Male rape

September 19, 2007

The Age Blogs - Melbourne Age


I know three women who have been raped and have spoken about it with me; add to that list several males and females who were attacked as children and have also shared their experiences.

The number of men I know, however, who've admitted to being raped as adults is zero.

This is partly a reflection of the lower incidence of male on male rape but it's also why it's been called "the hidden crime"; some experts estimate that for every attack reported to police, 10 more are not.

The National Crime and Safety Survey of 2002 reported that over a 12 month period, the rate for sexual assault for persons aged 18 and over was 0.2 per cent (33,000 victims); 0.4 per cent (28,300) of females and 0.1 per cent (4,800) of males.

Crime stats from the Australian Bureau of Statistics for 2003 record 18,237 victims of sexual assault: 14,892 females (149.8 per 100,000) and 3,255 males (33 per 100,000).

Again, these are just the reported figures but you can put your house on the fact that the majority of men who experience sexual assault are not heading down the pub to chat about it with their mates; it's locked away but the impact seldom goes away.

I know of one acquaintance who was penetratively raped after a night on drugs. He was at an inner-city pub, drinking himself into a stupor so he could sleep and he got chatting to a couple of rough and tumble guys.

They got in a shout together, one brought him a beer and the next thing he remembers is waking up in a park, pants undone, aware something was very, very wrong ...

I won't go into the details of what was done to him, but there was plenty of physical evidence, none of which he chose to report to the cops.

He spent a dreadful three months waiting to take an HIV test (negative) and is now doing an incredibly efficient job of drinking himself out of a job, having long since driven away his girlfriend.

As far as I know he has not sought counselling about what happened. Every time I see the bloke I want to take him aside and talk to him, see how he's doing but it would shatter the trust of the person who told me about the attack and in whom he confided.

I don't even know how to broach it, and don't think it's my place to do so; he has plenty of closer friends but it is tough to watch him self-destruct when I have a good idea why.

The impact of rape on blokes shares many similarities with that of female victims but there are some significant differences: though women feel incredible shame and humiliation, this is often amplified in male victims because of the gender expectation that they should have been able to defend themselves, that they "couldn't even fight off a fag".

A 2000 report by Dale Owens and David Cain of the Central Sydney Area Mental Health Service on sexual assault in prisons said that "victims often report feeling that their masculinity has been undermined or 'manhood' taken away during the assault and some fear that they may even have become homosexual as a result of the attack".

The authors cited a 1990 study that found that victims of male rape "are particularly distressed and confused if they become aroused during the assault. They may believe that their reaction gave the perpetrator consent or that they became an active participant in the assault".

"Indeed, Groth and Burgess (1980) found that getting the victim to ejaculate was a major strategy of some perpetrators in that it further symbolised the extent of their control over their victim. This also has the additional advantage to the perpetrator in that it further reduces the likelihood of the victim reporting the assault."

All of which plays into one of the great myths of male on male sexual assault; that only gay men rape other men.

The South Eastern Centre Against Sexual Assault (SECASA) says the reality is that "most men who sexually assault other men identify themselves as heterosexual. This fact helps to highlight another reality that sexual assault is about violence, anger and control over another person, not lust or sexual attraction".

Obviously, with the rise in use of date-rape drugs, many male victims like the bloke mentioned above can't even remember their attack - and the need for violence is circumvented, however, where the victim is conscious, male on male rapes are often far more violent than male on female attacks.

"Rentoul and Appleboom (1997) report that men are more likely to be victims of greater physical trauma, multiple assaults and assailants, to be held longer in captivity, to be attacked by strangers and to be involved in assaults where perpetrators use or display weapons," says Owens and Cain cautioning, however, that "these conclusions are drawn from men who have actually reported sexual assaults and may therefore represent the most violent end of the spectrum of assaults in men".

Perhaps the most destructive myth of all about male rape is one shared by female victims - that once you are raped, you are dirty, useless, scarred for life.

SECASA says: "Men can and do survive sexual assault physically and emotionally and, in the process, can gain strength and self respect. This myth concerns society's tendency to blame the victim and becomes reflected in how men then feel about themselves.

"Men who have been sexually assaulted may see themselves as 'soiled' or 'damaged property', while society is likely to see them as weak. Even though such attitudes are changing, men may still feel ashamed or guilty, and people may blame them for what happened. This myth is hard to break because it is so ingrained in people's minds. However it can be broken."

If you'd like to email me with a topic suggestion or just vent, try here. I now have more than 800 unanswered emails and no hope of catching up. So I'm instituting a no-reply policy (unless you're hot) because I'm sick of feeling guilty about it. In advance, I thank you for your email.