"Sexual Assault never occurred to me; My Masculinity could not Fathom such a Thing."

2013-10-16 06:44

In response to an article I wrote addressing how society often tends to blame female victims of sexual assault, I was called an "author of misandric rants". Naturally many people jumped on the band-wagon and asked the obvious question: "What about male victims of rape"?

“No self-respecting man would ever report an assault inflicted upon him by a woman.”

This sentiment was that of one loud-mouth in particular. My face hit my desk. Hard!

It is exactly the statement above, and such of its kind which reaffirms my belief that misogyny, in the grand scope of things does not only oppress women, but men as well.

As a feminist and human rights activist I often address the issue of sexual violence on various, online platforms. Because I am a women who has experienced sexual molestation it is naturally easier for me to relate to the social pressure inflicted upon female victims of rape.

However I have realized that by focusing solely on the societal patterns which affect women, I am simultaneously neglecting men. Men who have had the same experiences but whose voices seem to be heard at a much smaller scale.

I am not suggesting that men perhaps inwardly process their trauma differently from women, however I am saying that society popularly imparts misjudgement upon individuals depending on their gender.

The world holds a double standard in regard to sexuality by gender. A recent example of this is how many people reacted to the news that Chris Brown was only 8 years of age when he first had sex. If a girl had told the same story, we would all agree hands down that she had been raped.

But was this the case for Mr. Brown? Nah, he's a man. Men like sex even as boys, and if they have to pull an older girl to get it then bravo to them. He's a stud, he's legend-wait-for -it-DARY!

Or he's disgusting....which is probably the worst assumption of them all.

Sadly, this frame of mind is rampant, due to the significant amount of ignorance or denial surrounding the issue. I have noticed how in our modern culture, a woman taking advantage of a man in a sexual manner is often laughed off as a crazy mistake, or exalted as some grand manly achievement.

Numerous TV shows and movies portray boys who have been subjected to the sexual advances of older women as role-models to be commended. Rather then address the fact that such boys have quite obviously been raped, it sets a bar for other boys to reach. The movie, "That's my Boy" instantly springs to mind.

Surely this can only promote the flawed assumption that the male species is naturally sex-hungry and willing to obtain gratification from any available source -even when they are too young to consent - right?  Rrrright.

Not only is this insulting to women, as it instils the idea that women are always sexually subjected to men and cannot help themselves, but it also discourages actual male victims of rape from coming to terms with what has happened to them. Those who do speak out are ostracised and regarded as pansies.

Then of course there is the common misconception that women are incapable of perpetrating rape. This stems directly from the ignorant notion that rape is only committed by violent thugs lurking in dark alley-ways.

What needs to be stressed here is that rape doesn't necessarily have to be violent in order for it to be regarded as such. If a sexual act is committed without mutual consent, one party has been raped. It's as simple as that.

Coercion, manipulation, and intoxication are all means to achieve peaceful, sexual gratification with an unwilling partner.

I read an interesting article today on CNN. It documented the experience of James Landrith - a former marine based in Lejeune - who in 1990, was coerced into having non-consensual sex with a woman who bought him drinks all night in a club. Since then he has spoken out for male victims of sexual assault.

"I want people to understand that it's not about how physically strong you are," he says. "We [men] are conditioned to believe that we cannot be victimized in such a way."

The article also contained comments from various experts which provide further insight into the struggle male victims face when coming to grips with the fact that they have been victimized:

"Often, male survivors may be less likely to identify what happened to them as abuse or assault because of the general notion that men always want sex," says Jennifer Marsh, the vice president for Victim Services at RAINN, an anti-sexual violence organization.

"Males have the added burden of facing a society that doesn't believe rape can happen to them ... at all," says psychotherapist Elizabeth Donovan.

She says gender roles dictate that males are expected to be strong and self-reliant -- men are viewed as those who seek sexual conquests instead of those who "fend them off."

Ahh, gender roles and misogynist nonsense. What a treat.

I think many of us can agree, that there seems to be strong pressure on men to be beacons of masculinity, that any show of emotion or frailty from a man is typically perceived as weakness, and is often ridiculed in a cruel and chauvinistic manner.

It is for this reason, that I believe male victims of rape have difficulty speaking up about their experiences. They face blame,  which is perhaps different to that which women face, but is just as problematic if not more so.

The general assumption seems to be that they weren't "man" enough to defend themselves from attackers. This could've only been derived from the ridiculous belief that physical strength is enough to fend off sexual predators.

A few weeks ago I had a chat with a man who survived being gang-raped by five men 3 years ago. He opened up about his experience and also detailed how his attitude prior to his assault contrasted with his feelings on the issue today.

He offered further reason as to why it can often be difficult for men to process being sexually violated:

"My experience as a victim  of violent crime is not limited to my gang rape.  However, sexual assault never occurred to me; my masculinity could not fathom such a thing. In the past, being typically regarded as  a "man’s man", I would not tolerate such thoughts, let alone discussions centred on male rape outside the confines of the prison system."

When he attempted to report his case to the local police station a few days after the incident, he made a U-turn whilst in the queue, as an image of many other victims who went before him flashed through his mind and clouded his judgement.

"I felt like just another statistic, and as a man, suddenly lacked the confidence to report my experience to other men who are often not known for their tact. Many articles which have been published advising us on post-rape procedures are really good in theory,  but to actually think rationally after such an event is a pipe dream."

He initially kept quiet about his experience, and this resulted in anxiety which ultimately affected his personal and professional life in a negative manner.

"My work suffered due to my inability to process my trauma. I had a mental break-down two months later. My career as a Principal Air Traffic Controller, demanded focus and concentration which I was unable to give. This eventually drove me to confide in my manager about my experience."

The societal pressure he faced prior to opening up about his experience, sounded all to familiar.

"I have always been surrounded  by the general view of,  "Men do not get raped, men who get raped are weak," and "men who do not inflict physical vengeance upon men who have raped them are cowards". This of course made it all the more difficult for me to come to terms with what had happened to me. I was also wary of being confronted with the old question of "what did YOU do to make them want to rape you?”

And there we have the old blame game. Lovely.

This is the unfortunate reality of how patriarchal mindsets, gender roles, and expectations from inherently misogynist peers negatively affected one man who was battling with the fact that he had been violated. I would not be surprised if other male victims feel the same as they desperately try to cope with life after they have been raped.

Fortunately, my friend found the road to rehabilitation and today identifies himself as a survivor. When speaking to him, one would never suspect that he once suffered the mental and emotional agony that victims of rape so often face. He is an activist and champion for the fight against sexual violence, advocating for both male and female victims.

When I asked him what steps he felt society should take to better accommodate male victims of rape, he went on to say,

"I believe there should be separate facilities at Police Stations, manned by officers who have had the appropriate sensitivity training. Various media outlets should affirm in their publications and flighted news that rape is not limited to females only. General broadcasts and educational seminars should highlight rape as a violent crime where victims are both male and female."

Sadly, there are no official statistics available in South Africa which accurately document the rate of sexual abuse toward men and boys. This is largely due to the denial that such a problem exists.

An American study conducted by the National Crime Victimisation Survey (NCVS) IN 2002 reported that 1 in 8 rape victims in 2002 were male. This is supported by research conducted in the United Kingdom where 1 in 6 men will have been sexual abused or raped in their lifetime.

These statistics cannot be ignored, because even though they are slightly dated, one can only imagine how the numbers must've grown due to societal misconceptions and the lack of awareness surrounding the issue.

Most importantly, we need to create an environment which enables male victims to comfortably open up about their experiences without  fear of being ridiculed, bullied or threatened. This can only be achieved once we do away with ridiculous gender roles.

We  must demolish the misconception that  men who have fallen prey are weak, and no longer fit the profile of  "real men".

I you are a man battling with post-rape trauma, or for other reasons perhaps require more information regarding this issue I suggest you pay a visit to "South African Male Survivors of Sexual Abuse (SAMSOSA)".

They have at least made significant steps forward in addressing this issue, and professionally helping male victims of sexual abuse receive the rehabilitation they need.

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