A Stockholm hospital will soon open a center for men who were sexually assaulted, with the aim of ensuring gender equality for victims of both sexes.
The Stockholm South General Hospital announced that the center — said to be the first in the Nordic country — will open in October, according to reports in the Swedish media. The hospital already has a walk-in center for women who are victims of rape and sexual assault. A doctor at the hospital highlighted that male rape is "extremely taboo," but far more common that people are aware, owing to the fact that cases often go unreported.
"The general perception is that men cannot be raped," Lotti Helström, a senior physician at the hospital, told Sveriges Radio, as quoted in The Local_._ "In studies, the health effects are shown to be greater for men, both in terms of physical health and mental health. There is a greater risk of a raped man getting post-traumatic stress disorder."
While Sweden has made headlines in recent years for having become the "rape capital of the West," the Swedish National Council for Crime Prevention (BRA) has suggested that the number of cases did not necessarily increase, but rather that reporting increased due to female empowerment and changes in legislation that expanded the legal definition of rape.
In 2014, there were around 370 reported cases in Sweden of sexual assault against men or boys, according to the Swedish National Council for Crime Prevention. Because such crimes are widely unreported, there could be many more.
BRA note on their website that 17,700 sexual offenses in total were reported in 2013, but as few 10 to 20 percent of such crimes are generally reported to the police.
While most studies conclude that the number of women raped significantly exceeds the number of men, men who are sexually assaulted are believed to have the same reactions to rape as women. Most men have immense difficulty reporting rape because of societal constructs and expectations, according to Dr. Jim Hopper, an expert on psychological trauma who is a consultant and part-time instructor in the department of psychiatry at Harvard Medical School. He told VICE News that there are many myths and misconceptions regarding male rape and sexual assault.
"The first thought is men can't be raped," he said. "Then some people fall back on the assumptions that the man must be gay and have gotten himself in the situation where he was interested in sex with men and had it coming."
Studies have shown that men who are sexually assaulted or raped are at higher risk of developing PTSD, substance abuse addiction, and suicidal thoughts. The reluctance to report is often linked to a concern about how their masculinity and sexuality will be perceived, the fear of judgment or embarrassment, and a sense of shame for having been unable to prevent the rape.
"To be vulnerable, dominated, and especially to be sexually assaulted, is utterly antithetical to what it is to be a man," Hopper said. "They may have tremendous shame because they feel weak."
Hopper has worked with men who have experienced sexual assault and rape in childhood and adulthood, and stressed that the dynamics surrounding issues of masculinity are the same.
"Even if they want to tell someone, males basically aren't trained as kids and as men to be able to talk about feelings like this and put them into words and share them with another person," he said. "We're trained to systematically block out vulnerable feelings in ourselves."
It was only a few years ago that the US federal government expanded its definition of rape to include "made to penetrate." Advocacy groups had argued that the definition of rape was too narrow and needed to include a wider range of sexual assaults. But even though the term "made to penetrate" helps illuminate what men may experience in sexual assault, the term is rarely used and it is not clear.
A report released by the American Journal of Public Health in 2014 on the sexual victimization of men emphasized that "the distinction may obscure more than it elucidates." In the military, where social assault is common, most rape victims were identified as men. Male rape victims in the US military have been shown to be twice as likely to develop PTSD as those who experience combat.
Hopper stressed that when approaching men who have endured sexual assault, neutral language is key because many men do not like to be characterized as a helpless victim.
"A lot of people embrace 'survivor,' but a lot of men really don't like that word and don't feel comfortable with it," he said. "To say I had an unwanted sexual experience is very different from taking on an identity label like I am a victim or I am a survivor."
Inger Björklund, a spokesperson for Swedish Association for Sexuality Education (RFSU), a gender equality organization based in Sweden, told The Local that it welcomed the clinic that will be established for males, saying that the new clinic "will contribute to the awareness of experiences of sexual abuse among men."
For boys and men to feel more confident in coming forward with rape or going to such a clinic, Hopper said, there needs to be a cultural shift in how society views male rape in order to "normalize this as something that happens to men as well as women — that it doesn't make them less of a man."
"If they fear that judgment and stigma, that's totally understandable," he added, "but if you're a man who's been through this, you need to know that there are places you can go where people are not going to see you that way."
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