“I never heard of, of, rape and a man.”
–Joe Paterno, 1/14/2012
Remember back to 2011. News of Jerry Sandusky, Penn State’s assistant football coach, dominated the headlines. He was arrested and charged with 52 counts of “sexual abuse” of young boys over a 15-year period of time. Now remember Joe Paterno’s infamous quote about how he “…never heard of, of, rape and a man.”
The naiveté of Paterno’s comment was difficult for many of us to fathom, and it sparked articles like this one: How could any Roman Catholic such as Joe Paterno not have heard of ‘rape and a man’?
Making the large assumption that, in fact, Joe Paterno was telling his truth, why might he never have heard of such a thing? The UN’s recent “lambasting” of the Roman Catholic Church could provide a few insights as to why.
First, it was rape and a boy. Many boys. But let’s start with “rape.”
A quick Google search of these Vatican crimes will find seemingly infinite use of the terms “child abuse” and “sex abuse” to describe what in reality was the Vatican “systematically” adopting policies that allowed priests to rape and molest perhaps tens of thousands of children (many of whom were boys). Some of these children were allegedly held against their will and repeatedly raped over the course of years. Many of these cases not only should be described as rape; they should be described as a form of sexual slavery. But few international news sources have referred to it as such, in part, because we have a serious problem, a major discomfort, with using such terms to describe what happens when a man rapes a young boy. We’re far more comfortable calling it “child abuse” or “molestation” or, if we absolutely must, “sex abuse.”
According to Dr. Warren Blumenfeld of UMass Amherst’s College of Education, one reason for this discomfort is because,
“When a man is raped it presents a narcissistic injury to all men who are socialized to perform as the aggressor, the inserter, the ‘active’ sexual partner, the one whose ‘gaze’ is projected outward onto a sexual object. The thought of this ‘gaze’ breaking through and infiltrating the shield around his body, when he becomes the object of another’s gaze, or worse, when his body is penetrated by another, when he is sexually violated, all that he had been socialized to believe, to act upon, to understand, is also violated. Rather than believe this could happen, he and the society in which he resides rejects it, denies it, discounts it, disowns awareness and acknowledgement of it, or if the facts are indisputable, simply views it as an aberration.”
I mistakenly thought that the Sandusky case would tear down some walls we have about using the true terms to talk about the rape of boys, but in many ways it seems we’re back to where we started.
Let’s move on to “boys.” Although we’re able to talk about men raping each other, so much so that we make rape jokes about prisoners, I’ve noticed in my years of studying the crime of sex trafficking that we are still reluctant to call it rape when it involves a man and a boy, and even more so when it involves a woman and a boy. If a “Roman Catholic such as Joe Paterno” truly never heard of such an act, one reason why is undoubtedly because we as a society have been too uncomfortable? scared? ignorant? to call it what it really is.
Note: I’ve met hundreds of leaders from various churches and they seem to have no problem using the terms “rape” and “sex slavery” when (1) it’s used in the context of one of their campaigns trying to end the scourge of it and (2) it involves a man and a girl or a man and a woman.
As the natural/cultural physicality of boys is exploited, so too are the bodies of girls enslaved for the natural/cultural use of their body parts. According to most reports, girls seem to be used more often as sex slaves than boys. However, this greatly depends on place. While the vast majority of raids discover and rescue girls, in Afghanistan and coastal Sri Lanka boys are more likely than girls to be forced into prostitution. According to Project Futures, an NGO based in Sydney, Australia that works to raise awareness and funding for anti-slavery programs, although the International Labour Organization states that 98% of sex trafficking victims are female:
“…boys are amongst the most stigmatised victims of sex trafficking, further obfuscating any opportunities for identification and assistance. The hidden nature of male prostitution, alongside gendered stereotypes that denote males as physically and sexually incapable of being victims of sexual exploitation limits the scope of trafficking victim identification to only target potential female victims.
“Moreover, rescued male victims of sex trafficking are less likely to encounter suitable resources for support and reintegration services. Often at risk of being treated as illegal migrants rather than victims of sexual exploitation, male trafficking victims can face deportation or criminal charges for acts directly related to being trafficked. Inadequate legal systems – for example, if trafficking laws only stipulate crimes committed against female victims – also contribute to the discrimination faced by male victims of trafficking.”
While the public sphere often hears the stories of girls and women forced to work in their master’s fields or being trafficked from Indonesia to work as maids in Los Angeles, it’s rare that we hear about the many stories whereby boys were bought and sold for sex. One reason posited for this discrepancy is “comfort.” An anti-slavery NGO staff member told me that the “mass of a population is far more comfortable hearing the story of a girl being used as a sex slave” than as a boy being used as a sex slave. “It’s man-to-girl,” one anti-slavery activist told me, “…and in the minds of many this is a far more natural leap of imagination than is man-to-boy. It’s as though we can’t talk about this issue properly because we don’t yet have the language to do so. But we do have the language. We’re just terrible at using it in this context.”
It’s this difference in body parts between boys and girls, and our “comfort” in avoiding talk about any discomforting alternatives, that often leaves boys forgotten as sex slaves. As one public health researcher put it:
“Girls, no matter how young, have vaginas, and as men are mostly the leaders of sex trafficking rings and also the users of sex slaves, we’ve created this story that immediately and without questioning associates forced sexual acts, in this context, as that only between a man and a girl.”
Peter Pollard, Communications/Professional Relations Director for 1in6 and coordinator for SNAP (Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests) wrote an article along with Dr. David Lisak, Board Chair of 1in6, in which they said:
“Most conversations about sexual violence relegate men to one of two roles:
(1) Bystander: with the potential either to ignore or to disrupt a witnessed sexual violation
(2) Perpetrator: the one who commits the violation
A new White House Task Force, formed to confront historically-inadequate responses to sexual assault on college campuses, could help educate the nation about a third role men often have:
(3) Survivor: the one who has experienced sexual trauma.”
Although incredible organizations like 1in6.org—a group working to help men who have had unwanted or abusive sexual experiences in childhood live healthier, happier lives—and MaleSurvivor.org—a group that provides critical resources to male survivors of sexual trauma and all their partners in recovery by building communities of hope, healing, & support—have significantly increased the level of awareness on this issue, I still see how in commercial after commercial, conference after conference, television show after television show (most recently on Katie Couric’s latest episode titled “Sex Trafficking & Sporting Events), the sex slavery of boys is simply not mentioned.