Silent Victims: Bringing Male Rape Out of the Closet

November 2, 2007 at 2:33 am (community response)

Sue Rochman Silent VictimsBring Male Rape Out of the Closet

Men Raping Men – It’s a violent crime that affects straight men as much as gay men. There is terror, both during and after the attack. Fear of death is matched only by fear of being stigmatized as a male rape victim. It is a statistically silent crime, but the numbers are growing.According to the U.S. Bureau of Justice’s National CrimeSurvey, released in 1991, there are approximately 168,000 rapes annually in the United States. Of that number, 13,000 rapesinvolve male victims. And their assailants are almost always othermen.Kaylan Fredriks, 24, was gang-raped by three men on June 2 in  Volunteere Park in Seattle. As he was leaving what is known asSeattle’s gay park, he was grabbed from behind by the men. “Thenext thing I knew, there was a hand over my mouth, and I wasdragged into the bushes,” recalls Fredriks. “The broke a bottle onmy leg and were cutting up my clothes and men.” He was forced toperform oral sex and all of the men and was raped by one of them.“The whole time there were verbally abusive, talking dirty,telling me how much I liked it,” says Fredriks.Found unconscious and bleeding. Fredriks was brought to anearby hospital. “The first police officer I spoke to at thehospital I didn’t feel would understand me,” he says, “so Irequested another one. The second officer was very understanding.He help saying, ‘Son, it wasn’t your fault.'”Although he has felt supported by his friends and spoke witha male counselor from Seattle Rape Relief, Fredriks says that whatwould really help gay men would be a support group for male rapevictims. “I get depressed, and there are times when I feel scaredjust to go out of the house,” says Fredriks. “Sometimes I can’tsleep because of it, and it makes me more angry that there is nogroup to go to.”Another rape victim remembers his attack ten years ago thoughit happened yesterday: “I was waiting at the bus station in NewYork City,” recalls Ross, who requested that his last name not beused, “and this guy cruised me and picked me up and offered me aplace to stay. I was 19 and just starting to come out. He didn’tmention sex, but I was hoping for it and scared of it at the sametime.“He started to touch me, and that was fine,” Ross says, “butthem without warning he started to fuck me. And when I said no andthat I hadn’t done this before, he said I was lying. I wasterrified. And it was confusing because I had wanted sex but thiswas not what I wanted. I just went into this numbed out space, andthen it was over. What was clear to me was that he was going to doit, that I had no say. I didn’t feel like I had my own will or egoor anything. I felt like I was his.”It was years before Ross told anyone about the rape. “Youjust don’t hear men talk about rape,” he explains. “The idea isthat it doesn’t happen to men.”But it does.“The whole problem around the sexual assault of men is that alot of people don’t think that it can happen,” says NaomiLichtenstein, director of client services for the New York CityGay and Lesbian Anti-Violence Project.Mike used to believe that as well. A Los Angeles-basedwriter, he was raped eight years ago when he was a student livingin New York City. “I met this very cute, normal-looking guy on acorner near a gay bar,” recalls Mike (a pseudonym), “and we endedup taking a cab back to my apartment. We were hanging out in thekitchen, and I had my back to him. When I turned around, I sawthat he had grabbed a large kitchen knife. He looked at me andsaid, ‘If you move, you’re dead.’“He made me get undressed and then tied up my arms and legswith a towel,” continues Mike. “The whole time he verbally abusedme, saying things like ‘You fucking faggot.’ Then he anally raped me.” 

AN ACT OF VIOLENCE

Since rape is commonly thought of as a sexual rather than aviolent act, many people don’t think of men as potential rapevictims, counselors say. But Dr. A. Nicholas Groth, a clinicalpsychologist and author of Men Who Rape: The Psychology of theOffender, says sexual desire or deprivation is not the primarymotivating force behind sexual assault. “Sexual assault is thesexual expression of aggression, not the aggressive expression ofsexuality,” Groth explains. “It is not about sexual gratification.When a sexual assault happens, it is not because a man is sexuallyfrustrated. What we are talking about is a man using somebody elseas a means of saying ‘I’m the one in control.’ The definingelement in rape is coercion as opposed to consent.”According to the New York City Gay and Lesbian Anti-ViolenceProject, most rapists and their victims are heterosexual. YetRichie J. McMullen, author of Male Rape: Breaking the Silence onthe Last Taboo, notes that articles frequently refer to male rapeas homosexual rape, perpetuating the myth that rape is about sexand that it is only gay men who rape other men.“Another insidious myth is that all men who are raped are gayor want to be gay,” explains Lichtenstein. “But sexual assault hasnothing to do with sexual orientation. We have to separate outsexual orientation from sexual violence. And one does not causethe other in either direction.”Although women are more frequently the targets of rape, somemen only rape men and other rape both women and men. Groth recallsone man incarcerated for rape who said to him, “At the time Icouldn’t tell you what the victim looked like. It wouldn’t havemattered if they were attractive or unattractive, male or female,and adult of a child. It was just who was accessible to me at themoment.” 

AN UNREPORTED CRIME

Statistics maintained at police stations, district attorney’soffices, and national programs are often compiled according to thetype of crime, not the gender of the victim. But even if suchstatistics existed, rape crisis counselors believe that they wouldvastly underrepresent the actual number of men who are raped.Studies have shown that approximately 50% of all women whohave been raped have never told friends or family members aboutthe assault, and it is estimated that only one in 50 women whohave been raped reports the crime to the police. For men, rapes ofunderreporting are believed to be even higher.Almost all the men who have contacted the New York City Gayand Lesbian Anti-Violence Project have chosen not to report to thepolice, says Lichtenstein. “It is too complicated and too scary todeal with all the stigma and backlash,” she explains. “Most menjust want to keep it private.”Mike didn’t call a crisis line or file a police report. “Iwas too embarrassed,” he says. “I didn’t think they would catchhim. And I didn’t want to deal with judgment form the cops.”The sexual orientation of the victim may also influencewhether or not he files a police report. Groth says,

For gay menwho have chosen to keep their sexuality private, it can be verydifficult to disclose a rape, especially if the assault occurswithin the context of looking for some type of sexual contact of aconsenting nature.“Victims in general aren’t treated kindly by our society,” hecontinues, “and it is more complicated for the person who is gay,because you are going to be talking to a male-dominated [policeand legal] system. In our society there are victims who are seenas deserving of help and those who aren’t. So, if a straight manis assaulted, that may be seen as a more serious thing than if theperson is gay. If he is gay, the attitude might be ‘Well, heprobably liked it.’

Statistics from agencies that provide rape counseling varythroughout the country. In 1990 the San Francisco Rape TreatmentCenter say 528 clients; 9.8% were men. In Boston, of the 250people seen each year at Beth Israel Hospitals’ rape crisisprogram, about 10% are men. And the New York City Gay and LesbianAnti-Violence Project receives about four calls a month form menwho have been raped. But counselors stress that these statisticsreflect men’s fear of telling anyone, even a crisis counselor,about a rape. “There is an additional layer of pressure for menthat doesn’t exist for women due to stereotypes and assumptionsabout male rape,” says Denise Synder, executive director of theWashington D.C. Rape Crisis Center.Many rapes – most all of which remain unreported – occur inchildhood. At the age of 14, Martin (who has asked that his realname not be used) was raped by his foster brother, Danny, as theywalked through the woods between their home and a nearby shoppingcenter. “Danny was two years older than me,” recalls Martin, “andweighed twice as much. He said he would hurt me physically if Idid not do what he told me to do. I was terrified. My onlyalternative was to comply with his demands, hoping to get out ofthere alive. Danny told me that if I told anyone, he would killme.”It was years before Martin told anyone about what hadhappened that afternoon. “For 12 years,” he says,” I kept Danny’s‘secret’ a secret. But I also just about lost all desire to evenlive. I could never get the assault out of my mind. It still feltlike it just happened.” DENYING THE PROBLEMThe New York City Gay and Lesbian Anti-Violence Project hasreceived a number of calls from men who have been raped by someonethey men in a bar. This type of rape, now commonly referred to asdate or acquaintance rape, is rarely addressed within the gaycommunity. “What nobody seems to understand about rape is that ifyou say no, you mean no,” says Lichtenstein.When most people think about male rape, they think aboutprisons and jails, counselors say. Groth explains, “People thinkthat men who go to prison are going to get sexually frustratedbecause they have no opportunity for consenting sex. Yet what theydon’t look at is that people who engage in consenting sexualencounters, and they could masturbate or, in some states, takepark in conjugal visits.” Rape in prison, he explains, happens forthe same reasons as does rape on the outside: It is an act ofpower and control and sometimes one of retaliation or revenge.But like other victims, prisoners are not very likely toreport the crime. Stephen Donaldson, president of People Organizedto Stop Rape of Incarcerated Persons, and national education andadvocacy group, reports that a 1982 study of a California mediumsecurity prison revealed that 14% of all prisoners there had beensexually assaulted while in prison.A jail protocol for victims of sexual assault, published bythe San Francisco Department of Health, calls jail rapes“frequent,” adding that the exact number is “difficult todetermine.”“Victims do not report for fear of retaliation or are ashamedto tell other people,” the report says. “Only a fraction of thevictims utilize jail services after the assault. For each casethat is reported or otherwise discovered, one can assume that manymore go unreported.” 

LEGAL ISSUES

Although counselors generally use the term rape to describe male sexual assault, legal definitions vary from state to state.McMullen argues that part of the disbelief and silence around malerape can be attributed to confusion over legal terminology. Inmany states, the work rape is used only to define a forced act ofvaginal sexual intercourse; an act of forced alan intercourse istermed sodomy. In Georgia, for example, rape is defined as“forcible penetration of the female sex organ by the male sexorgan.” Oral sexual contact and anal intercourse are both termedsodomy – whether aggravated )forced) or consensual – and both areagainst the law. The penalty for forced sodomy is a life sentenceor up to 20 years in prison; the penalty for consensual sodomy isnearly as severe – no life sentence but still up to 20 years inprison.There are some states, however, that now employ genderneutral terms to define acts of forced anal or vaginalintercourse. In New Jersey, the terms rape and sodomy are nolonger used. Regardless of whether the victim is a man or a woman,all sex crimes are covered under four legal categories: aggravatedsexual assault, sexual assault, aggravated criminal sexualcontact, and criminal sexual contact.Marissa Batt, special assistant for the Los Angeles districtattorney, says that even though they don’t see many male rapecases, she doesn’t believe that the legal definitions are thereason that men don’t report the crime. Sodomy and rape are twospecific acts, she says,and the penal code reflects thatspecificity. “The names are different,” she explains, “but thesentencing is identical.”But not all district attorneys agree. Linda Fairstein, chiefof Manhattan’s Sex Crime Unit and deputy chief of Manhattan’sTrial Division, says that in New York State, lobby has gone on fora number of years to make the laws more gender-neutral, and it isa change that she would like to see occur. “While the issue may besemantics,” she contends, ” if it is important to the victim, thenit is important.”“I encourage reporting by male survivors,” continuesFairstein, “because I think that there are a lot more services inplace now for male survivors and because the prosecution is mucheasier than one might think it would be. I haven’t found judges[in Manhattan] to treat male rape victims differently than femalerape victims.”When Batt prosecuted a male rape case in Los Angeles a fewyears ago, however, this was not the case. The two men had met ina gay bar and went back to the one man’s apartment, where the rapehappened. “When the case was investigated, it was found that thedefendant has assaulted other men as well,” Batt recalls. “Butthese other men were all too embarrassed to come forward aswitnesses. I think this one victim’s serious physical injuriesencouraged him to go ahead with the charges. But because he wastoo mortified to testify in front of a jury, I waived my right toa jury trial.“The judge was really homophobia,” she remembers. “He saidthinks like ‘If it had been a woman, it wouldn’t have been aproblem. But because it was a man…’ And he wouldn’t convict onany of the charges.”Peter Kling, assistant district attorney in the San FranciscoSex Crimes Unit, notes that while it might be easier to prosecutea male sexual assault case in San Francisco than in other cities,there are factors that could influence the jury’s verdict. “If thevictim is physically a large person,” Kling says, “and larger thanyour suspect and there is no weapon involved, there might beproblems overcoming a juror’s ingrained belief that the victimcould have physically overpower his assailant. It might make itharder to prove that there wasn’t consent.” 

AFTEREFFECTS

Rape victims not only have to confront unsympathetic attitudes ifthey choose to press charges, but they often hear unsupportivestatements from their friends as well, counselors say. “Peoplewill fault the victim instead oft he perpetrator, saying thinkslike ‘If you lived a different type of life or if you weren’tlooking for something, this wouldn’t have happened to you,;”explains Groth.Furthermore, male victims commonly blame themselves for therape, believing that they in some way gave permission to theassailant. “In some ways I felt like I had set myself up,” Mikesays. “I picked up this guy on a known hustlers corner. I shouldhave expected something might happen to me, even if the rapewasn’t really my fault.”Some men may believe they were not raped or that they gaveconsent because they became sexually aroused, had an erection, orejaculated. But explains Donaldson, ejaculation is oftenmisidentified as orgasm, erection is not always within consciouscontrol, and sexual arousal does not always mean there wasconsent. “A lot of rapists,” he says, “will manipulate thegenitals of their victims precisely to get the impression acrossthat you really did enjoy it.”According to Groth, some offenders may try to get the victimto ejaculate because is “symbolizes the assailant’s ultimate andcomplete sexual control over his victims’s body and confirms hisfantasy that the victim really wanted and enjoyed the rape.

The experience of a rape may affect gay and straight mendifferently. Gay men may have difficulties in their sexual andemotional relationships with other men and think that the assaultoccurred because they are gay, whereas straight men often begin toquestion their sexual identity, rape crisis counselors say.“Within the context of a homophobic society, straight men seem tobe much more likely to be disturbed by the sexual aspect of theassault than the aggressive aspect,” Groth says.Sylvia Solorzano, a counselor at the San Francisco RapeTreatment Center, underscores this point, saying, “Since mostpeople associate rape with women, it is hard for men to identifythemselves as rape victims and get the appropriate support,understanding, and assistance they need.”

Even when they do seek medical care, male rape victims arehesitant to say that they were sexually assaulted. VeronicaRyback, director of the rape crisis program at Boston’s BethIsrael Hospital, says that it is not uncommon for a man to comeinto the emergency room but not tell hospital staff that he hasbeen sexually assaulted. “It is only after we do a physical examand note where the injuries are that we know what has happened,”Ryback says.Ross says, “I felt that if I called a rape crisis program, Iwouldn’t be taken seriously. Men are always supposed to be incontrol and be powerful. And you’re not supposed to talk aboutsituations like this where you are powerless. It’s like admittingyou are less of a man because this happened.”Mike says that although he hasn’t told many people, thosefriends and family members who do know have been very supportive.But he never through to call a crisis line. “At that time I didn’tthink that there was anyone to talk to,” he explains. “I had neverseen rape crisis services advertised for men. I didn’t go for helpbecause I didn’t know that it existed. Now I’d probably do itdifferently.”Rape crisis counselors stress that although women are theprimary focus of their programs, their services are for male rapesurvivors as well. Jo Thompson, a counselor for the YWCA of CobbCounty [Ga.] Rape Crisis Center also provides education to thecommunity. “When I describe our services, I say we providecounseling for men,” she says. “And I make sure when I’m talkingnot to use the pronoun she for the rape victim.” Yet she notesthat their agency’s literature doesn’t specifically mentionservices for men. “But we probably should,” she admits. “We mightget more men to call.”Of the six men who have called Thompson in the past year,none of come in for counseling. “All these men were in a lot ofpain,” she recalls. “It was so difficult for them just to call.They didn’t even want to give their names. At first, some wonderedif I would believe them, and they made references to that. And bythe end, they did realize that I believed them. But there wasstill a stigma about coming to the center.”Some crisis programs, including the Cobb County Rape CrisisCenter and the Orange County [Calif.] Sexual Assault Network(OCSAN), have male rape crisis counselors available 24 hours aday. Everyone who calls OCSAN for counseling is asked if theywould prefer to speak to a man or a woman, say Teresa Lu, directorof volunteers at OCSAN. But most rape programs are staffed bywomen, and Lu believes OCSAN is the only program in SouthernCalifornia that has male counselors. Whether or not they have malestaff on call, all crisis centers can make referrals to malecounselors. Yet according to Thompson, most men prefer to talk toa woman. “They were raped by a man, and because of the shame, theydidn’t want another man to know,” she explains.Nonetheless, Donaldson contends that to make men comfortablewith using these programs, “we need to get the work out to thepublic that men get raped.” Programs geared specifically to menare needed, he stressed, and these won’t exist until the realityof male rape becomes a fact of public knowledge. “Withouteducation, the whole question of male rape will remain buried.”Five years ago, Martin entered a counseling program forsexual assault survivors. And now, to help other men who feel thatthere is no one to turn to, Martin is starting a computer bulletinboard for rape survivors. Although the bulletin board will haveinformation for both women and men about sexual assault serviceproviders throughout the nation, Martin’s main goal is to getother men the help they need. “More men are starting to talk aboutsexual assault,” he says. “The number of men who have beensexually assaulted is high, but their egos keep them fromreceiving treatment.”Martin hopes to have the bulletin board and a toll-freenumber for those without a computer running by September. And, hesays, the system will be set up so that survivors can talk on thebulletin board to other survivors. “This project is the biggestand most important think that I have done in my life,” saysMartin. “It is not easy to live with the pain he caused me. ButI’m trying.”      

 RESOURCE LIST  

There are organizations throughout the country that providecounseling for men and women who have been raped or sexuallyassaulted. To find a center in your area that can provide you orsomeone you know with free, confidential rape counseling, look inyour phone book under Rape, or contact any counseling center. Notall rape crisis centers have male counselors staffing their 24hour crisis lines, but they are interested in assisting men whohave been raped or sexually assaulted and can refer you to a malecounselor sensitive to the needs of male sexual assault survivors.Information about Martin’s computer bulletin board network will bedistributed to rape crisis programs throughout the country. Men Who Rape: The Psychology of the Offenderby A. Nicholas GrothDa Capo Press, $22.50, hardcover Male Rape: Breaking the Silence on the Last Tabooby Richie J. McMullenAlyson Publications, $18.95, softcover Recovery: How to Survive a Sexual Assaultby Helen Benedict(out of print but available in libraries)  Return to InteractiveTheatre.org

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