MaleSurvivor Executive Director Christopher Anderson reminds Michael Moore and Bill Maher that rape of boys and men is no laughing matter.
I read with interest your recent letter in defense of your friend Bill Maher’s attacks on Islam. When I saw in that letter the following lines:
You may not agree with Bill on everything. Yet I’m guessing you love it when he goes after the Uterun Police/Protectors of Child Rapists (also known as The Vatican), or when he brilliantly satirizes the crazy Christian Right which has controlled much of our politics for the past 33 years. I certainly do.
I felt the need to address you directly.
Now perhaps you are not aware of this, but your friend Bill is himself a “Protector of Child Rapists.” This is not hyperbole meant to gain attention; it is a statement of fact. Bill Maher has made statements that defend and excuse child rapists. I’ll go even further, I contend that by making sexual abuse of boys and men into comic fodder, he (and other comedians who do the same) make it harder for male survivors to come forward and get the support they deserve and need.
I’ll confess, I used to be a great fan of Bill and his take no prisoners style of commentary. But, my position on Bill changed earlier this year. As a male survivor of sexual abuse*, I found his “Lucky Bastard Syndrome” skit anything but funny. And I am not alone in my critique of Bill on this point.
But the issue here is really much deeper than just one joke. Bill has been consistent in tone and unapologetic throughout the years in the way he talks about the rape and sexual assault of males. Not only is it clear that he believes a boy or man who is forced into sexual contact by a female is not a victim, he also feels it is acceptable to belittle and mock the sexual abuse of any man. I strongly believe both these attitudes reinforce social norms that marginalize any man who has the courage to come forward and say a sexual encounter he had was unwanted. It sets up one of two possibilities—if the rapist is female, the man is lying; if the rapist is male, the victim is little more than the punch line to a joke. Therefore, I say Bill is an unapologetic defender of some child rapists while also being callous and dismissive towards the pain of far too many male survivors (and by far too many I mean any number of survivors greater than 0).
This is not a marginal issue, nor something that that can just be swept under the rug any longer. More and more we are hearing stories of adolescent and juvenile males being sexually predated against by females. Just this past week we have heard about rape charges being filed against Molly Shattuck, a former NFL cheerleader for the Baltimore Ravens who stalked, seduced, and raped a 15 year old friend of her son. In Bill’s worldview, what Shattuck stands accused of doing is not a crime, but literally a form of wish fulfillment that should be praised instead of prosecuted.
Bill’s opinion notwithstanding, we are finally beginning to see data that males are sexually victimized in significant and profound numbers. In the past few months, male sexual victimization has been gaining attention prominent in the media:
CBS’ “48 Hours” recently featured a story on school age males who were abused by female teachers, providing supporting documentation of incidences in 3 states on their web-site;
A brief survey of headlines from the past two months finds even more stories where teachers in New York, New Jersey, Oregon, Minnesota, Washington, New Jersey (again), and Utah are accused of abusing male students;
The latest data from the National Intimate Partner and Sexual Violence survey shows that over 25% of males have experienced or will experience some form of sexual victimization in their lifetimes;
Just released research from MIT reported, “5 percent of [male undergraduates at the school] said they had been sexually assaulted”
And research by Dr. Bryana French (which was the target of Bill’s scorn in his LBS segment) shows that 43% of the High School and College aged males she interviewed reported experiencing sexual coercion. Further, it bears noting that the males reported the perpetrators were female in 95% of the incidents of coercion.
Slowly, we are finally begin to see public opinion shift on this matter. This op ed from the Baltimore Sun on the Shattuck case may well be the best opinion piece I’ve yet seen on a case involving a juvenile male abused by an adult female. As it says clearly in the opening paragraph, “when an adult—man or woman—lures a vulnerable minor into a situation that allows him to be sexually exploited, it’s a form of abuse, not love, and it can have serious consequences for the victim emotionally and psychologically.”
I can only hope that Bill, his friends, and supporters have the opportunity to read that sentence and reflect upon it. Past experience does not fill me with hope that they will. I’ve shared information with members of his writing team about the seriousness of male sexual victimization in the past. To this point, all I’ve ever received in return all I’ve ever received in return is a reply from one person on his staff insisting that there was nothing objectionable in the sketch itself.
I know it’s unlikely that comedians like Bill, Jay Leno, Conan O’Brien and others who have joked about the rape and sexual abuse of males will ever willingly admit that they are wrong to do so. They will likely continue to cling to the “this is just comedy” defense. Some might actually have the gall to say that their mocking of stories like the Shattuck case actually raises awareness in ways that propel change. In truth however, the turning the rape of males—whether by women, priests, prisoners, or pop stars into comic fodder accomplishes one thing and one thing only—it turns male victims into the butt (no pun intended) of a joke. This is dehumanizing and creates an environment in which any man who was sexually abused is far less likely to get support.
There is only one person who has the right to determine whether or not something that they experienced was or was not abuse—the victim of unwanted sexual contact him or herself. This is dehumanizing and creates an environment in which any man (and ultimately any person) who was sexually abused is far less likely to get support. Our job as compassionate humans is not to turn rape into a joke, it is to offer our support to survivors. No victim deserves having their trauma trivialized and turned into comic fodder.
Many of the things that Bill has said in the past are important. His comedy does sometime skewer targets that need to be called out. However it is the height of folly (and perhaps a recipe for disaster) to overlook the places where even our closest friends have blind spots. No human being is perfect. The moment a “celebrity” becomes so self certain of their righteousness that they refuse to acknowledge where and when they have been wrong, they often become guilty of the same infallibility complex they are so quick to attack in others. As I have written about your and Bill’s friend and colleague Richard Dawkins in the past,
…he is blind to the truth that he himself has become a pope of the new science. The man has become subsumed by the mantra, the actor become the role. And just as is the case with anyone who cloaks himself in the air of infallibility, his reputation and persona have become more important than the truth.
The same is now true of Bill, who has become a pope-like figure within the New Atheist movement. And zealous supporters are quick to rush to his defense while overlooking or simply ignoring his ethical lapses.
More than 26 million males in the United States that have been or will be victims of sexual abuse in their lifetime. So long as Bill refuses to acknowledge this truth, so long as he continues to coopt the stories of survivors of sexual violence and our lives as material for his jokes, he will remain a person that does far more harm than good. So long as he refuses to allow that women can in fact rape boys, he will continue to be a defender of some child rapists.