Men and Me Too: Men Admitting Sexual Abuse and Harassment Is Healing
By Ginger Poag, MSW, LCSW, Trauma Therapist at The Ranch
Men in power seem to be toppling over like dominos as more people come forward with allegations of sexual harassment and misconduct. One of the most surprising aspects of the “Me Too” movement is that men are now opening up about their experiences with sexual abuse and sexual harassment — at the hands of other men.
It began when a gay male actor accused a male star of sexual misconduct—leading the star to seek men’s sex addiction treatment―but the doors have opened for many other men to step forward and share their stories. Recently, one actor accused his agent of grabbing his genitals at a party, one of the first times a straight male has talked about being sexually harassed by a man in power.
For many men, media reports have helped open the door for them to have their voices heard and they are revealing things they’ve never before had the courage to share.
It’s a “Men Too” Movement
While their stories may not be receiving as much attention on the national stage as those of women, I am seeing a significant increase in such experiences being shared in men’s sex addiction programs and in other therapeutic settings. What is happening publicly is a microcosm of what is going on behind closed doors.
While studies show that sexual abuse impacts men on an emotional level in the same way that it impacts women, men are typically far less likely to share their stories of sexual abuse. For some men, exposure to sexual harassment or misconduct as an adult may be a pattern that began in childhood, so the trauma runs deep and can be hidden for a long time.
It’s Helping Men Heal
Having the support and encouragement to come forward with their stories is an important part of healing for men. Here’s how men are benefiting:
1. Lifting shame and stigma.
Men have kept sexual abuse in the closet. Both gay and straight men have been ashamed of sharing ways in which they have been hurt sexually or taken advantage of because it is considered a taboo subject. They have been embarrassed. The cultural standard says that men should be strong and be able to protect themselves. If they have led sexually promiscuous lifestyles, it may add to the shame and embarrassment if they find themselves in a non-consensual and unwanted sexual situation.
2. Discovering they are not alone.
Now that they are seeing other men come forward, they are able to say: “This happened to me too and I didn’t say anything to anybody because I didn’t know how people would react…or if I would get blamed….or if I would get in trouble somehow…or I would lose my job.” It’s letting them know that they’re not the only ones, which is a revelation for many men.
3. Claiming their right to consent.
Gay men grow up with many challenges around sexuality. Those who were sexually abused as children often follow a self-destructive path that may include unprotected sex and substance abuse. Others may be criticized, bullied and rejected by friends and family. They may hesitate to reveal sexual abuse or misconduct because of prejudice and homophobia. The “me too” campaign is helping gay men (and boys) clarify their right to consent―that being gay doesn’t mean that just anyone can touch them―and to share the trauma of past and recent events that lacked consent.
4. Showing how pervasive it is.
It’s clear from research that both men and women experience sexual trauma, but stories of the male experience have gotten far less attention. The “me too” movement is helping to open the eyes of the public to the fact that men and boys are vulnerable too. Maybe one of the offshoots of this will be increased attention paid to the prevention of childhood abuse of males and more support in helping them cope with the devastation if it does occur.
Some men who have been exposed to sexual misconduct or victimized by other males are seeing for the first time in their lives that they no longer have to keep their mouths shut and pretend it never happened. By discovering, “I am not the only one going through this,” they can begin to understand the trauma that has impacted their lives. Men and all who suffer from sexual abuse, often turn to substances and maladaptive behaviors to cope with internal pain. As they realize they are not alone and that it is safe to share their truth, they have a greater chance of finding true healing.
Choose a better life. Choose recovery.