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.