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Whilst it is now generally acknowledged that boys and men can experience various forms of sexual abuse including grooming, sexual exploitation, rape and sexual assaults, it is still an issue that has lots of stigma and misconceptions attached to it. There are certain issues and responses related to abuse that males are more likely to experience, such as uncontrollable anger and displays of violence. There are other responses that only abused males will encounter such as sustaining an erection; an involuntary reaction which can create stress, confusion and embarrassment. In counselling I aim to address these issues by providing appropriate support and factual information where appropriate.
Over the years I have seen that one of the barriers to boys and men overcoming their abuse and other issues can be problematic perceptions of their own masculinity and what they think it means to be male. Old fashioned stereotypes such as 'don't cry', 'be tough' and 'man up' are sometimes expressed. In my experience I see these beliefs preventing boys and men from dealing with the consequences of their abuse and in many cases, making the situation worse (see image to the right). Counselling can help boys and men overcome these barriers and also develop a healthier view of what it means to be male.
How Boys and Men Respond To Abuse
In my experience I generally find that boys and men often respond to abuse in one of two ways; 1) Externally by taking drugs and alcohol, sleeping with multiple partners and displaying violence, anger and aggression often as an unconscious attempt to restore their view of masculinity and to prove to themselves and to others that they are still a 'real man' or 2) Internally by withdrawing, bottling things up, avoiding people and places and considering or attempting self-harm and/or suicide as the thought of asking for help or talking about what happens seems too much and can feel like another threat to their masculinity. It is important to state that we are all unique individuals and we will respond to abuse in our own unique way. My aim is to work with boys and men to help them find appropriate ways of expressing their thoughts and feelings and responding to the abuse.
Boys and Men In The World of Sport
Over the years I have worked with many boys and men from the world of sport. I understand that the hyper-masculine and male dominant environment can act as a barrier to overcoming recent and/or childhood abuse and make it hard for males to express their emotions appropriately and ask for help. Bravado and male stereotypes can also come into play and I often heard boys and men talk of the pressure of not only being a successful sports person but also of being a successful man. Therapy can provide boys and men with a confidential space that is free from pressure and negative male stereotypes where thoughts can be addressed, emotions can be expressed and coping strategies can be explored.
I have worked with a number of boys and men who have been abused by women both as children and as adults. I often hear boys and men saying "Why didn't I push her off?'' "If I tell the police they'll laugh at me" "She's really good looking; I'm going to look stupid if I say something." Being abused by a female can often result in males questioning their masculinity, with some struggling to accept the abuse simply because the perpetrator is female. Therapy can address these issues, explore the client's beliefs relating to gender and help clients to understand and accept the abuse before moving on to exploring how to overcome it. It can also be useful to explain to clients how the brain responds under extreme stress and the difference between how we think we may respond in certain situations and why we often respond differently when we are actually in the situation.
When boys and men are abused by other males, for some, the fear of being seen as gay can be an added barrier to overcoming the abuse and can provide an additional stress to disclosing and asking for help. Boys and men of varying sexual orientations can be abused and over the years I have heard many males saying they feel "less of a man" because they "allowed the abuse to take place." Again, this can be seen as another threat to someone's masculinity. As mentioned above, it can be useful to explain to clients how the brain responds under extreme stress and the difference between how we think we may respond in certain situations and why we often respond differently when we are actually in the situation. The important thing to remember is that the person who has been abused is never to blame. The blame always lies with the abuser.
Did You Know?
In 2014 The British Association for Counselling and Psychotherapy (BACP) completed a study which showed how the vast majority of clients in therapy were female. The study also highlighted that whilst females generally acknowledged they had a problem and accessed therapy because they did not want the problem to get worse, males waited for the problem to get worse before accessing therapy.
Did You Know?
Scientists say there are three different types of erections? Sustaining an erection whilst being abused and when under pressure does not mean enjoyment or consent. Just because your body is physically ready for certain behaviour does not mean you want that behaviour to take place.
Did You Know?
Research from The Samaritans shows that the biggest killer of males under 50 is suicide and that males are more likely than females to respond to stressful situation by taking risks and misusing alcohol and drugs.
Did You Know?
In recent years an increasing number of men from the world of sport, who experienced abuse have spoken out and shared their story, encouraging other males to come forward, make disclosures and access support.
Did You Know?
The vast majority of sexual offences that are reported and recorded show that the vast majority of victims and female and that the vast majority of perpetrators are male. This is only from what is reported and recorded. It is important to not to make a competition out of the issue. Abuse is abuse and it is wrong and illegal regardless of the gender.
Did You Know?
That whilst some abusers have a preference regarding the sex of their victim, some abusers do not have a preference at all. It is entirely possible for a man who has a wife and children to abuse another male. Sexuality and sexual gratification is not always a factor; power and control and is.
"But I Wanted It"
I have worked with many boys and men who have said to me "I know it's abuse when I think about it now, but at the time I didn't see it as abuse. The man/woman was my boyfriend/girlfriend. I wanted love/affection" or "I went along with it because I needed drugs" or "I needed a place to stay." If someone exploits something you need or want for their own sexual gratification, this is abuse. I often hear boys and men say that no one told them what abuse was or that they have the wrong idea of abuse, believing that it only happens to girls and women. This can result in boys and men struggling to understand abuse, and struggling to recognise when it has happened or is happening to them. Boys and men might have wanted certain behaviour at the time, such as love/affection, drugs, a place to stay or something else but this does mean they wanted the abuse. They may not have recognised the behaviour as abuse, they may not have a good understanding of abuse, they may have been a child at the time and/or were vulnerable and being taken advantage of and/or someone was exploiting something they needed or wanted. It is never the boy's/man's fault.