Barriers to Disclosure

There are many reasons why men find it difficult to talk about their abuse and choose to never speak about it at all: shame, guilt, doubt, denial, fear of not being believed, loved, cared for, fear of being judged, abandoned, and alienated. Some men express a fear of rejection, abandonment, and the potential for loss or change in relationships. Of particular concern to some male survivors is the fear that disclosure would lead others to suspect them of becoming a future perpetrator or predator.


Given that boys are often sexually abused by another male, many survivors experience a compounded sense of shame and stigma because of internalised and societal homophobia. The fear of being labelled “gay” and the perceived and experienced homophobic responses from others combine to create a powerful barrier to disclosure for many male survivors. Some survivors who self-identify as gay or bisexual fear that others would use their abuse history to explain or rationalize their sexual orientation. Additionally, homosexual survivors have reported believing that they would have to face additional stigma and blame if they disclosed and that they would be accused of either wanting, inviting or engineering the sexual abuse to satisfy their own sexual needs and desires.

Sense of Manhood

The decision not to disclose is often perceived as a method of preserving a sense of masculinity. Instead of discussing the abuse with others, male survivors often employ strategies such as toughing it out, lashing out, being macho, remaining stoic, avoidance, repression and “handling it” themselves and for many men, leaning into an alcohol, substance, or gambling habit had become both a release and a source of additional guilt and shame. Male survivors sometimes feel that disclosing the sexual abuse to another person would enhance, prolong, and reinforce feelings of vulnerability and weakness. For some men, the CSA has been internalised as an assumption that they were somehow weak and allowed the abuse to happen and to disclose or talk about the abuse and the effect it had on them just reveals another level of weakness.

Power / Control /Fear

By its very nature, CSA involves a power differential between the perpetrator and the child victim based on many factors (e.g., age, physical size, reputation in the community, professional status, social and family status). This imbalance can act as a barrier to disclosure both at the time of the abuse and in the years that follow. Child sex abusers often use silencing tactics such as demands of secrecy, privileges, and even threats of disclosure to the survivors family and social group that the survivor is gay. The perpetrators may have also threatened to harm them, or their loved ones if they reported the abuse. These threats create an extreme sense of helplessness for some survivors that extend into adulthood, sometimes even long after the perpetrator has died.

The Response to a Disclosure

A concern over being unable to predict responses from others and the outcomes of any disclosure of CSA alongside a general mistrust of others is often experienced as an overwhelming sense of doubt about whether others would, or could, respond appropriately to the disclosure. Some male survivors fear that others would accuse them of making false allegations or of being a cooperative participant (rather than a victim). Many men are concerned that others would minimize or misunderstand the sexual abuse experience. Survivors have been met with responses such as, “Sure, it’s a part of growing up”, “It’s how we all learned about sex back then”, “If you got an erection and came, you must have enjoyed it", and in the cases when the abuse was perpetrated by an adult female, “You won the lotto there, that’s every young fella’s dream”. Any previous negative and /or destructive responses to an attempted disclosure will also factor hugely in how any survivor of abuse will measure the perceived costs and potential benefits of any future disclosures.

The Male Identity Web

Our societal attitudes toward masculinity and victimhood act as powerful deterrents to disclosure and help-seeking for male survivors. These deterrents are complex, traumatic and not always in plain sight of the men who have experienced CSA and survivors frequently go through a complicated decision-making process that balances the potential costs and rewards of disclosing. In Western culture, men are taught to be the tough ones: we do not cry, we are expected to have the answers, be the providers, be able to look after ourselves, never be affected adversely, show up for and protect our loved ones, never feel weak or show fear, succeed and achieve and above all, never feel  or show emotion that might dilute our defined masculine persona.

With this restrictive web of “man rules” and the hugely complex and traumatic nature of CSA, reaching out and seeking support can often seem like an impossible task. If you are reading this, you have already taken the first step in that task and the path forward will likely be a series of small, measured and safe steps to get you where you need and want to be in your life.