Men Struggle for Rape Awareness

By Roni Caryn Rabin
 

Keith Smith was 14 when he was raped by a driver who picked him up after a hockey team meeting. He had hitchhiked home, which is why, for decades, he continued to blame himself for the assault.
 

When the driver barreled past Hartley’s Pork Pies on the outskirts of Providence, R.I., where Mr. Smith had asked to be dropped off, and then past a firehouse, he knew something was wrong.
 

“I tried to open the car door, but he had rigged the lock,” said Mr. Smith, of East Windsor, N.J., now 52. Still, he said, “I had no idea it was going to be a sexual assault.”
 

Even today, years after the disclosure of the still-unfolding child abuse scandal in the Catholic Church and the arrest of a former Pennsylvania State University assistant football coach accused of sexually abusing boys, rape is widely thought of as a crime against women.
 

Until just a few weeks ago, when the federal government expanded its definition of rape to include a wider range of sexual assaults, national crime statistics on rape included only assaults against women and girls committed by men under a narrow set of circumstances. Now they will also include male victims.
 

While most experts agree women are raped far more often than men, 1.4 percent of men in a recent national survey said they had been raped at some point. The study, by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, found that when rape was defined as oral or anal penetration, one in 71 men said they had been raped or had been the target of attempted rape, usually by a man they knew. (The study did not include men in prison.)
 

And one in 21 said they had been forced to penetrate an acquaintance or a partner, usually a woman; had been the victim of an attempt to force penetration; or had been made to receive oral sex.
 

Other estimates have run even higher. A Department of Justice report found that 3 percent of men, or one in 33, had been raped. Some experts believe that one in six men have experienced unwanted sexual contact of some kind as minors.
 

But for many men, the subject is so discomfiting that it is rarely discussed — virtually taboo, experts say, because of societal notions about masculinity and the idea that men are invulnerable and can take care of themselves.
 

“We have a cultural blind spot about this,” said David Lisak, a clinical psychologist who has done research on interpersonal violence and sexual abuse and is a founding board member of 1in6, an organization that offers information and services to men who had unwanted or abusive sexual experiences as children.
 

“We recognize that male children are being abused,” Dr. Lisak said, “but then when boys cross some kind of threshold somewhere in adolescence and become what we perceive to be men, we no longer want to think about it in this way.”
 

Even when high-profile cases dominate the news, said Mai Fernandez, executive director of the National Center for Victims of Crime advocacy organization in Washington, “attention goes to the things we feel more comfortable talking about — such as whether Penn State had done enough, and what will happen to their football program — and not to the question, ‘What do we do to prevent boys from being sexually assaulted?’ ”
 

In an interview with The Washington Post this month, Joe Paterno, the Penn State football coach who was fired after the abuse scandal erupted and who died of lung cancer on Sunday, said that when an assistant had told him about witnessing an inappropriate encounter between a young boy and Jerry Sandusky, the former assistant coach who is facing charges of sexual abuse, he had been confused and unsure how to proceed. Mr. Paterno said the assistant “didn’t want to get specific. And to be frank with you, I don’t know that it would have done any good, because I never heard of, of rape and a man.”
 

Much of the research on the sexual assault of men has focused on prisons. But men are also raped outside of prison, usually by people they know, including acquaintances and intimate partners, but occasionally by complete strangers. They are raped as part of violent, drunken or drug-induced assaults; war crimes; interrogations; antigay bias crimes; and hazing rites for male clubs and organizations, like fraternities, and in the military.
 

(To read full article, visit this New York Times link)

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