individual. The most courageous, kind, merciful, and understanding people I have ever met have been abuse survivors. The most levelheaded, intelligent, insightful, and wise people I’ve encountered have overcome incredible pain and challenges. The best friends I’ve ever had have suffered from depression, anxiety, and PTSD. Their suffering has not made them weak; it has made them unbelievably strong.

Being abused does not make a man less of a man. Being a man does not mean that abuse will never happen to you, or that you are required to act unemotional or unaffected when it does happen. Being masculine does not require you to be impervious to grief, immune to pain, or indifferent to injustices committed against you.

Admitting that you experience sorrow, anxiety, or depression is not a sign of weakness. Rather, acknowledging that you have been grievously wronged is evidence of courage, integrity, and a strong resolve to overcome. Refusing to allow your abuser to continue to inhibit your life is proof of a powerful and justly defiant individual.

Nevertheless, our society, which falsely impugns male survivors with shame and depicts abuse against males as a rare and taboo occurrence, makes it difficult and extremely unpleasant for men to share their stories, seek comradery, or acquire help.

Once we as a society learn to abhor abuse and respect the oppressed, I am hopeful that more victims will be emboldened to speak, and male abuse survivors will find their voice.

Until that time, I will continue to write.

Comments 3

  1. It does not surprise me, that there is no comments here. It is a dark, bleak existence with self hatred and feelings of inadequacy weighing you down. You want to open up and tell someone but your words get stuck in your head which hinders the ability to speak from the heart. The person you choose to tell needs to be compassionate and understanding the first person I told was and his attitude never changed towards me. I have had far less pleasant experiences when sharing with people. I don’t like to talk about offline because I hear things like “You must have enjoyed it if it lasted 10 years and you didn’t tell.” Or “just be a man about it.” Many times I have thought maybe my abuser was right for the wrong reasons when he said that I should never tell. For any man reading this who needs to resources is a good place to start is another.

    1. Yes. It’s very hard to speak out. I started by talking to pastors and a therapist. Then I grew to speak anonymously online. I found that speaking anonymously allowed me to vent without the blowback one might receive in “real” life. I told a lot of foolish people too, and got dumb responses like, “You shouldn’t talk about these things. This is why we have therapists,” and “Unless he punched you with a closed fist it wasn’t abuse.” In some ways, going public can be as painful as the abuse itself.

  2. The first time i disclosed, it was on an online forum for self injury. i was addicted to self mutation, on this forum they had a thread for expressions and i started writing poetry. It gave me away to express all the emotions I had buried for years. That led to less self injury so I kept writing and eventually overcame it.

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