Men Get Raped Too
A little while ago, I read a story about a young man who was shocked when his rapist came up in his Facebook friend recommendations. The site’s “people you may know” feature suggested he might know this person, based on the fact they had 3 mutual friends. Suddenly, he could see what his rapist was up to, his everyday activities, the way he was living his life.
And it finally gave him the courage to write a poem about his experience and to reclaim the word “rape” and apply it to what he had experienced at this guy’s hands.
In an interview, the young man suggested that, at the time of the incident, he hadn’t been able to give it a name. Just a couple months before, he’d been heading a “Take Back the Night” campaign. He felt that the word rape didn’t “belong” to him, that, as a man, he couldn’t use it. It was verboten.
He recounted that, after it had happened, he’d been in the hospital, being interviewed by the police. They’d asked him to tell them what had happened. They insisted he had to give the act a name or they couldn’t do anything for him. He wasn’t able to say it. He couldn’t say that he’d been raped. So he stayed silent. If he said anything else, he asked the officers to leave.
Now he can finally give the act a name and that name is rape.
This isn’t an unusual story, even for female victims. In the wake of trauma, when victims are still trying to process what happened, asking them—or forcing them—to name the act is often leading and problematic. Many women struggle to admit that they’ve been raped, especially in cases where the rapist is an acquaintance, friend, family member, or significant other. There is often a tendency to believe that they couldn’t have been raped, that rape couldn’t happen to them, or that the person wouldn’t do something like that. It’s a troubling disconnect in the legal/criminal system that requires the victim to name the act almost immediately or forever hold their silence on the subject, and a medical model that recognizes that people who undergo a traumatic event are often shocked and disoriented, and will even refuse to believe what transpired. Disbelief is incredibly common in rape cases, which makes prosecuting them immediately very problematic. Police and legal workers must be careful of leading the victim into believing something happened—but it may also take the victim a while to process and admit; they may continue to deny or excuse the behavior for months or even years.
For men, the situation is made even more complicated by the fact that rape is so commonly attached to women. For a man to be raped is, in a lot of ways, to be feminized, to be stripped of one’s masculinity. Masculinity does not make much room for victimization; “the victim” is a very feminized role, one that most men reject almost on principle. That coupled with the fact they’ve undergone a traumatic experience can amount to a very large disconnect between what transpired and what the victim believes or admits to. Denial and disbelief are common, as is shock. Sometimes, because rape is so feminized, so characterized as a relation between a powerful male aggressor and a helpless female victim, men have trouble attaching a word to the act, simply because “rape” doesn’t cross their minds as a word that applies to their situation. And then, others may encounter the same mental disconnect between their own situation and the word “rape”—that rape is not a word that can be applied to them, because they’re men.
I’m glad this young man spoke out, that he was finally able to apply the word rape to his situation. I hope that his story helps others end denial of their own situations, or even simply realize that rape is something that can—and does—happen to men as well.