Human Rights Abuses and Rape of Men

Trigger warning for discussion of rape. 

I linked this in one of my roundups of information about rape a few days ago, but I think it’s interesting enough that I want to delve into it a little deeper. The article addresses the rape of men (unfortunately, it seems to be only rape by penetration, not rape by envelopment) from an international perspective and discusses gender bias within the UN and other human rights groups working on rape.

The single most fascinating line, to me, is when the author said that at time of writing (February 2009) not a single human rights instrument explicitly addressed rape of men; my cursory research appears to suggest that this has not been rectified. A few used boy-inclusive language (“women and families,” “women and children,” etc); however, when discussing sexual violence, even these barely inclusive terms often were replaced with “women and girls” or similar phrases. Within the context of rape, men were generally discussed as perpetrators, not as victims, and mostly in terms of preventing rape through early intervention with potential perpetrators. I am in support of early intervention and creating a rape-negative culture, of course; however, women can rape people too.

The author highlights a few kinds of rape of men as being of particular concern for humans rights advocates: prison rape, rape in conflict situations, rape of boys, and rape of queer men.

Prison rape survivors are generally “nonviolent, first-time offenders who are small, weak, shy, effeminate, and inexperienced in the ways of prison life”; they are disproportionately likely to be queer (the author mentions homosexual and bisexual men; trans people of all genders are also very likely to be raped in prison). Sometimes (in, for instance, South African and American prisons), vulnerable inmates will choose to engage in “protective pairing,” where they agree to be raped by one dominant inmate in exchange for that inmate’s protection against other inmates; these arrangements may also require the inmate to do domestic chores and sex work. Internationally, there is a tragic lack of data on the prevalence of prison rape: the countries where we have available information, including Australia and the USA, show ridiculously high prevalence rates– 25% of Australian inmates have been raped, and 8% of Australian inmates are raped weekly or daily; 4.5% of American inmates have been raped every year.

Women have usually been presented as most likely to be raped in armed conflict situations: men tend to be shown as perpetrators and aggressors, with women as peacekeepers and victims. Within our cultural consciousness, a man dead in war is a hero; a woman dead in war is a victim. Of course, this isn’t true: many women encourage war and are combatants; many men are victimized and their victimhood erased.

Sexualized torture is common: 76% of 1980s El Salvadorian political prisoners report having been sexually tortured; roughly a fifth of Tamil males at one torture treatment center reported being sexually abused; 80% of male Sarajevo concentration camp inmates had been raped, with some reports including genital mutilation, men forced to rape other men, and forced incest; Sudanese slave boys have been violently gang raped; and, of course, the tragedies at Abu Ghraib often involved the sexualized abuse of men. Many of those so abused do not report their abuse, because they were too ashamed. Shame and degradation actually plays a large role in the sexual and sexualized torture of men: humiliating sexualized torture is meant to attack the very masculine identity of the men themselves.

1 in 6 men have had an abusive sexual experience before the age of 18. Having been sexually abused increases one’s risk of PTSD, depression, suicide, poor academic performance, and sexual perpetration. Yes, that’s right, having been abused makes one more likely to be a rapist; sexual abuse, in a way, is a self-perpetrating problem. If you want to end rape, one of the most important factors is providing adequate support for young sexually abused people– including boys.

Finally, queer men suffer unique problems with regards to rape by penetration. According to researchers, people are more likely to blame queer men for their rape through penetration, assume that queer men experience less stress and more pleasure, and think that queer men “secretly” wanted their rape. (Someone needs to do further studies to see if this is people believing queer men are more likely to want rape in general, or people believing that all men would like to be raped but that straight men would not like to be penetrated.) Men having sex with men is illegal in seventy countries worldwide; a queer man reporting his rape may risk being arrested for sodomy. Some people in the queer community (and in other marginalized communities) may not report their rape or abuse for fear of encouraging negative stereotypes of their community.

I think the most important thing to notice, here, is the gendered nature of the rape of men. Saying that rape happens to everyone does not mean erasing the gendered nature of rape. In fact, gender is a thread running through all of these examples: femmephobia, homophobia, the inconceivability of male victimhood, punishment of male weakness, male hypersexuality. In a way, rape is a twisted, dark mirror reflecting our gender roles, our toxic ideas of masculinity, back at us.

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Comments

  1. “(Someone needs to do further studies to see if this is people believing queer men are more likely to want rape in general, or people believing that all men would like to be raped but that straight men would not like to be penetrated.)”

    Given the attitude of “You got lucky!” when a boy is raped by his female teacher, babysitter etc, I’d say the latter. That they believe all men want it, but queer men want it anally, straight men don’t.

    Let’s not forget the J Michael Bailey notion of male homosexuality: That gay men like sex a lot lot lot, universally, no exception there, and since they pair with other gay men (who are unlikely to be gatekeepers like het women), it’s orgy time all the time… right?

  2. Bailey uses his notion of male homosexuality to tend transform it into his notion of trans women sexuality. Because trans women ‘are male’, they have “male sexuality”, and of course, they transition to have more sex.

    See how that works: Transform any narrative you find to fit your pet theory. Anything thrown his way is just a proof his theory (well, he really borrowed Blanchard’s) is right. If you say you’re not like that, you’re just lying. And Bailey has also “proven” that gay men are all secretly feminine, using “lisp detection”, questioning the past of a few token men, and newspaper ads about gay men wanting to meet other gay men.

    Gender roles: They’re perpetuated because some people like to think the world works that way, and since it’s that way it must be that way for a reason, so this reason, whatever it is, must be right. And here goes the status quo. Blue for boys, “because it’s always been done”.

  3. Jesus_marley says:

    “Bailey uses his notion of male homosexuality to tend transform it into his notion of trans women sexuality. Because trans women ‘are male’, they have “male sexuality”, and of course, they transition to have more sex.”

    That has got to be the most fucked up notion I have ever heard. I’ll admit my ignorance here, and ask who the fuck this Bailey guy is so I know to avoid anything he’s done…

  4. J. Michael Bailey is an asshat sexologist. His other greatest hits include saying that bi men don’t exist, everyone’s either gay, straight, or lying.

  5. dancinbojangles says:

    What’s needed here really is cold, hard numbers and a ton more research. “1 in 6 men have had an abusive sexual experience before the age of 18″ is a hell of a lot more convincing than “men get raped too, seriously!” Even those who might disagree with the 1 in 6 number (at least anyone reasonable) would have to question the methodology of the study, rather than simply saying “nuh-uh.” Once we have ironclad data, hopefully we’ll finally be able to start moving in the right direction, and finally dispel this notion that men can’t be victims, or that the victims must of necessity be lumped into a single collective with perpetrators. There’s cracks showing, getting wider all the time. Even the fact that this is being acknowledged as a human rights issue anywhere, rather than universally being shouted down as stealing focus from women’s issues, is a huge step in the right direction.

  6. Within our cultural consciousness, a man dead in war is a hero;”

    That only applies to “our” dead men. The male dead on the other side aren’t anything at all.

  7. dancinbojangles: part of the problem, of course, is that those who are in a position to actually conduct this kind of research don’t consider men being raped to be a problem. If I can manage to dig out the source, apparently even the NCVS and its derivatives – which that article, like most, seems to rely on quite a bit – weren’t originally intended to count male victims of rape at all.

    I don’t think more research would necessarily help that much either, because bad research from influential researchers tends to drive out good research. For example, apparently there’s a vast amount of research demonstrating that the usual narrative of domestic violence as female-on-male is false (seriously, I don’t know how Feckless manages to find some of his information), and yet it languishes whilst research that’s known to be flawed but which supports that narrative is widely broadcast.

    (Not sure if it was linked here earlier by the way – and this link comes with a trigger warning for graphic descriptions of rape – but this Observer piece from July talks quite a bit about the experience of male war rape victims and their experiences with international NGOs.)

  8. SurvivorsUK (http://www.survivorsuk.org/) have recently started a billboard add campaign in London to try and raise awareness of these issues:

    http://www.pinknews.co.uk/2012/02/20/tube-ads-tell-commuters-real-men-get-raped/

    The Stern report mentioned in the article is available here:

    http://webarchive.nationalarchives.gov.uk/20110608160754/http://www.equalities.gov.uk/PDF/Stern_Review_acc_FINAL.pdf

  9. “Given the attitude of “You got lucky!” when a boy is raped by his female teacher, babysitter etc, I’d say the latter. That they believe all men want it, but queer men want it anally, straight men don’t.”

    I’m going to come off as a bit of a radical here I think:

    The law currently makes a blanket statement that sex with anyone below 18 is rape if there’s too big an age difference. This confuses rape and consentual sex, because the law regards all sex between those individuals as non-consentual.

    I think this confusion is obvious when you compare the common internet forum reactions between cases when the victim is male and when the victim is female. In the case of a female victim and male perpetrator, the male is obviously absolute scum (i wonder if that is based on the underlying and repressed assumption that women are property of men). When the victim is male on the other hand, we see reactions akin to those you’re quoting (because the male is always the agressor, and the male always want sex totally obviously all the time!!!!!).

    What actually happened was a sexual encounter. It might have been non-consentual. It might have been consentual. Ignore what the law says. Think of it instead in terms of degree of consent. Was it consentual or non-consentual? That’s all that matters. Ignore the gender. It doesn’t matter if it was a male or a female; So why is his or her gender more important than his or her consent? The general idea right now seems to be that guys always consent and girls can’t consent at all. Basically that guys always want sex and girls never want it.

    The law should take consent into consideration just as people’s reactions to these cases should be based on consent rather than the gender of the victim.

  10. “I think the most important thing to notice, here, is the gendered nature of the rape of men. Saying that rape happens to everyone does not mean erasing the gendered nature of rape.”

    “erasing the gendered nature of rape”

    I think this is part of a broader problem. It may sound hyperbolic but it seems like a lot of people don’t think men have a gender. Maybe it’s an offshoot of the old idea that the middle-class white American male was neutral and everyone else was in some minority category. Either way, there’s plenty of recognition of the forces that shape girls into women, but boys are lumped into the category of “women and children” and at some unspecified point they become “men” as if they hatched from an egg fully formed. You have liberal newspeak terminology like “gender violence” instead of “violence against people who aren’t men.” Violence against people who aren’t men could be a perfectly legitimate area of concern if spoken about honestly, but it’s used to completely invalidate the concept of violence against men and erase it’s gendered components. It seems to me that masculinity is far more likely to be policed and taught through violence than the femininity yet routine brawling, violent role models, mock combat, et al are left out of the discussion. We get viral stories about a boy in a GameStop standing up for his little brother who wants girl games and a purple controller against a father who “threaten[s] to whoop his son if he doesn’t choose different items” and we all cheer for the little progressive victory when dad backs down, but if this happens with no older brother and a kid gets his ass beat for liking the wrong video games were supposed to file it under “violence, non-gender”.

    Not only is that ethically unsound, but it just boggles my mind that people can attempt to study these things and yet have such enormous blind spots. It’s like building an electron and neutron only atomic model. I have to stretch my credulity just to assume good faith when it comes to these discussions.

  11. The key phrase here for me is when you say “toxic idea of masculinity”. This affects so much more than just non-consent sexual encounters, as you know. In fact, our twisted definitions of “masculinity” and “femininity” are both responsible about much of our materialisam, our addictions to mass media, our twisted childhoods (yes, and even for “straights” as well!), our warlike solutions to global conflicts–you name it! We just screwed up a very long time ago about humankind in general, okay?

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