TYSONS CORNER, Va. (Feb. 23, 2015) – Experts urged Army leaders to reach out to male victims of sexual assault, saying people must not look at sexual violence as exclusively a women’s issue.
Jim Hopper, a psychologist and researcher, and Russell Strand, a retired Criminal Investigative Service special agent, spoke about an aspect of sexual violence not often discussed: sexual assaults on men. The men spoke during the Army’s Sexual Harassment/Assault Response Program Summit, Feb. 19.
The numbers of males sexually assaulted in the military are sobering, they said. “(About) 10,800 men are sexually assaulted every year in the military,” Strand said. “(Roughly) 8,000 women are assaulted.”
It is a bit of apples and oranges comparison. Men make up about 85 percent of the military so this works out to about 1 percent of males are assaulted, but about 5 percent of females are.
“Number-wise, we’ve had more men assaulted in the military than women,” Strand said. “And everywhere I go to talk – the Army, the Navy, the Marine Corps, the Air Force and Coast Guard … it doesn’t sink in. It doesn’t internalize.”
It is seen as primarily a women’s issue, even by women, Strand said.
A large number of men are affected, and being men, few ever report the attacks, Strand said. Only 1,134 men reported attacks – roughly 13 percent of those attacked. With women, 39 percent reported attacks.
So 87 percent of men attacked are not reporting it and “these are real men in real pain,” Hopper said. The pain is compounded by shame. Being sexually assaulted brings additional levels of shame to a man because it works against the ideal of what it means to be a man, he said.
And it brings fear. “There’s fear of those memories, there’s fear of being violated, there’s fear that someone might know what happened to them,” Hopper said.
Men who have been assaulted this way believe they are not worthy of respect, Strand said.
The men who are assaulted are overwhelmingly heterosexual and so are those doing the assaulting. “Most people who sexually assault adult men are heterosexuals,” Hopper said. “And those same heterosexual men, who are assaulting men, are often the same men assaulting women.”
Many males would not get help because they feel they would not be believed, understood or supported. “Part of that is they know most people don’t expect men to be assaulted, that this can’t really happen to ‘a real man,'” Hopper said.
They are also truly afraid of their friends or teammates finding out what happened to them, Hopper said. They believe they will be looked at as less than a man, that they will be ostracized and shunned. Finally, many see this as the death knell to their careers.
The military services need to begin marketing on the issue specifically to men, the experts said. A safe anonymous helpline could be the beginning for getting many of these men the help they need and deserve. The services also need to market programs aimed at commanders, health care professionals, police investigators and prosecutors, informing them of the problem and assets available to help their Service members.