Shadow Victims: Male Rape and a Culture of Shame
“Compassion is not a finite resource.” Thank you, Lara Stemple, one of the authors of The Sexual Victimization of Men in America: New Data Challenge Old Assumptions. She’s absolutely right. Okay, let me step back and issue a bit of a warning. This post is not going to be pretty, or nice, and isn’t meant to be any sort of academic thesis. This is a frustrated writer who wants to do justice to a sensitive topic and spent yesterday having a fit because the research just wasn’t there. A fellow author linked me to Slate article which included the above study this morning.
Before we get really into things, one last warning. If you dislike – or are easily upset by – controversial or emotional topics. Leave now. Everyone who’s easily upset gone? Okay, good. Now, I’m going to work through what happened yesterday, on my keyboard and in my head.
As a writer, one of my first responsibilities is to be sure that my work is – hmm, accurate isn’t the best word – visceral and relatable. I’ve heard it said that an artist’s work should strive for the believable, but let’s face it, even things that exist can’t quite qualify as believable. Instead, I strive for the relatable. A character just lost a beloved pet? Yeah, that character is probably a wreck for at least a few days, and upset about it for quite a while longer. Blind date? Elf, Human, or Drakern, that character is gonna be nervous. Really nervous. Well, things far more terrible than pets dying tends to happen in life, for various reasons, and some of my characters end up victims of violent crimes, rape included. So I started doing research, because I absolutely cannot stand it when heavy topics are treated lightly. Stalking in Twilight? Abusive relationships in a lot of YA fiction? Total lack of psychological repercussions for heroes in most hero stories? It bugs me.
Without spoiling too much of the story (I hope) the character who is raped is not female. The character who rapes him…is not male. Do you have any idea how hard it is to find ANYTHING about male rape, regardless of the fact that all human beings, regardless of gender, have an equally infinite capability for both acts considered good and acts considered evil? That wasn’t the worst of it, though.
I managed to find survivor stories. At least one involved definite violence by the female perpetrator. Three themes stood out to me as particularly sickening, though.
1: The entitlement from the perpetrators. One man woke up, in his own bed, in his college dorm, with a woman he’d only ever seen in passing, riding him. He didn’t even know her name, and he didn’t feel safe enough in our justice system to fight her off. Another several got drunk at parties. One knew for a fact he’d been drugged. As in roofied, people. It doesn’t just happen to women. Included in this idea is the generally assumption is erection implies consent. No. Sorry. Read up on physiology.
2: The fear of protecting themselves. We’re a sexually dimorphic species. On average, men are larger and stronger physically. This may make it easier to fight off a female perpetrator, except for one tiny detail. He leaves a single mark on her, and he goes to jail. Additionally, if he doesn’t fight back, but reports her later, she can turn it back on him with three little words. “He raped me.”
3: The comment section. I couldn’t figure out how to phrase this one. I kept seeing concepts like, Well if it were me, I would’ve loved it. Yeah, well, butt out. He’s not you, he didn’t want it, and she took advantage of a system that allows her to feel entitled to the male body. Yes. I said it.
I’m not saying men don’t rape women. I’m saying it’s all over the media so much I find myself having no desire to add my voice to the cause, because I don’t feel one more voice is needed. Yet yesterday, for the first time in my entire life, I felt a sincere desire to take up the title of activist flag because, while I may not have ever suffered rape, specifically, I’ve been victimized, and no victim should feel so voiceless as some of these men do. No victim should look out over a system originally envisioned under the ideas of liberty and justice for ALL, and wonder where they fit, because she went free, and he didn’t want to risk a prison sentence. From just the small glimpse I got, that’s exactly what male rape victims deal with. It’s sick. It’s disheartening.
So no, kind writer advice articles encouraging me not to include this in my novels. I will include this. I do not limit myself because some topic may be offensive to some. How is our own society supposed to find the middle ground if we can’t find some way to explore taboos? No, rape isn’t the only taboo. Does that necessarily mean it’ll be a gratuitous scene? Likely not. I hate reading them. Why would I write them? The novel is still in the editing phase, so there’s time to polish it, but right now I’m sitting here wondering what we’re doing to polish our own world?
I don’t have answers. I’m only one person. But I know that as soon as we start dividing ourselves by who has it worse, and demonizing an entire group of people, ignoring their troubles while focusing a magnifier on the troubles of a different group, we’re not actually helping humanity as a whole.
TL;DR I never thought novelling research could ignite a desire to become an activist in me. I don’t know if I’ll become one, but I can’t stand seeing an entire group of victims ignored, their suffering made invisible, because of their anatomy. Male rape is an issue. We need to stop ignoring it.