Americans tend to believe that disclosure of vulnerability is a sign of weakness, particularly among men, Elliott said. So male victims of sexual assault often worry they'll be seen as effeminate, he said, or that they'll lose the respect and support of their family and friends.
Straight victims may fear others will perceive them as gay, he said, and gay male victims may worry that others will think they deserved the assault, or invited it in some way.
The fact that male victims tend not to report being sexually assaulted leads to greater feelings of isolation among those victims, Elliott said. Although a sexual assault is a traumatic, life-changing event for anyone, Elliott said, female victims often have more resources available to them, such as survivors' networks.
Worse, said program coordinator Wendy Joseph, male victims are less likely than females even to bring the assault up in conversation with another man. Whereas female victims may know another woman who survived an attack, male victims are often left without a support network of any kind, adding to their feelings of isolation.
It's important for male victims to know they aren't alone, Elliott said.
A 2005 American Journal of Preventive Medicine report showed roughly one out of six boys are sexually abused before age 18.
Making people aware of numbers regarding sexual assault targeted at men and boys is important, Elliott said, because it could help reduce the stigma surrounding it. Ultimately, he said, it could make male victims more willing to report the abuse and seek help.
“They are not alone,” he said. “It takes a real, strong man to talk about these kinds of vulnerabilities.”