This piece originally appeared in The Daily Mississippian.
Fourteen years ago, I didn’t know what was happening to me. It happened over and over for years, and I didn’t know how to stop it. I was sexually assaulted by a peer for three years as a child, and those years of assault still impact me today. I don’t remember much about those dark times, but I remember feeling the cold tile floor on my back and those groping hands all over my body.
I remember the fear and confusion I felt every time he assaulted me. I can’t count the number of times it happened because it was such a regular occurrence. I felt scared, violated and worthless.
I knew there was something wrong with his actions, but I didn’t have the words to put to it.
My assailant, whom I considered a friend at the time, would tell me that what he was doing to me was normal, but I couldn’t tell anyone because I would get in trouble.
He created such a fear in me that I kept the assault a secret until I was in the 11th grade. Over that time period, the memories of the assault festered in my mind and body.
Being sexually assaulted caused me to have depression, anxiety and PTSD, which went undiagnosed until I finally opened up to my therapist.
I hid these issues from my friends and family, but these disorders caused me many problems. I would experience sleep paralysis and flashbacks to my assault, which tormented me most nights.
My depression and anxiety were terrible all throughout high school, which created a sort of self-hatred and led to self-harm and other detrimental behaviors.
As extreme as my experience sounds, it is not uncommon, and by no means is it the worst experience survivors of sexual assault can have.
Some survivors of sexual assault experience physical illnesses from the assault, struggle with substance abuse and even commit suicide. Navigating life after being sexually assaulted can be difficult, but there are many resources available to help you or a loved one overcome the obstacles caused by the assault.
In my experience, the hardest thing to do has been speaking out and talking about my sexual assault. Our society creates an atmosphere that erases the experiences of non-female survivors of sexual assault.
From a young age, I was surrounded by the idea that men are tough and don’t let bad things happen to them.
I began to feel like I was at fault for being sexually assaulted, and my head began to be clouded with victim-blaming thoughts — why wasn’t I tough enough to stop it?
Feelings and thoughts like this silenced me. I buried the abuse inside of my mind and single-handedly carried the burden of my assault. I didn’t know I needed help, much less that I could get help.
Once I finally told my therapist, I was able to begin the healing process.
When I told some of my friends about my assault, they all responded differently. My true friends are very supportive of me, but others are not as supportive.
When I don’t laugh at certain friends’ rape jokes or find humor in their sexually derogatory language, I am told that I need to toughen up, stop “victimizing” myself and get over it.
Some people who know about it say I wouldn’t have let it happen if I were a real man or tell me I’m weak because I let it happen to me. These are just a few examples of the stigmas I’ve experienced surrounding male survivors of sexual assault.
I can’t tell you why our society refuses to acknowledge that men are affected by this issue, and I sure as hell can’t tell you why people you think care about you don’t give you the support you deserve. What I can tell you, though, is that you are no less of a man for being a survivor, and you are no less of a survivor for being a man.
According to RAINN, the largest anti-sexual violence organization, one in 33 men has experienced sexual assault in his lifetime, but because of the stigmas attached to being a male survivor, the majority of these assaults go unreported.
The actual number of males who experience sexual assault could be even higher than one in 33 since many men don’t report. Sometimes male survivors don’t seek help to deal with the assaults and the effects the assaults have on their physical and mental health.
Male survivors can feel alone in their experiences because a lot of the conversations around sexual assault focus solely on women as the survivors and males as the assailants.
There is power in numbers, and with so many brave women speaking out about their assaults, other survivors are beginning to feel more comfortable speaking out about their experiences.
Men, on the other hand, do not have as many peers speaking about their experiences as female survivors do, which makes speaking out an even more daunting feat.
So as male survivors, we should try to create that same encouraging atmosphere by speaking out about our own stories and experiences.
It took me almost a decade to finally talk about my abuse and get the help I needed.
I hope by writing this I can create an atmosphere where others feel comfortable talking about their sexual assaults and begin their healing processes.