Males face ‘scarier world’ of sexual assault silence

Joanna Dornfeld

A 20-year-old University of Wisconsin-River Falls sophomore said he was sexually assaulted March 22 while on a date in Minneapolis.

He joins an estimated one in seven men sexually assaulted in their lifetimes, according to the Rape Crisis Center.

Nick Pavlick said he met the assailant, a 22-year-old Minneapolis man, through a mutual friend at a local bar a week before the assault. The men had gone out once before and talked on the phone, he said.

“There was more trust than there should have been,” Pavlick said.

The two were kissing at the assailant’s Minneapolis home, but when the man tried to go further, Pavlick said he told him “not
without a condom.”

“That was my way of saying I’m not ready for this situation,” he said.

Pavlick said the man ignored his request and anally penetrated him.

“I didn’t know what to feel or what was going on,” he said. “I don’t think he even realizes he did anything wrong.”

Pavlick said he didn’t report the incident to police “because I feel like they’ll call me a liar.”

In a national survey by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, 8 percent of college men reported a sexual assault that met the legal definition of rape.

Since 1995, no men have reported being sexually assaulted to University police, said Capt. Steve Johnson.

But men have reported sexual assaults to the University Aurora Center for Advocacy and Education in the past year, said Roberta Gibbons, Aurora Center associate director.

The center works with fewer than five male victims each year. Like women, many men are uncomfortable reporting assaults to police but look for support services elsewhere, she said.

“It’s a lot harder for men to come forward than it is for women,” Gibbons said.

One in 50 women report sexual assault, but even fewer men report an assault, according to the Rape Crisis Center.

Minneapolis police Lt. Mike Sauro said approximately 5 percent of all sexual assaults reported to Minneapolis police are from male victims.

Despite contradictory data, some experts say men are sexually assaulted at the same rate as women, said Henry Bruns, a drop-in support group facilitator for the Minneapolis-based Men’s Center, which provides support services for men.

“The numbers at this point are much higher than anyone could imagine,” he said.

Men are often embarrassed to be sexual assault victims because they feel they should have been able to defend themselves, Bruns said.

While dealing with the trauma of assaults, Bruns said, men often question their masculinity. They fear their sexuality will be questioned if they report the incident.

Heterosexual men who report a sexual assault by a man worry they will be labeled homosexual, said Mic Hunter, a St. Paul psychologist and marriage and family therapist.

According to the Rape Crisis Center, 98 percent of male assailants who rape men are heterosexual. Their victims are most often between 18 and 24 years old, Sauro said.

The most likely place for a man to be sexually assaulted other than a prison is in a greek fraternity, Hunter said.

Many times the assaults are part of hazing or initiation. The incidents are meant to humiliate the inductees, he said. Often, photographs are taken, and older fraternity members threaten to publicize them if anyone reports the incident, he said.

Hunter said men are more likely to be sexually assaulted by a man if they are homosexual and black. Homosexual victims of sexual assault fear police will think they were asking for it because of their sexual preference, he said.

Society often tends to blame the victim and assume it’s his fault, Gibbons said.

Female assailants

Women are rarely the perpetrators in cases of male sexual assault, Sauro said.

But Bruns said many men are victims of date rape by women but never report it because they don’t think anyone will believe them.

“The police would probably laugh them out of the place,” he said.

“There are many, many cases about women who have practically torn the clothes off their date,” Bruns said.

Many people believe men desire sex constantly so it is impossible for them to be raped, Gibbons said.

A sexual assault often occurs when the victim is under the influence of alcohol or drugs and more vulnerable, Sauro said.

A 42-year-old Plymouth man, who wants to be known only as Tony, was sexually assaulted 15 years ago by his sister-in-law, he said.

Tony was suffering from alcoholism and living with his brother and sister-in-law because he had nowhere else to go, he said.

On several occasions he passed out on the couch and woke up to find his sister-in-law performing oral sex on him, Tony said.

“Each time it became more and more difficult to turn her back,” he said.

Tony moved out of their house after he awoke to find his sister-in-law attempting to have intercourse with him while her son slept on a bed next to them, he said.

Tony said he didn’t report the incidents to police or his brother because he didn’t want to break up his brother’s marriage.

“What came out of it was a lot of guilt,” Tony said.

Recovery

Tony entered an alcohol treatment program soon after the assaults and married when he was 30, he said.

“Once we got married, for some reason the sexual dysfunction started,” Tony said.

He talked with his wife about the assault and entered counseling to address his feelings of guilt, he said.

“I’ve been able to put it past me, but it took quite a bit of work,” Tony said.

Studies have shown men show more symptoms of distress than women but do not typically attribute those symptoms to the assault, said Peter Dimock, a teaching specialist in the School of Social Work.

Symptoms include depression, anxiety, post-traumatic distress disorder, sexual dysfunction, compulsive sexual impulses and difficulty being intimate.

Many times men seek counseling years after an assault, when they are in relationships and their partners force them to deal with issues relating to the assault, said Dimock, who also counsels men who have been victims of sexual assault.

“I rarely would get someone who says, ‘I was sexually assaulted, and I need help with that,'” he said.

In the course of the counseling, the assault surfaces as the root of the problems, Dimock said.

There are many places in the Twin Cities where male victims of sexual assault can turn to for support, such as the Men’s Center, the Neighborhood Involvement Program and the Sexual Violence Center.

Some of the support services were originally for women only, but as awareness grew about male victims, the organizations opened their doors to men as well. But men often feel too uncomfortable to seek assistance from those programs, Dimock said.

Pavlick said he has spoken with his counselor and friends about the assault.

“I am a very vocal person, and I’m lucky for that,” he said. “My silence won’t help anyone.”

He said he also reclaimed some of his lost inner strength at the April 18 University of Wisconsin-River Falls Take Back the Night rally.

“The whole experience was so empowering,” Pavlick said.

Though Pavlick has found support while working through his emotions regarding the assault, he said, he is more wary when dating now.

“It’s a scarier world out there than it was last month,” he said.

Joanna Dornfeld welcomes comments at [email protected]