All parts of your identity…particularly gender, will affect your experiences as a survivor of sexual assault.
Survivors of rape experience the assault and healing process in a very personal way. However, the crime occurs within a broad cultural context that enables violence against certain groups of people. All parts of your identity, such as race, ethnicity, sexual orientation, age, and particularly gender, will affect your experiences as a survivor of sexual assault.
Rape is a highly personal crime in which you are treated like you do not matter. It is a deeply hurtful and dehumanizing experience for anyone. The feelings of disgrace and shame are deep. After an assault, survivors of all gender identities, races, and cultures tend to question who they are, what they want, and how to recognize their very selves. Healing is possible.
The following is intended to help you realize how your understanding of gender roles and your gender identity might impact your experience as a survivor.
Assigned Female at Birth
- Most women are aware of the possibility of being raped from a young age. Women and girls are often told about the ways they can prevent sexual assault – by not wearing certain clothes, not seeming sexual, never being drunk, not going out alone or being escorted by a man, the list goes on. Unfortunately, such rules place the responsibility of preventing sexual assault on women and therefore also place the blame on female survivors.
- Women and girls are frequently taught that all men want sex and it is the job of women to set the sexual limits. This leads women survivors to blame themselves for for the assault and many to feel that they hate being women. Women often change their dress and appearance after an assault to appear less traditionally feminine.
- Many women are very likely to be survivors of other gender-based violence (child sexual abuse, domestic violence, sexual harassment, or exploitation). Multiple traumatic experiences compound each other and complicate healing.
- Part of the healing process will be to honor your strengths and recognize what a powerful person you can be on the other side of this turmoil.
Assigned Male at Birth
- Being raped is an assault against many commonly held stereotypes about what it means “to be a man.” Men are supposed to be able to fight anyone off. The need to be tough, invulnerable, and aggressive is drummed into many young boys. Boys who do not like or fit this mold are often subjected to sexual harassment and assault from a very young age.
- In more hyper-masculine settings, the need to be a tough guy is a matter of life and death and the definition of masculinity is even more violent and controlling.
- The sexual assault experience can lead a male survivor to question his identity as a man, question his sexuality, and leave him feeling as if he does not know how to behave even in simple situations. A survivor may react by taking on extremely macho behaviors, to appear less vulnerable, or by taking on feminine attributes and dress in an attempt to protect himself.
- Part of the healing process will be to define for yourself a new, hopefully more affirming, version of masculinity, including honoring the positive ways in which you have been strong.