Rape happens to men too

  If you’ve used the London underground in recent works you probably can’t help but have noticed the posters for charity Survivors UK. Under a dark, stormy sky, it features a rugby ball, punctured with a nail. The stark slogan above reads ‘Real Men Get Raped’. 

The advert has an underniable shock-factor. Maybe that’s just because it has the word ‘rape’, displayed so boldly and publically. We’re British, we barely even like talking about sex, especially not anything relating to anal sex, and definitely not sexual assault. What if a sweet, middle-class child saw this, tugged his father’s coat and said ‘Daddy, what’s rape?‘. Now, that would be an uncomfortable conversation! But maybe it needs to be had.

Rape is horribly common. Amongst the people you work with, it’s likely that a couple of them have been victims of some kind of sexual assualt. Amongst your friends and family, it’s likely that a couple of them have also been victims. Statistics hide the large number of people who never come forward about what they have experienced, secrets that go undetected and unchallenged. And rape doesn’t just happen to young women. Perpetrators of sexual violence and abuse can be both men and women. Rape happens to women of all ages. It happens to people of all sexualities and appearances. It happens to children. And yes, it does happen to men. Survivors UK quote the statistic that every hour, a man is sexually assaulted in London. And there will be countless other crimes in other cities, and indeed all over the world.

We don’t usually get too worried about men being sexually assaulted. Men typically don’t wear short skirts, low-cut tops or engage in the other ‘provocative’ behaviour that has too-often been blamed for women’s assaults. We worry about women walking home on their own, about their getting their drinks spiked or picked up by unlicensed taxis. What about men? Are they somehow safe, immune? This article, though focused on sexual violence against men as a weapon of war abroad rather than in the UK, highlights some of the horrific realities of male rape. It’s quite graphic and intense, but worth reading. This is another very powerful article  about a police officer’s experience of being raped and the following investigations. It does happen, far more often than we might like to think.

The Survivors UK campaign has attracted some flack for their use of the phrase ‘real men’ as critics says this perpetuates the idea that there is such a thing as a ‘real’ man, or that a certain type of man may be more ‘real’ and ‘manly’ than another. This is unfortunate, but I don’t think it detracts from the impact of the posters. Their aim has been to try and dispel myths that male rape happens to only a certain subset of men, perhaps those who are gay or men who are physically weaker or more effeminate. The reality is that rape can happen to any man, regardless of whether he fits a stereotype of ‘manliness’ or not. Rape happens to ‘macho’, muscular, heterosexual, beer-drinking, sport-playing, hunting, fishing, all-round red-blooded men, as well as any other variety. On the use of the image, Michael May of Survivors UK said: “We’ve chosen to use an alpha male sport in our advertising to challenge assumptions about the type of men who get raped. It’s just as likely to be a rugby player as a librarian, a suited city banker as a hooded gang member. And we hope that by challenging our innate assumptions about the identity of male victims, we can make it even fractionally easier for a male rape victim to ask for help.” This rugby-themed poster deliberately coincides with the Six Nations, so it’s aimed at these men in particular. Maybe it’ll start a conversation. Maybe people will look at it and then awkwardly look away. If all the poster does is make someone think, perhaps for the first time ‘Rape actually happens to men’, the it’ll be a success. There is a great stigma and culture of shame around rape and this can make it even harder for men to come forward to receive support and justice they deserve. Survivors UK quote that only 11% of men ever report the crime they’ve experienced. This is disturbingly low. Would you ever know if a man in your life had been raped? Would anyone? Let’s start a conversation.

More information and support at Survivors UK

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4 thoughts on “Rape happens to men too

  1. What a great campaign. I can see how Survivors UK might have mis-stepped slightly in using the phrase “real men”, but otherwise it’s wonderful that this is being brought to the attention of the public. It’s not a secret that I was raped, and that the instigator was another woman, although her boyfriend was involved too. It’s hard enough being subjected to rape or abuse, but pretty much all public campaigns and discourse around rape centre around the victimisation of women at the hands of men and that can just heap an extra dose of marginalisation on top of someone already afraid to speak out because rape itself is still quite taboo. It’s not even like the rape of men (or lesbian rape, although of course legally that’s a bit of an oxymoron, I think the UK has the definition all backwards – I like the FBI’s new updated definition – http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/world-us-canada-16452014 because words make a difference to the perception of the severity of the crime) is uncommon, it happens all the time in prisons and then there are things like homophobic assaults (I know of a couple of gay men who were victims of attempted rape by apparently straight men who wanted to teach them a lesson. What the hell, hmm?) and male child abuse.

    Because of my own experience I tend to keep discussions of rape gender neutral on my blog. I understand that women have been oppressed for centuries and that for that reason we are apparently the sex more vulnerable to victimisation, but I’m not convinced it’s true. I think predators look for vulnerability wherever they can find it, whether the victim turns out to be male, female, very young, very old, with some kind of physical or mental health disability and so on. I would like nothing more than to see more discussions of non-stereotypical rape and abuse so that people who have had non-stereotypical experiences feel more able to speak up too.

  2. As a male victim of rape I was really pleased when I saw the Survivors campaign on the tube. They’re a great organisation who may not have helped me directly, but have helped my partner with therapy about how to deal with people that have survived rape and sexual abuse.

    I admit that I find the actual semantics of the posters confusing. To me I read it as some kind of boasting statement, that real men go and get raped, rather than real men suffer rape just like any other man. Think it could have been worded a bit differently, but it’s still a real step forward in having a campaign like this that is bringing a sensitive and unspoken taboo into mainstream sight.

    I too read that Guardian article a while ago. It was heartbreaking.

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