Many male victims of rape are still too afraid to come forward to speak out about their ordeal due to the stigma still attached to male rape. This needs to change.
Why is Male Rape still not taken as seriously?
A fortnight ago on a road in South Africa, a 33 year old man was stopped by three well dressed women in a black BMW and asked for directions. They then proceeded to kidnap him and force feed him drugs that would give him an involuntary erection before repeatedly raping him. They then, for unclear reasons, collected his sperm in a cooler box and dumped their terrified victim 500km away from where they had kidnapped him. The man was left severely traumatised and has reported his fears of leaving his home in the aftermath of the attack. The perpetrators have still not been found and remain at large.
This was a horrifying attack that will no doubt have profound and long term effects on the way in which this man will live his life. I was therefore shocked, and frankly appalled, when I scrolled down to the comment sections of the various news sources that were reporting this story. Many comments, from both men and women, were jovial and trivialising about the crime that had taken place. Some commenters made childish jokes. Others suggested that the man was somehow “lucky” to be raped by three women’. Such light hearted and ill informed attitudes suggest that male rape is still seen as somehow less serious than female rape. After all, can you imagine the torrent of abuse that an internet commentator would get if they dared to make a joke about a woman being kidnapped and gang raped?
Sadly, this reaction is not unusual. There is a stigma surrounding male rape that is both archaic and damaging to the survivor’s healing process. For example, in 2014, Transformers Actor Shia LaBeouf was ridiculed and described as “pathetic” by Professional Bellend Piers Morgan after opening up about his own rape. Such unsupportive language is all too common. We forget when we speak about gender equality that we not just talking about women’s issues. Men too have their own gender related obstacles to overcome. Men are meant to be physically and emotionally strong. It is only girls who are supposed to cry, supposed to be vulnerable.
This sort of attitude is dangerous and can have detrimental effects for male rape victims. Worryingly, male rapes still remain widely unreported. This largely due to the stigma attached, which can bring about feelings of shame. According to a shocking study from Ohio State University, around 90-95% of male rape victims do not report the incident to the police. As a result, male rape is a somewhat invisible crime, denied both by its victims and by society. This invisibility can mean that bringing about justice for these men can be difficult, both in terms of the short term and the long term. How can criminal justice systems be updated or new preventive policies be formed if victims of this crime are made to feel afraid of speaking out about their experiences?
Despite advances towards open attitudes within the police force, Police Officer attitude towards male rape victims can still be unsupportive and male rapes can often go unrecorded. As a result, we do not have a clear idea regarding how many men are raped. According to research by Criminologist Aliraza Javaid, the criminal justice system is not yet adequately prepared to deal with the issue of male rape. Javaid asserts that “police have a lack of knowledge, understanding, awareness, and specialised training of male rape”. This, he argues, can lead to wrongly formed attitudes and perspectives which can lead them to respond poorly to male rape victims. This is turn creates a mythology around the police force than they are unhelpful towards male rape victims, which will make men even less likely to come forward to report a rape.
Male rape isn’t spoken about widely or publicly enough. However, in terms of mainstream public discussions about rape and depictions in popular culture, this statistic is not being fairly represented. Social discussions of rape are often framed in the context of feminist theory with the often problematic assumption that rape is a symptom of a patriarchal, misogynist woman hating society. I have no doubt that many rapists are misogynist’s who are driven to hurt women through their own twisted view of the world. Also, it is undeniable that rape is an issue that certainly needs discussing from a female oriented perspective. However, we can’t forget about the many men who have suffered from rape and are too afraid to come forward due to the stigma attached. This in itself is a gender based issue. It is time to widen the discussion to include a male perspective and to broaden our frame of reference if we are to move forward in tackling rape as social issue that affects both men and women.