Signs Of Sexual Abuse In Men

The signs and symptoms that boys and men might exhibit after surviving child sexual abuse.

When Mike was six, his eighteen year old babysitter used to take off all her clothes and play with him. She told Mike to touch her breasts, and she touched his penis and took pictures of him in the nude because he was "so cute."

When Calvin was twelve, his parents divorced. A year later, her mother moved a new boyfriend into the house. One night, when his mother was away, the boyfriend went to Calvin's room, raped him anally, and threatened to kill him if he told anyone what had happened. This kind of abuse continued until Calvin's mother broke up with her boyfriend.

Until about ten to fifteen years ago, the media largely ignored the sexual abuse of boys. Most people assumed that it did not happen, or at least that it was very rare. Even when people finally, tentatively, began to talk about sexual abuse of boys by males, it was uncommon to hear anything about sexual abuse by females.

This is because of a cultural myth that men and even very young boys are supposed to want to have sexual contact with females anytime and anyplace. By this definition, a man can never be raped or molested by a woman, because he's always supposed to be "up for it". Even today, with sexual abuse being discussed more openly than ever before, there are people who would think six-year-old Mike had been "lucky" and who would not define his experience as molestation.

But Mike is just as likely as Calvin to exhibit signs and symptoms of sexual abuse now, and to continue to exhibit them long into his adulthood. Some studies suggest that as many as one in four men have experienced inappropriate sexual behavior at some time during their childhoods.

Parents who want to help protect their sons need to be aware of the warning signs male children may exhibit after being abused.

*Changes in behaviors. Often girls who have been abused draw inside themselves and become quieter, whereas boys may act louder and more aggressive than usual, sometimes getting into fights, etc. This is not generally how people expect victims of abuse to act, so this very important sign may go unnoticed.

*Problems sleeping. The child may have nightmares, be unable to fall asleep, or wake up very early in the morning or every few hours throughout the night. Some children may start wetting the bed.

*Regression. A child who is toilet trained, for instance, may start wetting his pants again, or a child who is past the "clingy" stage may insist on going everywhere with his mother or father. The child is trying desperately to go back to a time before the abuse happened, when everything was "all right."

*School problems. The child's grades may decline. He may have difficulty paying attention or be unable to stay awake during class. He may aggress against classmates who touch him unexpectedly, or he himself may become sexually aggressive towards other children.

*Fear of certain places, people, and situations. Perhaps the child resists going to daycare, or refuses to visit his favorite aunt or uncle. Someone like Mike might become afraid of all babysitters, and someone like Calvin might be afraid to fall asleep unless he is alone in the house. If the abuse took place in a public place, such as a restroom in a store, the child may refuse to go into the restroom again unless accompanied by someone he trusts.

*Physical symptoms. Some types of sexual abuse leave physical symptoms such as bruising, skin tears, cuts, sexually transmitted diseases, etc. But this is not always the case. Sexual abuse can be so insidious it does not leave a single outside mark, even as it rips the victims to shreds inside. Physical symptoms can help support a diagnosis of sexual abuse, but lack of them does not prove that no abuse is occurring.

Parents who suspect their son has been sexually abused should initiate a private talk with their child immediately. It is important for them to maintain a calm, confident tone whatever the child may say. Many kids don't tell on their perpetrators for fear their parents will "freak out" or become angry at the child.

Mike's parents, for instance, might began by saying, "Mike, we're trying to understand what's been happening to you. Your teacher said you've been trying to pull the shirts off the girls in your class, and that you've been exposing private parts of your body to them. I know you have nightmares and don't sleep well at night, and you cry every time Barbie comes over to baby sit. What's going on?"

If Mike is unable or unwilling to answer, his parents might say something like, "Some kids act that way when something has happened to them that confuses or embarrasses them, or makes them feel bad. Has something like that happened to you?"

If Mike still will not respond, the parents might say directly, "Mike, the private parts of your body are the parts covered up by a swimsuit. Has anyone touched you there, or has anyone asked you to touch their private parts?"

Men who receive protection from their abusers and counseling in childhood often grow into adulthood largely unencumbered by the experience of abuse. Men who do not receive help, however, may continue to exhibit signs and symptoms of abuse even long after the abuse has stopped and they are grown. Some of these symptoms include:

*Shame/self-blame/disgust. The man may blame himself for not being strong enough to stop the abuse. Often, children receive some "pleasure" from the abusive experience. Mike, for instance, sometimes got erections when his babysitter touched him. Calvin did not respond physically to the abuse, but he enjoyed it when his mother's boyfriend gave him extra attention later. These feelings may make it difficult to respond during adult consensual sex.

*Explosive anger or rages. If the abused child learned to aggress against others, the manmay carry those coping skills into adulthood. While it is NOT true that most people who have been abused become abusers, it IS true that most abusers were themselves abused.

*Difficulty trusting others. After such a huge betrayal, the man may have trouble letting anyone else into his life. Men who have been abused carry an extra burden as well. After many years of education, women can finally expect that if they talk about abuse, they will be heard, believed, even comforted. A man has no such assurance and may hide his experience from everyone but those closest to him. Some men never disclose their abuse at all.

*Sense of "sharing" one's life. Some men feel that the person who sexually abused them is still a part of them in some way.

*Sexual identity issues. A lot of abused men are confused about their sexual orientation. A boy abused by a man, for instance, may be identified by that man as gay and may continue to have male partners even if he is heterosexual. Or, a man abused by a man might be so disgusted by what happened that he seeks only female partners, even if his primary attraction really is towards men.

*Masculinity issues. Abused boys often grow into adulthood with poor or nonexistent role models and no clear idea of what it means to be a man.

*Loss and grief. The abused man continues to grieve for the suffering and betrayals he has experienced. For instance, even though Mike may joke to his peers about "getting lucky with the babysitter," there is a part of him that still feels the incredible pain and betrayal. Some men try to self-medicate these feelings away with alcohol, drugs, or other addictions.

Although abuse can leave devastation in its path, victims of abuse can and do recover. If you know or suspect a man in your life has been a victim of sexual abuse, offer your love and support and encourage him to seek the services of a therapist skilled in working with abuse survivors. It IS to late to have a happy childhood, but it's never too late to recover from an unhappy childhood.

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