Sunday, January 3, 2010

Containing and Resisting Masculinity: Narratives of Renegotiation Among Resilient Male Survivors of Childhood Sexual Abuse

It's good to see that psychology finally is looking at how childhood sexual abuse impacts males - most of the research has generally focused on women because they have been assumed to be the primary (and only) victims. Not so. Approximately one in six male children are victims of sexual abuse (while some estimate as high as one in three for females). My guess is that the number for males is too low and the number for females might be too high.

For men who have been abused by men, there is often a great sense of ambiguity and resistance toward accepting their own masculinity. How does one embody the traits of the abuser? A big part of the recovery process according to this article, is in questioning the dominant cultural myths of masculinity.

Kia-Keating, M., Grossman, F., Sorsoli, L., Epstein, M. Containing and Resisting Masculinity: Narratives of Renegotiation Among Resilient Male Survivors of Childhood Sexual Abuse. Psychology of Men & Masculinity. 2005, Vol. 6, No. 3, 169–185.

Maryam Kia-Keating, Frances K. Grossman, Boston University; Lynn Sorsoli, Wellesley College; Marina Epstein, University of Michigan.

Abstract: Male childhood sexual abuse survivors face the same social pressures as other men to live up to the tenets of masculinity. However, they contend with a disjuncture between cultural definitions of manhood and the discordant experience of sexual victimization. In-depth qualitative interviews were conducted with 16 resilient men varying in age, sexual orientation, socioeconomic status, and ethnicity. The authors analyzed the men’s narratives concerning male role socialization for toughness, stoicism, and aggressive sexuality, as well as the impact of childhood sexual abuse. Results indicate that in their paths toward recovery, the participants repeatedly described both containing and resisting traditional masculine roles and made conscious choices not to become perpetrators. The importance of raising awareness about masculinity myths in clinical interventions is discussed.

Keywords: childhood sexual abuse, resiliency, masculinity, masculine ideology, traumatic stress, human males

For growth to occur, men’s pain cannot remain hidden or misunderstood. (G. R. Brooks, 2001, p. 294) Historically, the issue of gender has interfered with the study of sexual abuse. Patriarchal notions about the rights of men to dominate, physically and sexually, the women and children in their households may have contributed to the difficulty of acknowledging that marital rapes and sexual abuse of girls was real, and fairly prevalent, until pressure from feminists brought legal reforms in the early 1970s. The sexual abuse of boys and men, unfortunately, has been even more difficult for society to accept or acknowledge, in part, because the experience stands in stark contrast to the notion of masculinity, damaging men’s sense of power, control, and invulnerability.

Even when gender is considered, it is most often reduced to examinations of the different types of childhood traumatic experiences boys and girls may have or explorations in adulthood of differential outcomes for men and women. Nevertheless, research about the prevalence and impact of sexual abuse on boys has begun to grow (e.g., Finkelhor, 1993; Finkelhor, Hotaling, Lewis, & Smith, 1990; Holmes & Slap, 1998), coinciding with an increasing awareness reflected in clinical reports (e.g., Gartner, 1999; Lew, 1988) and in research (e.g., Bolton, Morris, & MacEachron, 1989; Lisak, 1994, 1995) that the childhood sexual abuse of boys significantly affects the development of their masculine identities.

Although the development of a masculine identity plays a fundamental role in male health and well-being, few studies have taken the time to examine in careful detail the issues of masculinity for male survivors of sexual abuse. (Gartner, 1999, and Rasheed and Rasheed, 1999, are important exceptions, and we draw heavily on their work.) In our study of male survivors, we investigated the conflicts and interactions between gender role socialization and the experience of significant childhood sexual abuse (CSA) in men who are resilient survivors. Because so little is yet known about these issues, and almost nothing has been written about how men understand these issues themselves, we chose to use a qualitative research approach, which is best designed to explore such questions. Specifically we interviewed 16 men heterogeneous for age, race/ethnicity, socioeconomic status (SES), and specifics of their abuse history—all showing some evidence of resilient adaptation to adult life—to develop a theoretical framework explicating the ways in which these men have understood and endeavored to resolve these conflicts as part of their recovery processes.
Read the whole article. (It's long, but good.)


Jerrod said...

Actually, research into male victims of childhood sexual abuse is not new. It was conducted in the early 80s and much of it took place in the 90s. The post makes it sounds like researchers and advocates have not paid attention to this group, even though they have. I am curious why you assume that the numbers for boys is too low and the number for girls is too high. Do you have any reason for this assumption? Even back in the 1970s, research on child sexual abuse suggested one in three children were victimized before the age of 18. If I had to make a guess, based on the research regarding barriers to reporting sexual assaults, I would guess that the numbers are low for all sexual assaults in general and that it happens to often regardless of gender.

WH said...


Thanks for adding your thoughts.

My comments stem from the overwhelming number of studies looking at female sexual abuse compared to the relatively few studies looking at male abuse.

As far as the stats, my girlfriend is a trauma therapist at Sierra Tucson, one of the top tier rehab centers in the country, and those are the stats they use in suggesting that males tend to be under-reported as victims.

Having looked at some of the studies, there seems to be no consensus on what the real numbers are.

Finally, while there have been studies looking at the incidence and type of sexual abuse against boys, my sense in reviewing the literature is that there has not been very much that looks at how abuse impacts men and their masculinity (aside from the old, discredited attempts to suggest that abuse makes boys into homosexuals, which is sometimes true, but by no means true in general). I though this study was valuable and somewhat unique in that sense.