Most of us are aware of—or have at least heard of—shocking, horrific stories of women who have been sexually battered and violated by men. Such an atrocity happened in my own family. A few years ago, one of my relatives was the victim of a violent rape by a sex offender. She survived. He was caught, prosecuted and convicted where he will spend a GOOD LONG NUMBER OF YEARS behind bars! While I am not the sort of person who encourages wanton violence for the sake of vengeance, nonetheless, you can probably understandably imagine that I and a number of my relatives wanted to engage in some good, old-fashioned wild western, vigilante sort of justice. Nonetheless, we decided to let the judicial system take care of the matter, and justice was served.
According to almost all experts on the subject, the vast majority of rape victims are female. This should come as no surprise. However, increasing attention has been given to the topic of male rape. The percentage of men who are victims of rape is considerably higher than one might expect. In fact the National Center for the Victims of Crime reports the following statistics:
- About 3 percent of American men—almost 2.78 million men—have experienced a rape at some point in their lifetime
- 71 percent of male victims were raped before their 18th birthday; 16.6 percent were 18-24 years old
- And 12.3 percent were 25 or older
- Males are the least likely to report a sexual assault, though it is estimated that they make up 10 percent of all victims (RAINN 2006)
- 22 percent of male inmates have been raped at least once during their incarceration.
Such sobering statistics leave many conscientious people alarmed.
For a long time, the topic was one that very few people, including psychologists, psychotherapists, other medical experts and the general public were willing or able to devote any considerable attention to. In fact, even today, many people see the words “male rape” together as an oxymoron or some sort of deluded psychobabble myth that could not possibly be true. In fact, outside of prison rape (and some people dispute the frequency of this epidemic), the issue was/is rarely ever discussed.
An example of this crisis was last summer when a Drake University senior was charged with sexual abuse when photos and videos of him surfaced showing him sexually assaulting a fellow fraternity brother who was not fully conscious. In fact, according to the Journal of American College Health, 10 percent of campus acquaintance rapes are perpetrated against men often by other men. Two other organizations that compile statistics on rape — Pandora’s Box and Rape, Abuse and Incest National Network (RAINN) — estimate that approximately 3 percent of rape is female aggression toward males.
Indeed, the topic of male rape was and is so seldom discussed or even thought of as even possible by most people that even men who are victims of such a crime have tended to be in denial about their experience. The reason that society is often reluctant to acknowledge the issue of male rape and sexual assault is due to deeply held historical stereotypes in regards to men and women.
Such commonly held myths are:
- Men cannot be raped or sexually assaulted
- Male rape is not as serous as female rape
- Men who are sexually assaulted are not real men
- Women cannot sexually assault men
- Real Men do not allow themselves to be raped
Moreover, we are all products of a patriarchal society that always has taught boys that they are to be physically and mentally “tough.” Men are not supposed to display any sort of emotions that would be deemed to be “feminine “or “non-masculine.” Therefore, any man who “allows/allowed himself to be raped” is not a “real” man or lacks any degree of legitimate masculinity.
Due to this fact, many male rape victims feel inadequate or ashamed of what happened. Many psychologists and psychotherapists argue that many men who are raped often blame themselves believing that they granted their aggressors permission to sexually violate and victimize them. In addition, a sizeable number of men decline to report their attackers for fear that many people will believe that they (the victims) consented to the sexual activity that took place or may be viewed as closet gay men harboring latent homosexual tendencies. Thus, the end result is that these men often suffer in silence.
A largely held misconception in some segments of the Black community is that male rape is a vice that only happens behind prison walls or is an issue solely confined to White gay or bisexual males. The horrific and heartbreaking stories of male rape victims in the African Congo and more recently in Jamaica a few years ago that made international headlines should dispel any long-held myths that male rape is solely a “White man’s burden.” It is a sadistic form of oppression that does not restrict itself along color lines.
The fact is that anyone regardless of size, strength or appearance can be a victim of rape. Having the X chromosome does not make one immune.
Another unyielding reality is that both men and women suffer as a result of rape. Oftentimes, the level of trauma—flashbacks, nightmares, guilt, shame, anger, etc.—are just as intense regardless of the victim’s gender. The good news is that a number of organizations are available to assist those who have been the victims of rape. The Center for Disease Control and Prevention in Atlanta, Ga.; the American Social Health Association in the Research Triangle Park, N.C.; Men Stopping Rape located in Madison, Wis.; the National Center for Victims of Crime; National Sexual Violence Resource Center; and a number of other organizations are where individuals can find assistance.
Male rape, while not as commonplace as female rape, is still a psychologically traumatizing and demoralizing experience for its victims that must not be dismissed as something that is merely sporadic, isolated aberrations, or too unbelievable to comprehend. These are men who deserve our full support and compassion. Nothing less is acceptable.