Yesterday, I participated in a panel discussion on domestic violence and sexual assault. The event, titled "Our Love Should Not Hurt" was sponsored by the Alpha Chapters of Zeta Phi Beta Sorority and Phi Beta Sigma Fraternity at Howard University in Washington, DC. About 75 or so Howard University students were in the audience. Quite a few secondary survivors were there for their friends or significant others. About 1/3 of the audience was male. There were 5 female panelists and 1 male (me). Domestic violence was the first topic and I was happy to see it covered quite well to even include violence perpetrated by women against men and also verbal abuse. Several of the male students were very interested in the verbal abuse portion of the discussion. Been there, done that…
One young woman spoke about her friend who had emailed her about an attack she had endured several years prior. The survivor asked her friend not to ask her about the email or even acknowledge it in person in any manner. She just wanted her to know it had happened. The young woman broke down in tears several times while asking the panel how she can help her friend. I got a few minutes to speak to her after the event. She thanked me for speaking out. I thanked her for believing her friend. That part is so important – the believing. So many people are so willing to assume that someone they know would lie about being raped.
One of the questions was directed at me with regard to how a man would know if he had been raped. I told my story – the Cliff's Notes version – as part of the answer. I was not prepared for the audible gasps from both the audience and other panelists. I've gotten used to the idea of a female rapist as it happened to me, but I forget that it is not what people expect when they hear from a male rape survivor. They expect the rapist to be another male.
I was extremely nervous as this was the first time I spoke publicly about the rape. Everyone was supportive and after I was particularly touched by the kindness one of the other RAINN speakers showed me. This was surprisingly therapeutic (while simultaneously draining emotionally) and I look forward to working with RAINN on future outreach efforts.