“On Being Raped”: Victimization of Males

Rape is knowledge, but not the sort that does you, or anybody else, any good. When I was raped, I learned things about myself and the world I live in that it would have been far better never to know. Raymond M. Douglas, On Being Raped

On Being Raped is a new and “slim volume” (Slate) by Raymond M. Douglas, a history professor at Colgate University.

At the age of 18 Douglas, attending college in Ireland, was brutally raped for four hours by a campus priest who’d invited him out for a drink. The publisher states: “…Douglas recounts this painful event and his later attempts to seek help to lay bare the physical and psychological trauma of a crime we still don’t openly discuss: the rape of adult men by men. With eloquence and passion, he examines the requirements society implicitly places upon men who are victims of rape, examines the reasons for our resounding silence around this issue, and reveals how alarmingly prevalent this kind of sexual violence truly is.”

While British statistics indicate that one in eight rapes happens to men, France’s records indicate at least one in seven. RAINN (Rape, Abuse & Incest National Network) in the U.S. states that “1 out of every 10 rape victims are male.” In addition, 17% of sexual assault victims at our colleges are male undergraduates.

Douglas states, “I searched for something in print that would confirm to me that I wasn’t the only man to whom this had ever happened. I didn’t find it. To the contrary, the academic and clinical literature I found stated with great assurance that the rape of men was virtually unknown outside of prison or, if it occurred, was confined to people who hitchhiked or swam alone on remote beaches.”

As Libby Copeland (Slate) notes, Douglas’s attempts to get help therefore failed:

Douglas discovered when he went to get counseling shortly after the crime that he was something of a unicorn—a man who wanted to talk about being raped to a treatment community that didn’t buy the premise. He checked himself into a psychiatric hospital, where an official told him that this account was a fantasy and that he should come to terms with his homosexuality. He went to a local rape crisis center, where deeply ideological counselors struggled to situate his experience within a political framework that posited rape as a means of patriarchal oppression and viewed him as an enemy by virtue of his sex.

Douglas was also let down by the Catholic authorities, he relates in On Being Raped. And although the priest, who’d been quietly reassigned, was eventually convicted of rape against another male, his severe alcoholism by that time made him too sick to be imprisoned.

Although Douglas has adapted successfully in various ways, he’s also experienced multiple negative effects. He didn’t date until he was 36, for instance. Also, he continues to be plagued by nightmares and intermittent depression. “I am compelled to acknowledge that being raped is the most consequential thing that has happened to me,” he recently told Josh Logue, Inside Higher Ed.

Other salient points made by Douglas in Logue’s interview:

  • Male victims contend with the myth of the “‘vampire syndrome,’ otherwise known as the ‘victim-to-abuser cycle’…the assumption that a male rape victim is likely to go on to rape others in his turn.”
  • “For a majority of the world’s population, the rape of men is still not a offense defined in law. Men are expected to defend themselves against attacks of this kind or, if they can’t, to handle the aftermath themselves, whether through private vengeance, lifelong silence, or self-medication with alcohol and drugs. In other words, a social problem is being treated as though it were an individual one.”
  • “Statistically, it’s virtually certain that everyone…already knows a man who has been raped; they’re just not aware of it.”

And from a chat the author had with Michel Martin (NPR), an important distinction in vocabulary: “I adhere to the word victim rather than survivor in the same way that I have chosen to acknowledge what happened to me as rape rather than sexual assault.” The danger in becoming a “survivor,” he says, “is that it seems to imply that once you’ve attained that status, it’s all done and dusted, it’s all safely in the past. And for a huge number of people, it isn’t and it won’t be, it won’t ever be.”

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