“It has never been fine for anyone to be harassed,
but the cruel part for men is that they are expected to be so”

Sexual harassment has been raised up as a social issue for decades in every community around the world. It is closer to us than we might imagine. We might have been in the situation that can be counted as being abused sexually but we haven’t noticed yet. Not everyone knows that sexual harassment is not just a physical touch, but it can come in many forms. At first, women were believed to be the main victims of the issue so the society became more sensitive for women to be sexually harassed or abused. Men, on the other hand, are mostly seen as harassers. As a result of that, when they get harassed themselves, society does not seem to give as much priority. In fact, sexual harassment can happen to anyone. It doesn’t choose whether you are a man or a woman. Anyone, with any age or gender identity, can be the victim of sexual assault. Men could get abused sexually and have the same level of damage as women have, plus some additional challenges due to social attitudes and stereotypes about men and masculinity.

How common it is

Without noticing, sexual assaults could occur in every aspect of our society, ranging from families and close friends which is the foundation to wider ranges like workplaces and strangers. Overall, there are 52% of male victims who are reported being raped by an acquaintance and 15% by a stranger.

The majority of sexual assaults is committed by someone the victim knows such as family members, friends, neighbors, or classmates. 1 in 6 boys has experienced child sexual abuse by their parents before 18. Disclosure of child sexual abuse can affect the entire family system. Experiencing it impacts the individual’s education, employment, and the relationship between family members and friends. 

Furthermore, institutions and workplaces are also one of the most common places for sexual assaults to occur. People who live in a lower hierarchy tend to get abused by people who are above. Most of them occur in exchanges of favors such as grades or promotions. They use powers or their status to take advantage of the victims to be a threat or a reward to force the victims to accept those actions. Refusing them could impact the victim’s status in work or affect their grades. The example of sexual harassment in the workplace is the case of the Golden Corral restaurant. A male dishwasher who has autism was called “retard” and repeatedly requesting oral sex by the male manager. Some male victims including the ones who refuse sexual advances, unwelcome touching, caressing, and being subjected to offensive sexual comments and jokes have reported the case to the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC). However, the percentage of male victims that report is only 17.1% which is considered less than the number of cases that actually happen.

Sometimes it comes in very common actions such as talking at work

In institutions, sexual harassment was so common that people are unaware of it, especially when the victims are men. In Thai universities, there are ice-breaking activities which are one of the traditional activities and have been passed on for so long. Male students (especially the good looking ones) have become a target of being abused in some way. They would be asked to do embarrassing things in front of a crowd to entertain other students such as sexual dance moves, being half-naked, or being verbally and physically assaulted. There is still a debate until today whether the activities with those actions should be canceled or not since some people might see it as an entertaining way that makes people become closer to one another. However, not all students are willing to do and agree with the actions—and that is the line to separate between entertaining and harassing.

Even in public, you could become a victim of sexual assault, mostly at public Thailand, the survey for “Safe Cities for Women” out of 1,654 passengers, women and men found that 35% of respondents claimed to have suffered sexual harassment. The poll found that 25% of victims remained silent, ignored the incident or walked away, while 14.6% called out for help.

These are examples of where sexual harassment mostly takes place:

  • 1. Motorcycle taxis (11.4%)
  • 2. Taxis (10.9%)
  • 3. Passenger vans (9.8%)
  • 4. Skytrain (9.6%)
  • 5. Rubbing genitals against victims, exposing genitals or masturbating in public (4.6%)
  • 6. Opening pornographic materials for a victim to see (3%)
  • 7. Stalking or pestering a victim (2.9%)

This issue could be found even in the big scale of society like the Hollywood industry. There is current news about a boy who got assaulted even though he was under the control of global organizations. The case has been exposed by Ricky Garcia, the former Disney Channel actor and the victim, that Disney allows their underage stars to be harassed by pedophiles who work in Hollywood. The authorities in the organization knew and witnessed but they kept it silent. They do not want the world to know this dark side of the industry. It neglected the issue and stayed silent until the mother of 12-year-old Ricky came out and exposed that her boy was groomed, sexually abused, and rape on a daily basis. His manager Joby Harte passed him around to the powerful pedophile authorities throughout the organization.

The fact that these problems still occur everywhere throughout our society shows how ignorant society was towards sexual assaults, especially when it comes to men or boys. Even though some people know what is going on, they still remain silent as it is a common thing in society while it should not.

Why does sexual harassment stay in society?

There is no exact answer to why sexual harassment still happens in society even when people have more awareness and education. Various factors drive a person to assault other people. One of the reasons is the structure constructed by stereotypes ideas that directly and indirectly lead people’s perception towards certain angles including sexual harassment. Those kinds of attitudes can be shaped by the media and its contents since media is the medium that carries ideas to society. The contents media presents make sexual abuse against men seems to be less important than it is. It generally portrays that some degree of harassment, such as verbal offense and small touches, are normal and acceptable. For example, in post-modern, people become more sensitive to women-being-harassed contents, but such dirty jokes or contents about men being abused still sell continuously. That makes the actual cases have less seriousness for men. Moreover, patriarchy contents that support the idea of men dominance also make male victims feel more vulnerable and not being accepted. Media affects the ideology of people—leading them to the way they react to the situation. It’s like a cycle that media contents are produced based on the social structure, and the social structure will be affected by the media.

Thai youtube channel created prank content about touching man’s bottoms

Youtube channel recorded men reaction when their hands were touched by a stranger for fun

Comparing to women

Men who have been sexually assaulted would have the same effects as female survivors. The damages of the incidence to all gender identities aren’t so different and the common reactions of the survivors are similar—everyone will experience to some degree in both physical and mental health problems. However, male victims sometimes find it harder in some particular ways due to social perception. The physiological responses of the many male victims during the assault, like an erection, can make the victims feel confused or self-doubt. They might not notice that the incidents that happened to them were the actual assaults without their permission or acceptance, so most of them ended up doubting themselves if they missed something to avoid. The assault, especially by men, with the victims’ ejaculation, will make men survivors question their sexual orientation. Actually, those responses are the way our bodies cope with the intense situation which is totally normal and uncontrollable

Even though the damages between males and females aren’t distinct, men will be more likely to deal with the problem by minimizing the severity. Many of them will stay silent to lessen the importance of the abuse. These can be the results of the common perception in society. Most of society is dominated by masculinity which makes some people live with the idea of men being so strong that they do not tend to face such issues or they are able to handle it by themselves. By that, it’s even harder for men to express their experiences when the abuses happen. The social perception is likely to indicate men as the harassers rather than victims so it results in less priority when they are instead the ones who are harassed.

Both men and women can be found being harassed, but men have their problem reporting their experiences; according to EEOC (Equal Employment Opportunity Commission), harassment reports from men only contain 17% in 2015, 16% in 2010, and 8% in 1990. As mentioned above, the society, especially patriarchy society, expects men to be in charge or be the aggressor in relationships. How men are socialized and expected to behave in society makes it more difficult for men survivors to speak out as they might perceive that ‘real men’ should be able to protect themselves. The structure—the image created by society— even makes it harder for them to tell people when the perpetrators are women. In addition, homosexuals are also a group that tends to face more challenges when coming to sexual harassment. Stereotypes on the promiscuity of homosexuals can always lead to victim-blaming that they are the ones who let it occur.

Male Survivor

As we know, sexual harassment against women is more noticeable compared to men. Sexual assaults on men remain largely hidden and ignored, neglected in terms of recognition, resources and policy provision from the past until the present. It can be seen from these men’s experiences in conflict and circumstances in the past. A study in the Democratic Republic of Congo reports that Congolese soldiers in 2008, a quarter of men in conflict-affected areas, had experienced sexual violence. Also, in Sri Lanka, more than a fifth of Tamil men detained in the conflict reported being sexually abused and be forced to rape each other for the entertainment of their captors. There are some more similar cases. In El Salvador, 76% of political prisoners in the 1980s reported experiences of sexual torture. While recently in the U.S., the soldiers forced detainees in Abu Ghraib prison in Iraq to conduct group masturbation and homosexual acts. A growing of evidence has documented the prevalence of sexual violence against men and boys in a wide variety of conflict settings, indicating that numbers of male victims are significantly higher than initially presumed. Therefore, men, both in the past and today which have experienced and involved in this issue, have to face the problem of protecting themselves from sexual harassment more because most of the people are still unaware that males being harassed is also a big deal.

Without any deep detail, the survivors look just like others so that makes them easily stay ignored

What does it affect?

Sexual harassment causes the victims to face with a variety of mental and physical effects. Every survivor will have a hard time dealing with their state of mind since they were in a helpless situation so the obvious result from sexual harassment is psychological effects. After a traumatic event, it is typical to have feelings of anxiety, stress, or fear. There are many emotional and psychological reactions that raped or assaulted victims will suffer. Depression is the most common issue. While some cases will have Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) which the symptom will be different for each individual. To be more specific, some will have flashbacks that allow memories of past traumas to take place in the current moment while others might forget all the memories which are the way our brain eliminates pains. Some survivors will feel self-blaming or worthless, and that kind of thought can grow up into more serious effects like suicidal thoughts.

However, it is not just mental effects that happen to the victims. Even though sexual assault sometimes did not leave a significant physical wound, it still can cause physical effects. The survivors can have problems with the perception of their bodies or feeling of control. The effects include sleep disorder, eating disorder, panic reaction, or sexual problems.

Moreover, the notable effect of male victims that is quite unique is questioning or confusion about their gender status because men are more likely to be abused by the one who has the same sexual identity compared to other gender identities.

What have we done?

Nowadays, even though sexual harassment is still the problem and seems to not decrease, the good side is that people have started to become more aware. People create many social movements both in social networks and real-life to raise awareness of sexual harassment. The most famous and powerful one is #MeToo and #TimesUp. They have provided platforms for those affected to speak openly about their experiences and for society to discuss the problems. So far, most of the people who came out have been women all along. There have only been a few notable cases of men that came out, such as Terry crews and James Van Der Beek which both are the famous actors. Since the victims who are seen through the lens of society are always females, the support and platform to share their stories tend to be for women rather than men. However, It’s a good start that people have begun to speak out about male survivors and their experiences, and a movement is a great motivation that encourages the victims to step out and call for help while also driving people to become more aware of the issue.

Even without paying as much attention to men, #metoo is still a huge movement against sexual harassment

There is also some implementation of regulations to prevent and address sexual harassment in the workplace in accordance with the Labour Code. It also promoted the development, implementation, and monitoring of a workplace in order to enhance safety and healthy spaces where all workers, irrespective of sex or status, are treated with fairness.

Today, there are many organizations that were established to support and give attention to sexual harassment issues. For example, National Sexual Assault Hotline or One in Six Helpline that partnered with RAINN to offer the 24/7 helpline for men. The callers can also visit the Mental Health Treatment Locator called the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA).

In Thailand

A dancer has been assaulted by a woman in Songkran Festival

The issue is also happening in Thailand without so much awareness as well. Sexual harassment in Thailand mostly occurs in school, and university, by both teachers or students themselves. For example, The teacher from Suankularb School (boy school) tried to assault a student sexually and this news is very well-known in Thailand for a while. There are many harassment cases in the educational system that male students faced which stayed unfixed. Workplace is also a place full of sexual harassment due to the factor of hierarchy. Another unexpected place with a high rate of sexual harassment against men by the hierarchy system is a military camp. With enough attention, it is very noticeable that low-ranked soldiers in military camps keep getting harassed in many forms by the authorities. However, people on social media today are paying attention to harassment against all genders more than before. When the news or cases about this issue have popped up, we can see that people on social media want it to be stopped and give help to the victims. Another additional case is a case of a shop staff who was touched by a monk during his work time and the monk got away with no further punishment than the monk state dismissal and the criticism from social media. Even though the whole society’s perceptions might not have changed, but it is progress that some of them are being more aware of the issue.

Our interview video at Thammasat University

In society, men are also continuously being sexually harassed. With various factors that keep them silent, it becomes common to see them in such situations. But if we look more carefully, their suffering is not a bit lesser than women’s, and the severity is also comparable. It is important for them to be treated equally or be believed and supported by surrounding people when they choose to come forward. The ideal would be for society to stop seeing it as a normal event. In fact, the harassment line, for all gender, should not be judged by others. If one feels harassed already, others should respect the line and take it seriously enough.