An Unheard Demographic – Male Victims of Rape
Posted on by Alexander Yeh
Originally Published in The Hyphen
On October 15, 2015, Södersjukhuset, a hospital in Sweden, took initiative to support human rights by opening the world’s first male rape victim support center. Södersjukhuset, which already provides a walk-in center for female victims of sexual assault, has stated that “gender-equal” care was the main driving force behind the new male rape center.
Södersjukhuset hospital in Sweden, Photo courtesy of Wikimedia Commons
“So far there has been no specific place for men who are victims of rape to turn to,” explained Marie Ljungberg Schöt, the Local Moderate Party politician and Council Representative on Emergency Care to The Local. “Therefore we in the Alliance have decided to change this.” With this new institution, Sweden progresses further in expanding the limits of social justice.
What exactly are the statistics for male rape in the United States? According to the Rape, Abuse and Incest National Network (RAINN) from 1995-2010, 9% of rape and sexual assault victims were male, which may seem like a small number. However, it equates to nearly 2.78 million men in the U.S. who were victims of sexual assault or rape. While the majority of sexual assault or abuse victims are female, male rape is still a significant problem and there are shockingly few services that provide aid for male victims of rape.
Many studies on male rape prevention do not include the annual toll of approximately 216,000 male victims of prison rape, according to Department of Justice figures in 2008. This number would be a notable addition to the 90,000 reported cases of male rape outside of prison that year.
Not until 2012 were males even included in the Department of Justice’s definition of rape. Up until that year, the law relied on the 1927 definition, which reads, “the carnal knowledge of a female, forcibly and against her will.” In contrast, the 2012 definition and the definition we now live by states that rape is, “The penetration, no matter how slight, of the vagina or anus with any body part or object, or oral penetration by a sex organ of another person, without the consent of the victim.” The refined definition includes all people, whatever their gender or sexual orientation.
This change in definition acknowledging male rape may account for the rise of male rape victims. However, because the definition was so recently changed, many situations of male rape that occurred before the change have not been acknowledged as legitimate. James Landrith, formerly a part of the U.S. Marine Corps and currently an activist and online publisher and writer, was the victim of one such situation; he had been raped just over two decades before the alteration of the Department of Justice’s definition of rape.
It was 1990. Landrith, who had met one of his friend’s female friends in a club, was drugged, raped and blackmailed by her. Because she was pregnant, she countered any form of resistance with the excuse of potentially harming her baby and continued to force herself on him; he was rendered defenseless. For over 15 years, Landrith kept his secret in and refused to seek help. “Given that male survivors are usually mocked and resources are scarce for us, I hid it and tried not to think about it,” he explains in an interview with the Paper Tiger. “My way of coping – being a workaholic – had run its course for effectiveness.”
Without resources, Landrith reacted by “engaging in risky sexual contact and having no real boundaries with women” before settling into becoming a workaholic a few years later, which he would describe as a poor response. However, the worst responses came from those who heard his story; although some people were understanding of his predicament, some would blame and shame him for the incident and others would deny any possibility of him being raped. Landrith found that both men and women blatantly mocked him for his distresses online. “People can be very ‘brave’ when they hide behind anonymous screen names,” he asserts. “No one will say these things to my face.”
Both women and men are perpetrators of rape against men. The sexual abuse of children by Catholic priests is a prominent example of a worldwide case, in which male Catholic clergy have subjected their victims to intense sexual assault. The 2004 John Jay Report, based on 10,667 accusations of rape against 4,392 priests, found that roughly 81% of victims were male. The scandal has helped raise awareness of male victims of rape.
Why is it that in our American society, which preaches gender equality, that there are so few sources of support for male victims of sexual abuse, especially considering there are a plethora of such services for women?
“I think men often do not report the rape, and therefore it becomes more of an unknown population. Nonetheless, it’s a horrible crime,” says a worker at Bay Area Women Against Rape (BAWAR) who prefers to remain anonymous. “We here at BAWAR help anyone who is a victim, regardless of gender, despite our name focusing on females.”
Other reasons we don’t hear much about male rape include factors such as the gender-based perception of rape and the artificial importance of masculinity.
“Unfortunately, when many men, particularly adult men, report their cases, they’re not taken seriously because we’ve been raised to believe only women can be sexually abused,” says A.V., a Multisystemic Therapist (MST) and Licensed Professional Clinical Counselor who prefers to remain under initials. She says that males’ surroundings shame them for any sort of victimization, with rape being regarded as nearly impossible because it detracts from their masculinity and is thus seen as shameful. Subsequently, many cases of males being raped fall under the radar.
This, she concludes, contributes to the patriarchal beliefs that our society has been trying so hard to eradicate. “Women who believe that men cannot be raped are also subscribing to patriarchal beliefs that men must maintain power and are protected figures—moreover, that men are perpetrators and women are victims.” Those who try to deconstruct such patriarchal notions are also giving men, especially those who have been victimized or silenced, a stronger voice.
Landrith speculates, “The gendering of rape by advocates and idealogues has also created an atmosphere where people don’t believe we deserve help, or they say ‘once we have helped women, then we can get to your needs.’ This is short-sighted and utterly lacking in empathy.”
How unrecognized is male rape, exactly? According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC)’s 2011 survey, about 19.3% of women in the United States have been raped at least once in their lives while the number for men in the United States has been much smaller: about 2%. A.V., however, thinks the numbers could be much larger than we’ve been led to believe. “Oftentimes, men do not report rape because it is highly shameful for them: they are seen as emasculated, feminized, or objectified,” she explains. “They lose a great deal of their identity to claim victimhood under the construct of the patriarchy’s definition of a manhood and masculinity.”
When searching for articles about the frequency of rape in America, headlines often do not acknowledge male victims of rape. “CDC: Nearly 1 in 5 Women Raped,” reads an online article’s headline. “One in Five U.S. Women Has Been Raped: CDC Survey,” an online article proclaims.
“The level of misinformation and ideology masquerading as advocacy is disheartening and derails real world work,” says Landrith in response to the absence of male statistics in leading titles. “Another key component in the issue are advocates who are of the ‘low information’ variety with a lot of emotion, but little actual knowledge. On social media and the internet, complex and difficult issues get dumbed to simplistic soundbites and slogans. In the real world, it takes a better understanding and more sweat to get things accomplished.”