Authentic Empathy and the Role of Victim Service Providers in (De)stigmatizing Male Sexual Victimization

J Interpers Violence. 2022 Apr;37(7-8):NP3832-NP3855. doi: 10.1177/0886260520948150. Epub 2020 Aug 26.


Male victims of rape and sexual violence (SV) constitute a highly stigmatized group who doubly suffer the trauma of SV and hegemonic notions of real masculinity that punishes weakness and vulnerability in men. This double exposure produces a stigmatizing identity (i.e., male victim stigma) that is embedded in grand narratives about male SV. However, helping professionals have been implicated in this (de)stigmatizing process. Few studies describe the role victim service providers (VSPs) play as (de)stigmatizing agents. This study is among the first to explore VSP narratives on their stigma awareness and stigma management practices. Story-focused interview methods elicited responses from 11 VSPs (nine females and two males, age: 29-65 years) across the United States representing diverse victim-serving professions. Interviews were face-to-face or by phone, lasting between 45 and 90 minutes. Interviews were transcribed verbatim and analyzed using power-sensitive Foucauldian discourse analysis (or FDA, suitable for analyzing language and meanings linked to power dynamics). Our analysis was guided by a meaning-forming social constructionist approach. With some narrative convergence and disconvergence, three strings of narratives with supporting excerpts were identified, namely (a) stigma awareness shaped by discursive and material forces, (b) labeling as a (de)stigmatizing tool, and (c) connecting through authentic empathy (AE). The concept of AE is recommended as a possible model of care and stigma management approach in therapeutic spaces. We define AE as an aptitude to credibly provide nonjudgmental, stigma-free care, based on personal histories with trauma, membership in a stigmatized group, or an earned involvement with members of the same group. Findings bear implications for stigma-informed practices and future research to address the unique unmet needs of stigmatized male victims.

Keywords: cultural contexts; domestic violence; intervention/treatment; male victims; sexual assault.

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Aged
  • Bullying*
  • Crime Victims*
  • Empathy
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Middle Aged
  • Rape*
  • Sexual Behavior