I talk a lot about being a rape survivor. I talk about it, in part, because I believe nobody should have to face dealing with the effects of being violated that way without support. Because there are so many people out there who are violated this way, and who don’t receive the support they might need to move on, I continue to write about it often. It’s an issue that affects a lot of people, and I don’t think it’s talked about enough.
In prepping for this week’s column, I Googled “male rape survivors” and was heartbroken at the stories I saw being told.
Contrary to what many people still seem to believe, men can be raped, and they are being raped. Statistics from the site 1in6 say “16% of males were sexually abused by the age of 18.” Yet these statistics are estimated to be on the low side, because “only 16% of men with documented histories of sexual abuse (by social service agencies, which means it was very serious) considered themselves to have been sexually abused.”
We tend to frame rape as a women’s issue, but I believe it is not just a women’s issue. This is an issue which affects everyone, and the shame society assigns to victims perpetuates the problem.
In just ten minutes of research, I saw men telling a wide array of stories about who raped them. Friends, teachers, coaches, girlfriends. One survivor said his own mother raped him at 15 years old, another at just four years old. Four years old.
His own mother.
I wish I could say I’m surprised and shocked, but unfortunately, I’m not. I’ve heard many different stories from women and men in my life. Many of them are so similar that it does not surprise me to hear men’s trusted family members, community members, partners, and “friends” have violated them in this way.
I think the biggest misconception about rape is that the people who rape are not walking among us every single day. The “stranger in the dark alley” falsehood serves as a tool of denial, and a way for people to not have to look at rape in the way they need to look at it to stop it from happening.
No. I’m not surprised. But I am enraged. I am heartbroken. I am saddened that all the men who have endured being the victim of rape and sexual assault have been told things like, “Men don’t get raped” or “You’re supposed to like this,” or “I’m doing this because I love you.”
As a woman who’s been on the receiving end of victim-blaming, it enrages me to no end to see people blaming survivors for something over which they had no control. It saddens me greatly to know that so many survivors out there are suffering in silence, because they are shamed into secrecy through tactics which instill fear and encourage denial.
When someone is raped, they need support to move forward. They don’t need to be shamed, blamed, or dismissed, but that is what people are doing every single day when they make the assumption that no one rapes men or that children are lying about being molested.
In many cases, the attacker threatened to kill the survivor or their family members if they told anyone. Imagine if, as a child, someone who was raping you threatened to kill your family? Most likely, you’d keep quiet. You would keep quiet and bear the burden all on your own.
That burden is much too heavy to be carried alone. We have to make more of an effort, as a society, to help survivors release that burden. We have to do better at supporting every survivor – male, female, non-binary, trans – and we can start by putting the brakes on believing the myths about rape which are so pervasive and subtly passed on that we don’t even notice them unless we actively look.
“Men don’t get raped.”
“He doesn’t need to rape anybody.”
“Rapists aren’t nice, normal people. They’re strangers in a dark alley.”
“You were asking for it.”
“You deserved it.”
We need to open up our eyes and our minds, and recognize these myths for what they are: falsehoods designed to keep perpetuating the problem, designed to give rapists a pass to get away with violating someone in one of the most cruel ways one can be violated.
In order to provide survivors of all backgrounds the support they need, first we need to honor their stories. We need to realize that sharing their stories takes courage which isn’t easy to come by in this world that constantly wants to ignore rape and place the blame on victims.
And we need to know that when they share their stories with us, they have entrusted us with something deeply personal which cuts at a level nothing else does.
When we deny the validity of a survivor’s story, we have betrayed that trust, which discourages them from sharing more and tells a survivor, “This is not a safe space for you. You’re on your own.”
For me, the lack of a safe space to share my story resulted in a year of stuffing it down so I wouldn’t make others uncomfortable. I turned everything inward and almost killed myself because of it.
I still remember to this day how I felt as I quickly lost all hope of recovering.
That feeling is the reason I write about rape and talk about it so much.
Because no one should ever feel they have nowhere to turn when they are hurting so deeply, they feel hopeless about recovering.
We can give survivors the support they need. But it will require us being willing to confront the lies we tell ourselves about rape, the lies we tell about who rapes and who gets raped, and the lies we tell about why it happens.