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More men than you may realize are victims of sexual abuse, but experts say it’s underreported

<i>East Idaho News</i><br/>More men than you may realize are victims of sexual abuse
East Idaho News
East Idaho News
More men than you may realize are victims of sexual abuse

By Rett Nelson

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    IDAHO FALLS, Idaho ( — “You raped me but told me, ‘I love you.’” “I was just a trophy sex slave. I am free. Never again.”

These are some of the words written on a T-shirt on display at the Clothesline Project luncheon inside the cafeteria at the College of Eastern Idaho on Wednesday afternoon.

The Clothesline Project is a national movement that started in the 1990s and is designed to raise awareness of sexual assault data that often gets ignored. During the event, victims or families of victims write messages on shirts that are hung on a clothesline.

Two sexual assault victims shared their stories during the second annual luncheon in Idaho Falls, which counselor Julie Thompson hopes will help others with similar experiences to know they are not alone and that there are resources available.

“Everything they go through that keeps them hostage to these unimaginable situations, there is a way out of it,” Thompson tells “Hearing these stories helps people feel understood, it helps them break through the isolation, it helps them to recognize they’re not crazy, it helps them to realize that these things are not all right, and it becomes a lifeline.”

The Domestic Violence and Sexual Assault Center at 1050 Memorial Drive in Idaho Falls is one resource that’s available. Emily Mangas, a representative for the organization, told the crowd how they help victims and defined sexual assault and other forms of abuse.

During her presentation, Mangas noted that abuse is not gender-specific and provided data from the Idaho State Police that shows abuse for female victims is more widely reported than abuse for male victims. For example, ISP reports that in 2020, there were 712 cases of rape reported for female victims. For male victims, there were only 16 cases reported.

ISP data also includes 2020 numbers for sodomy, sexual assault with an object and fondling, all of which had higher numbers for female victims.

Although there is a lot of research and support for female victims of assault, Mangas says there is a “societal denial that men can be sexually assaulted.” As a result, Mangas says men who are abused are often fearful that no one will believe them and are less likely to report it.

“It breaks my heart that we have made men feel like they have to be so tough that they are not allowed to be vulnerable, that they can’t say that something has happened to them,” says Mangas. “We have set people up in our society, our community for failure.”

Mangas hopes that having honest, open conversations about sexual assault will help all victims, regardless of gender, to feel validated and to feel empowered to seek help.

“I am from a family that has a lot of sexual assault in its history. Some people will openly talk about it, and other people will not. Part of it is generational,” says Mangas. “As our generations move forward, we are developing a language with male children that it’s OK (to talk about it).”

For many men, being vulnerable is difficult because it makes them feel weak. Mangas says changing that mindset is critical before any progress can be made.

For men who were abused and have a hard time being vulnerable, Mangas has one question.

“(If) your child comes to you and has a similar experience, how are you going to address that?” she asks.

Day two of the event continues Thursday and is being hosted by the Domestic Violence and Sexual Assault Center. It’s called “Take Back the Night” and will include a variety of educational presentations. Two documentaries will be shown and there will be an interactive program for attendees.

The event is open to anyone, but the information being presented is graphic in nature and may not be appropriate for young children.

“Unfortunately, you can’t get around the subject without talking about the specifics. Parents need to judge if that’s something their kids are old enough to come to. I recommend 18 and above, but these are also important conversations we need to have with our teens,” says Mangas.

“Take Back the Night” will begin at 6 p.m. and will be held in the cafeteria of Building 3 at CEI.

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