‘Can men be raped?’ is still a surprisingly controversial question perpetuated by British law that rape can technically only be perpetrated by a man. The law defines rapes as ‘the penetration of another’s vagina, anus or mouth without consent, with the perpetrator’s penis,’ which means that whilst women can commit unlawful penetration, rape itself can only be committed by a man.
In statistics released by the Home Office in 2013, around 400,000 females and 72,000 males report being the victim of a sexual offence in the UK each year. On average, of the total reported sex offences (including attempts) reported, around 85% are reported by women, with only 15% of complaints made by men.
It’s a well documented fact that the majority of sexual assaults happen to women, but that doesn’t mean that male cases of sexual assault and rape deserve any less airtime.
Male rape is a taboo subject, and it is for this reason that both perpetrator and victim enter a conspiracy of silence and why male survivors often feel that once their story is discovered, they’ll lose the support and comfort of those around them.
In patriarchal societies, gender roles are strictly defined, and there’s a worry that there’s a societal perception of weakness, both in body and mind, if a male is subject to rape. Whilst attitudes towards female rape have been slowly transformed over the past couple of decades, there is still a reluctance to acknowledge the phenomenon that challenges men’s fundamental notions about their masculinity and invulnerability.
Western views of toxic masculinity and restrictive versions of masculinity have made it difficult to view men as victims of abuse.
There’s a certain encouragement to welcome sexual advances and not view them as unwanted, rendering them less able to identify assault when it occurs to them.
There are campaigns worldwide that push for the recognition of stealthing (the act of secretly removing a condom during sex) to be viewed as an act of rape.
In a 1992 publication, Henry Leak, the chairman of the Survivors organisation, stated that “the rape of males has more to do with power than sexuality, and does not only happen inside the homosexual community. Sexual orientation is a complex issue, and the majority of male perpetrators who seek out to [rape other men] are not homosexual.”
Just last month, a story reached the Isle of Man press that a Ramsey man had been remanded in Jurby after admitting indecently assaulting his male friend: the man admitted performing oral sex on his friend whilst he was asleep and without his permission. The victim had rightly contacted the police about this matter, but the online conversation around this was startlingly narrow minded.
Whilst the sexual orientation of neither men had been disclosed, commenters were quick to assume that ‘[the victim] probably wanted it’ and that the report to the police was simply ‘because he’s probably gay and was worried he’d get found it.’
It’s attitudes like this – the trivialisation of a victim’s experience – that dissuades victims from speaking out, by automatically refuting their claims. What’s behind society’s intrinsic need to witch-hunt the victim and to turn the focus away from the perpetrator?
Challenging gender stereotypes is an important conversation that needs to happen. Should male victims of rape and sexual assault have to live with this secret purely because of society’s perception on masculinity and macho propaganda? Nobody should feel reluctance to seek help for physical and emotional support for an act as damaging as sexual abuse and assault. This reluctance to speak up and acknowledge oneself as a victim can lead to shame and humiliation, and can instigate more damaging issues.
If you or someone you know has been a victim of sexual assault you can contact Victim Support on 679950 or [email protected] or the Victim Support UK 24 hour helpline on 0808 168911. Victim Support’s Welfare team are specifically trained to support those affected by sexual crimes. The crime does not have to have been recent. They support many people where the crime occurred years ago.