Sexual assault is not just a girl thing.
The other day, I was sitting in a class, and the topic of sexual assault came up. This is a pertinent issue for college campuses, and I’m always glad to hear frank discussions about it. But I couldn’t help but notice whenever anyone mentioned victims of sexual assault, they were always called “women” or “girls.”
But women are not the only gender that can be sexually assaulted. Our culture is geared toward viewing women and girls as perpetual victims and men and boys as unable to be raped. This is a myth that keeps male survivors even more ashamed and emasculated than their rapes already do. It’s a myth that needs to stop, and ending it starts first with acknowledgment and validation of the problem and then with better resources.
If we look at our society, the double standard of how sexual assaults on men versus on women are seen is shocking. Just look at our popular culture. Someone being raped in books, movies or the like is usually seen as evil and horrifying and is used for drama or backstory. Unless the victim is a man; then it’s played for laughs. Just look at movies like “The Hot Chick,” where the male villain climbs into a car and ends up locked inside as the driver turns around with a lecherous smile. The villain’s scream makes it clear what’s going to happen, and it’s supposed to be funny.
According to TVTropes.org, which categorizes common story elements in the media, in the article “Double Standard: Rape, Male on Male,” “It doesn’t matter if it’s through force, deception, coercion or drugs, male-on-male rape is almost always an object of derision — against the victim.” Story points that would never be acceptable if the victim were a woman are somehow fair game, the only difference being that the victim is male.
If the story includes a woman sexually assaulting a man, then it’s taken even less seriously. Look at the film “Wedding Crashers.” One of the male characters is tied up by a female character while asleep and has his mouth taped shut when he wakes up. He refers to the incident as a “midnight rape,” but he pursues the girl and marries her in the end. This would never, never be permitted if the genders were flipped.
But what makes it worse is these attitudes are the same in real life.
Because men are viewed as being strong enough to fight off any unwarranted sexual behavior, many people seem to think they can’t ever be assaulted — or if they are, it only happens in prison. But according to a study by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention,” in a survey of 5,000 college students at over 130 colleges, one in 25 men said they had experienced sexual assault. The organization 1in6 puts the statistic even higher, stating in the article “The 1 in 6 Statistic,” “[one] in [six] men have experienced abusive sexual experiences before age 18. And this is probably a low estimate…”
Sexual assault is often seen as a direct threat to a man’s masculinity. If a man is raped, he can never be a “real man.” This judgment is even worse if the victim experiences an erection or ejaculates; then he must have wanted it. There is also a myth that males victimized by other males attracted the assault because they are gay; victims often fear being seen as homosexual as though the assault somehow transformed their orientation.
This adds another shade to the problem if the victim is homosexual. If a victim is gay or bisexual, that doesn’t mean he’s somehow to blame for the abuse. As for the perpetrator, according to 1in6.org’s article “Facts & Myths,” “Studies…suggest that men who have sexually abused a boy most often identify as heterosexual and often are involved in adult heterosexual relationships at the time of the abusive interaction.”
These stigmas keep the number of resources for male victims much lower than those for females. If we look on Dixie State University’s campus, the Women’s Resource Center offers support for victims of sexual assault of any gender with their DOVE Center advocacy program. But the very name “Women’s Resource Center” automatically takes away the ability for men to find sanctuary there; it’s for women, not men. In addition, there is an underlying assumption that women cannot sexually assault someone, which is completely and utterly untrue. In fact, according to Livia Gerson’s article “When Women Sexually Assault Men” from Pacific Standard, “…roughly 19 to 31 percent of male college students experience some kind of unwanted sexual contact, and researchers say the vast majority is perpetrated by women.”
If we at DSU are to change the perception of sexual assault against men, we need to not only set aside the myth that it never happens, but also most importantly, we need to give victims a safe place to go that doesn’t immediately exclude them. Whether that happens by creating a new arm of the Women’s Resource Center to focus solely on sexual assault without naming it only for women or by creating a new advocacy group altogether, male victims need to be acknowledged and helped.
After all, society has already made sure they feel alone enough as it is.