My Son Was Sexually Assaulted: A Father’s Diary

man standing alone shadow

Imagine you’re the father of a young man who was raped. What do you do? Where do you go? One father shares his family’s story of pain and healing. 

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Editor’s note: This story was sent to us by one of our regular writers, someone whom we love and support. He has asked for his name to be withheld to shield the identity of his son. We—along with the author and his son—feel their story is one that needs to be told, as too often fathers and sons are left out of the narrative of rape and survivorhood. 

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I am writing because I don’t know what to say and I can’t think of anything else to do. My wife and I are speeding through the dark, rushing to be with our son who is experiencing …I don’t know what. The truth is: I don’t know anything about male sexual assault and how to help my kid.

This was not covered in the parenting manuals. And there is no pamphlet in our doctor’s office “How to help your son recover from rape.” I don’t know what to expect. Will he be going through the stages of grief? I don’t know what to do. Do I hug him or do I do what I normally do: slap him on the back and say, “Hey dude, it is good to see you”? I don’t know what to say. Do I go with, “Hey, heard about your rape. That sucks, man”?

My wife is uncharacteristically silent, and when she does speak her voice is eerily calm. When she called this afternoon, I knew that she had bad news as soon as I heard her voice. She was talking in that deliberately calm voice used by doctors and police officers as they deliver bad news.

She said, “Honey, I want you to get up right now and go somewhere private and call me back.”

“You caught me while I was out of the office.” I said. “I can talk now. What’s wrong?”

“I just heard from our son. He needs us to go up and be with him.  He was raped.”

I had been walking through the parking lot , on my way into my office building but her words stopped me dead in my tracks. My brain quickly started sorting out the words that she had said, putting them together in different combinations, trying desperately to make some sense of them. I thought, “She said ‘rape’, but she was talking about our son. Has he been accused of rape? Certainly not. She must have said our daughter. Or maybe I just heard raped when she actually said …what?”

“I have made a couple of calls, and I am putting together a list of resources for male rape victims. But what he really needs right now, what he is asking for, is for us to drive up and be with him. He has specifically asked for you to come as well as me. So you are going to need emergency family leave.” My brain jolted as I realized that I had not heard her wrong or misunderstood. Our son had been raped, and he had to be seriously traumatized. For him to ask for us to come and be with him, he had to be in very bad shape. And for him to ask for me… he must need something from me, and I have no idea what it is or how to give it to him.

Shock settled over me, making my brain buzz like a florescent light fixture “I don’t know what to say,” I mumbled.

I meant that I was so overwhelmed by the news that I had no idea what to say or do. But my wife misunderstood. She had already moved beyond disbelief and had begun executing a list of things we needed to do before we can leave. “You tell your boss that your son was assaulted, and that he needs his parents. You don’t need to be specific. Just tell him that your son is expected to make a full recovery, but he needs his parents right now.”

I followed her instructions, feeling hollow and robotic as I went to talk to my boss. As I stumbled through some sort of explanation I wondered if I was talking too loud. I felt like my head was a big empty echo chamber that somehow is magnifying my voice.  He made the appropriate sounds and told me to take whatever time that I need.

By the time that I got home, my wife had a list of four things we needed to remember when helping our son through this. First a list of resources and now tips for interacting with a male rape victim. This is how my wife handles problems. Had she been aboard the Titanic, she would have set off ransacking the library if they had one or the Captain’s quarters for a reference book on how to survive nautical disasters. Then she would have read aloud from it as she ordered around the crew. “It says here that all lifeboats should be launched completely full. That one has an empty seat. Throw in my husband here.”

♦◊♦

Four times now she has told me the list of things that we need to remember*, but I’ll be damned if I can remember a single one. None of them were concrete suggestions like, “Take him for a beer.” Or “No alcohol, just hot tea.” I searched my mind for something – a book or movie – about how a dad handles his son’s rape. Even if the guy got it all wrong, I figure that at least I will know what not to do. But I can’t think of a single cultural reference to this. I realize that we are in Lewis and Clark territory here.  There are no maps.

Even packing was odd. What does one wear to comfort a son who has been sexually assaulted, I wondered.  Then a thought struck me, if the police were involved, would they take him more seriously, be more motivated to seek justice on his behalf if I am dressed in a business suit?

“Are the authorities involved?” I asked, hesitantly.

“No, and I support him in not reporting it. In that information I got from my sources, I read that police officers are not very good at handling a same-sex rape, especially if the rapist and victim had a prior relationship.”

“So this was date rape?” Even as I ask it, I realize that it doesn’t really matter. Rape is rape no matter where it happens or who does it. I feel the gravity of that now as never before.

“No, it was one of his best friends. They had gone out to a party, and when they got back to his friend’s house it was so late he accepted the guy’s offer to crash there. When he woke up his friend was…” her voice trailed off.

I couldn’t think about that, didn’t even want to imagine what it would be like to wake up to a friend raping you. So I concentrated on packing, and I decided that casual would have to do. I was throwing things into a bag when I realized that I have not done my laundry. I have no clean underwear. I began riffling through dryer, going through a stack of clothes next to the hamper hoping to find some that aren’t too ripe.

My wife saw what I was doing. She said in that almost creepily calm voice: “There is a Target near his apartment. You can pick up some when you go out to get some groceries.”

I wondered why we will be buying groceries. Then I realized that she will be cooking for our son. She will probably leave a couple weeks worth of food in his freezer when we go.  It seems that you feed a fever and a cold, and a broken heart and a person recovering from the trauma of rape.

Now, as I sit in the passenger’s seat with my wife driving exactly nine miles over the speed limit, I can’t stop myself from thinking about what my son must have felt. How scared he must have been. How powerless and violated. I wonder how large of a bomb crater will be left after we clear away the debris. Will he have PTSD? Will he need to come home and be near us for a while? How will he learn to trust again? Will he ever have another male friend?

I don’t have clean underwear or a clue of what to do when we finally arrive.  My wife has lists, resources and food. I’ve got nothing. The one thing that I can offer my son is what I am bringing him: my presence and my love.

But as I have been writing this, I realize that I am not just writing to keep myself occupied. I am bearing witness. I am writing because there is something incredibly powerful that sometimes happens when the suffering of victims is validated and recorded.

I am also writing because I don’t want other dads to feel like I do right now, so lost that I don’t even know which map to use. I don’t have any answers, but at least I can share my experience. And maybe if enough of us do that, we can start to discover what helps and what doesn’t.

I expect that this will not be a short journey, and so it is my plan to write regular updates, to bear witness to my son’s suffering and recovery as a male rape survivor. I don’t know that what I write will actually help anyone, but writing is the one thing that I can do.

And I need something to do.

 

Read Part Two of this family’s story

*Some reminders of how to help survivors when talking about their assault:

1. Express empathy for their experience and feelings.

2. Remind them that there is nothing anyone can do to deserve rape, ever, and that they were not to blame for what happened to them.

3. Ask them what they want and how you can support them, such as being present or giving them space, resources for healing, or supporting them reporting or not reporting their assault. Put the agency for moving forward in their hands, and let them guide you in how to help.

4. Offer resources for their healing, or offer to help find those resources – such as a support group, a therapist, a 24 hour support helpline, or even the police or campus authorities, should they want that.

 

For more resources to help male survivors of sexual assault, check out MaleSurvivor.org, 1in6.org, or Together We Heal online.

For a 24/7 support hotline that is welcoming to male survivors, contact SafePlace.org or call 512-267-SAFE (7233)

 

Photo: Flickr/Rob Deutscher

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Comments

  1. I am so sorry for your pain and for your son’s pain. He is fortunate to have such caring and devoted parents. May each day be a little bit better for him and for all of you…

  2. Renee Davis says:

    Sending love and healing. As a rape survivor myself, my heart is breaking for your son. Much love to you all.

  3. Danielle Paradis says:

    Thank you for having the bravery to share this and so much love to your son.

  4. Alyssa Royse says:

    I am still speechless, as I have been since you first sent in this piece. But I am filled with love, gratitude and hope that we can change this conversation. And you are playing an important part in that.

  5. I am praying for you now. Thank you for your bravery in sharing this. And I thank God for the wife and mother you and your son have.

    Peace.

  6. Quinton Aiken says:

    To whomever affected. Reading this story, this is beyond an invasion of more than the body, this is an invasion of the soul, of confidence, of self esteem and self worth.
    You are right, there’s no rule book on how to handle such a crisis. There’s no preconceived notion of what to do. The best and only thing that can be done is to go to him, arms and heart open, ready to receive and love him as he is. And this is the most important part. Receive him and love him as he is.
    Until the moment you see him fill your heart only with love, not with a wondering of how you should act, nor what you should say. All those things will come to you the first moment you make contact, the first moment you look into his eyes and know he’s there with you. I wish you all the best on this journey. It will be neither easy or quick, but if you stay together and listen, just listen, you will make it through.

  7. Stories like this need to be told. No one should be attacked like this but in the event that it happens the resources and awareness needs to be there to help the survivors.

    • Joe Gilvary says:

      Danny,

      I don’t believe stories like these need to be told so much as they need to be prevented. When they happen, telling is right. But we must work to prevent anyone, male or female, from enduring this kind of suffering.

      • Yes ultimately they must be prevented.

        But….how do we prevent them if we don’t know they are happening?

        • Joanna Schroeder says:

          We have to tell the stories so that parents and other loved ones know they are not alone – not to mention the survivors. And we need to know how to help so that we can help our survivors find the help they need. When I think about if this had happened in 1983 instead of 2013, I shudder to imagine the immense lack of support.

          Even two years ago, when I started working here at GMP, the idea of a “male survivor” was pretty obscure and almost considered blasphemy. Now almost everyone recognizes the reality of men being victims of sexual violence, and we are starting to see how important it is to helping these survivors, as well as survivors of any gender.

          • Arjun Arora says:

            Joanna I’m going to have to respectfully disagree with you here. As much as those in the greater “Manosphere” know about the sexual abuse of men, the vast majority of people still view it as something that cannot happen to adult males. Just the other day I was talking to one of my classmates about doing a speech about Men’s Issues for a speech tournament and she asked me what specifically I was going to cover. I told her I was going to try to touch on Divorce, masculinity, male on male rape and female on male rape but she stopped right at the end there. She told me, in a completely straight face, that men cannot be raped by women. I asked if she was kidding but she just gave me an incredulous look like I was speaking jibberish. She only finished with the caveat that men could rape other men. Sadly, male rape is still a highly contentious and very much not understood topic. Research is limited and what exists is mystified by terms like “forced penetration.”

            • Joanna Schroeder says:

              It’s a slow, but steady, increase in recognition. Although it should never, ever have happened, even Sandusky’s horrific predation has served to bring male survivors to the forefront.

              We have SO far to go, I agree, but it’s happening little by little.

  8. Will Duke says:

    Rape is about power, not sex. Take every opportunity to let your son, or any victim, make choices about anything, even the smallest thing. Help them find their power again.
    Along those lines, don’t ask “did you” or “could you” questions. Don’t give “should” hindsight advice.
    The victim is not in any way responsible for the actions of the rapist. The victim did nothing wrong. They’re chasing those thoughts around in their mind already, don’t heap on the guilt, even well-intentioned.
    Nobody but the rapist and the victim were there. Only the victim could know what the right thing to do was. The fact that the victim made it through the situation means that they made exactly the right choices. That’s what they need to hear from you.
    * It’s not their fault.
    * They did the right thing.
    * You love them.

  9. there’s nothing you can say or do that will undo what has happen to him. Just be there for him, judge-less and full of compassion. I’m a survivor of childhood rape and molestation. I struggled for almost 30 years coping with this trauma. I’m 32 now; I find myself in a much better place –emotionally and mentally– but the journey getting this old has been painfully, to say the least. My family ignored the fact, and I had to find ways to cope with it, alone, afraid, and confused. I made peace with it already, but I’m still having difficulty with fully forgiving my parents for not doing more; for not being there, for not acknowledging my pain and suffering. JUST BE PRESENT FOR HIM. That’s all he really wants/needs right now. And your wife has the right idea: resources, tips, keeping calm and collected.

  10. Horrific

  11. Thank you for sharing your story despite how difficult it must have been to relive this terrible event in your son’s life. It took strength and courage and I admire you for it. Hoping that your son and your family is healing every day.

  12. Great piece and so necessary. After I read it I tried to search my memory for incidents of male rape and especially the recovery. The only memory that came back was in the book “Prince of Tides” when the young boy is raped and when the mother is told she replies “Don’t be ridiculous – boys can’t be raped.”

  13. Kevin James says:

    I am so sorry that this has happened to your son. This is something that has happened to me but I was not fortunate enough to be able to call my parents to come be with me. I think just your love and support will help him get through this. Not only is he not to blame for what happened to him, you cannot blame yourself for feelings that may come up for you while getting through this. Thank you for having the courage to share. Sending you and your family lots of love!

  14. I’m so glad your son felt he could tell you, or tell anyone. That speaks volumes to what a good parent you must be. A couple of times in my life, I’ve had something particularly difficult to deal with, and put off telling my parents, because I knew how hysterical my mother would get, as though it had happened to her or she was going through it herself. It was a huge burden to me, and one day, many years later, when my dad was asking me, why didn’t you tell us, I said, look, I had more than I could handle and I couldn’t take care of you as well through my problems. I know this is horrifying for you, and it’s hard because you are emotionally involved, but try to be calm for your son and if you must ask anything, ask gently. Do not pry. Pay attention to your child’s responses and if they are becoming upset or unable to answer, don’t delude yourself, as my mother would have, that you are providing catharsis. Back off when you see them hurting and let them make the decisions. This whole crime is all about violating someone’s autonomy, so you don’t want to do anything that might feel remotely similar, even if it’s just talk. Don’t just barge right along because “you want to know” and ignore how you are making your child feel in favor of answers for yourself. That was one of the most hurtful and selfish things my mother did: ignoring how she was making me feel, and then expecting me to feel safe to confide in her, even feeling entitled to that confidence. It showed a distinct lack of empathy in favor of finding answers for her own comfort instead. I felt like I was reliving it just to satisfy her curiosity. Right now, as you obviously understand, is all about taking care of your son, making him feel valued and cared for, and helping him feel safe and able to trust again. So forget about the inquisition and the whys and should haves of what happened. It’s his choice to tell it or not. Try to respect that. If you need support, find it w/your spouse or other parents of survivors or a counselor for yourself. Don’t take it personally if he’d rather talk to a professional, either. It just means that he knows it’s hard for you, but he can’t be expected to take responsibility for your feelings.

  15. I and others appreciate you telling us about something so personal and traumatizing. It reverberates on all of the family, not just your son and I hope he is on the road to recovery. With such support from his parents, he already has a great start

  16. Deb Smith says:

    It will be hard. So hard, in fact, that you might push it to the back of your mind. You might even ‘forget’ about it for awhile, but it will be there. You will not, however, let it own you. The same will be happening to your son. He’s miles ahead of where I began my rape horror. It took so long for me to even ‘remember’ it, and I told no one for so long. I finally talked about it, while helping someone else, and it was like a weight was lifted off my shoulders. Just saying it aloud, “I was raped,” is so far forward. I weep for your son, you, your wife…..it will never be alright but he will get better. He will deal with it as the rest of us (mostly women) deal with it and move on. It will not control his life, it will not control who he is. It will shape him, however. He will be more aware of so many things–perhaps even hyper-aware. Even though others will call it paranoia, it will just be an awareness of the fact that bad does happen in this world. Many don’t learn that until they’re older. Take heart, it will get better……day-by-day……

  17. I am so sorry for your son and your family. This is an unbelievably atrocious act. But please, please rethink reporting it to the police. If the “friend” is let off the hook he can do this to others. And that would be another thing on your son’s conscience. I am so glad he has parents that care so much for him, and the best thing you can do is NOT to know what to say or do, but just to be there for him. Hold him close, love him, and help him regain his life. Bless you all.

  18. How horrible!! I really hope you can somehow provide your son some comfort. I can’t ever imagine such a terrible thing occurring. I hope he can move on and the perpetrator will pay for his crime.

  19. Rich Krzyzanowski says:

    Thank you for your story, your pain, your harships, and your small victories. Thank you for having the courage to not only write this piece, but also the courage to talk to your son about it before you did. And thank to you son for being able to start down his path of healing and his willingness to allow you to share your experience of his experience. If he cares to read about another man’s experience of rape, I’d invite you to share this with him. It is my story. I wrote it in the hopes of helping others who have lived through it. http://www.elephantjournal.com/2012/11/the-experience-of-rape-through-yoga-colored-glasses-a-journey-of-healing-integration-richard-krzyzanowski/

  20. Thank you for sharing your story. It’s important for others to see that this does occur, that it can happen to anyone, and be caused by people who you know and trust, in situations you’d never see as a risk. Let others who’ve experienced rape, or know someone who has, know that they aren’t alone, and let those who don’t, realise this is happening. And remember that just being there for your son without judgement is in itself your gift to him. You can’t erase the pain but you can support him just by showing you care. It’s sad that so many rape victims are not taken seriously, and that many seem to think men can’t be victims.

Trackbacks

  1. […] Editor’s Note: This is Part Two of a story was sent to us by one of our regular writers, someone whom we love and support. He has asked for his name to be withheld to shield the identity of his son. We—along with the author and his family—feel their story is one that needs to be told, as too often fathers and sons are left out of the narrative of rape and survivorhood. Read Part One here. […]

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