There was a movie that was released a few years ago called Spotlight, which covers the investigative journalism that went into uncovering the scope of molestation within the Catholic Church worldwide. One of the points that was brought up when hearing out the victims of this international crisis was that boys were usually more often targeted NOT because of homosexual preference, but rather because boys are more ashamed and therefore less likely to talk about the crimes being committed against them.
This realization really got me to thinking about the safety net that this “silencing of men” provides for the predators within our society. In our focus to liberate women from their long history of being silenced and abused, have we forsaken our brothers to a lifetime of silence and shame that they are never allowed to speak of? What I found was that the silencing of men who have endured sexual violence goes far beyond the personal shame that toxic masculinity forces them to feel, and well into the political institutions and public discourse that belittles just how much sexual violence a man can endure before he is taken seriously.
Unfortunately this trend can be seen throughout several chapters of our society. In the military, the raping of our male soldiers is not reported as often due to the shame they feel of having to admit to the crime committed against them. In our schools, the sexual assault of our boys is underreported because they don’t even possess the language to express the crimes committed against them. And when it comes to the actual receiving and collecting of data about sexual assault committed against men, institutions that are witnessing some of the highest amounts of sexual violence against men, such as the incarcerated populations, are not included in the conversation! In fact, one report wrote, “The faulty assertion that male victimization is uncommon has also been used to justify the exclusion of men and boys from scholarships on sexual victimization. Perhaps such widespread exclusion itself causes male victims to assume they are alone in their experience, thereby fueling underreporting.”
It really wasn’t until Terry Crews gave a speech to Congress discussing his own experience with sexual assault that we were given an example of what it means for a man to admit to the horrors of his experiences and find the courage to live life beyond the trauma endured.
And with Crews’ experience included in some of the #MeToo Movement’s most viral moments, there comes with it a shift in consciousness that we as a society have to learn to embrace and embody. For all of the empowerment that this movement has provided for women, for all of the platforms that it has offered survivors, we are now faced with a new responsibility, and that new responsibility reveals the question, “How do we make sure that men are included in these conversations so that they too can survive beyond, and thrive in spite of, their own traumatic histories?”
What I found, doing more research into the issue of sexual violence against men being ignored, is that people have already pieced together what the problems are and what we need to do to solve them. It’s just a matter of implementing these solutions on an institutional, legal, political, and public scale.
The American Journal of Public Health has archived, among its many reports, a report titled “The Sexual Victimization of Men in America: New Data Challenges Old Assumptions” and within this report they come to three conclusions that perceptively illustrate what is wrong with the current discourse on male sexual assault victims and how we can change that in order for the conversation to be more inclusive and subsequently lead to a more aware and more accountable society.
Simply stated, because the law and public discourse has such a narrow definition of what they accept as sexual assault, men constantly find that their experiences are negated and rendered irrelevant in the conversation of sexual assault.
Within the report they write, “We explore 3 factors that lead to misperceptions concerning gender and sexual victimization. First, a male perpetrator and female victim paradigm underlies assumptions about sexual victimization. This paradigm serves to obscure abuse that runs counter to the paradigm, reinforces regressive ideas that portray women as victims, and stigmatize sexually victimized men.” Simply stated, because the law and public discourse has such a narrow definition of what they accept as sexual assault, men constantly find that their experiences are negated and rendered irrelevant in the conversation of sexual assault. The report goes on to explain that the movement of Feminism has driven society such a long way and developed a discourse surrounding the woman’s experience that takes into consideration all forms of violence that were previously not taken seriously or implied to be the woman’s fault. However, they write that, “For men, a similar discourse has not been developed. Indeed contemporary social narratives, including jokes about prison rape, the notion that “real men” can protect themselves, and the fallacy that gay male victims likely “asked for it,” pose obstacles for males coping with victimization. A male victim’s sexual arousal, which is not uncommon during nonconsensual sex, may add to the misapprehension that the victimization was a welcome event. Feelings of embarrassment, the victim’s fear that he will not be believed, and the belief that reporting itself is un-masculine have all been cited as reasons for male resistance to reporting sexual victimization. Popular media also reflects insensitivity, if not callousness, toward male victims. For example, a 2009 CBS News report about a serial rapist who raped 4 men concluded, ‘No one has been seriously hurt.’”.
So first things first, we need to detoxify the social discourse around male survivors of sexual assault in order to create an environment where they feel welcome and heard when it comes to the experiences they are trying to bring awareness to. The second point the report brings up as problematic is that, “…some federal agencies use outdated definitions and categories of sexual victimization. This has entailed the prioritization of the types of harm women are more likely to experience as well as the exclusion of men from the definition of rape.” The report goes on to list facts directly correlating with this hypothesis as they write, “When the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) began tracking violent crime in 1930, the rape of men was excluded. Until 2012, the UCR (Uniform Crime Reporting), through which the FBI collects annual crime data, defined “forcible rape” as “the carnal knowledge of a female forcibly and against her will” (emphasis added). Approximately 17 000 local law enforcement agencies used this female-only definition for the better part of a century when submitting standardized data to the FBI. Meanwhile, the reform of state criminal law on rape, which began in the 1970s and eventually spread to every jurisdiction in the country, revised definitions in numerous ways, including the increased recognition of male victimization.”
So not only do we need to actively shift the public discourse to include and take seriously the sexual victimization of men, we also have to advocate for a complete shift in the legal language surrounding the crime of sexual assault in order to make sure we are collecting accurate data on the number of men affected by these crimes. The more we know about just how big this problem is the more we will be able to respond with the focus and necessary to change the narrative that has silently been playing out on a daily basis.
The third biggest problem, and last one that I will be addressing in this article, has to do with expanding the range in which statistics on sexual violence against men are collected. The report wrote, “…the data most widely reported in the press are derived from household sampling. Inherent in this is a methodological bias that misses many who are at great risk for sexual victimization in the United States: inmates, the vast majority of whom are male.”
It should be upsetting to everyone that not only is this society and the government as a whole actively targeting communities of color and men from low income neighborhoods, they are also largely ignoring the sexual violence that these now incarcerated men have to endure when they are forced into the prison system.
So, just to reiterate, in order for us to truly help the men who have suffered their own #MeToo Moments, we have to change the public discourse surrounding sexual violence against men, we have to advocate for changes in the legal language in order to make sure that sexual assault against men is included in their scope, and we have to advocate for a complete overhaul of data collection biases so that sexual violence against men in every corner of our society is reported upon and addressed.