By Valerie D. Lockhart
SUN EXECUTIVE EDITOR
When a man cries out rape, how will you respond?
The party was wild and crazy. drinks were flowing freely, and the music was banging.
It was Michael’s first frat party. He was having a good time and didn’t want to leave with his girlfriend. He told her to go back to the dorm with her friends and he would talk to her tomorrow. He continued to dance and guzzled down a few more drinks.
Intoxicated, the 18-year-old began to sway back and forth. Friends took him to a room where he could lie down on a bed to rest and sober up. A girl entered the room uninvited and sat next to him. The last thing he recalled before blacking out was saying, “No! I have a girlfriend.”
The next morning, Michael awakened to find his clothes off and the girl lying beside him.
“I was raped,” he said. “I knew that I hadn’t consented. I confided in a friend and he just laughed. I didn’t know what to do, because who would believe that a man was raped by a woman. If the shoe were on the other foot, campus police would have arrested me. For four years, I didn’t tell anyone else about what happened. I felt so alone. I was ashamed of being ridiculed by my peers.”
Michael is not alone. Male victims may experience feelings of guilt, shame, fear, anger, and depression following a sexual attack.
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, one in five men will experience a sexual assault in their lifetime. Over 18 percent of male victims are raped by a woman.
“Last week I openly announced my rape that occurred two years ago,” posted one victim online. “I'm a male. My attacker was female. It does happen.”
Others confessed online that they were drugged and raped by female attackers.
Up until 2013, the FBI did not acknowledge males as victims of rape. Forcible rape was defined as “the carnal knowledge of a female forcibly and against her will.” The definition was changed to include any kind of penetration, including oral or anal, which now includes males.
“As we implement this change, the FBI is confident that the number of victims of this heinous crime will be more accurately reflected in national crime statistics,” said David Cuthbertson, a former FBI assistant director of Criminal Justice Information Services division, in a statement before his retirement in 2014.
Lara Stemple, co-author of “The Sexual Victimization of Men in America” is pleased with the revised definition but says it is still missing an important factor.
“The FBI definition is not really clear if it includes penetrating someone else or not,” she said. “You just can’t tell. It’s really open to interpretation.”
While portions of the FBI’s definition of rape is open to interpretation, male victims say they are sure about one thing – little resources are available to men for help.
“Almost every story I have heard has basically said there were no resources available to me that were easily available. If I were a woman, I knew where I would go,” said Chris Anderson, executive director of Male Survivor that provides assistance to male victims of sexual assault.
A key resource to combating sexual assaults on both men and women is the general public.
Joan Tabachnick, author of “Engaging Bystanders in Sexual Violence Prevention”, provides five tips for eyewitnesses of sexual assaults to stop or prevent attacks.
1. Prevention is key. Before going out, create an exit strategy for uncomfortable situations — whether it’s checking in via text messages, creating a signal for a friend to swoop in if a conversation gets intense, or formulating an exit plan when the party’s over. Chat about different scenarios and how you want to respond.
2. Identify why you’re worried. If you see something that makes you uneasy, identify the behavior that worries you. Is your friend drinking too much, and are you afraid she/he might not be able to say no? Are you afraid that they could potentially fail to recognize that the other party is too drunk to consent? Remember, if the person seeking sex is intoxicated, he or she has a decreased ability to recognize the capacity of the other party to give consent — the inability to perceive capacity does not excuse the behavior of the person who begins the sexual interaction or tries to take it to another level. Failure to recognize that the victim was too drunk to consent is not just “drunk sex,” it’s still sexual assault.
3. Consider whether to intervene. A situation doesn’t have to be dangerous for you to step in. Of course, if you see someone getting hurt or worried someone might be violent, don’t handle it solo. Call 911. But there are also shades of gray — like a party or a bar — where something might be concerning but not yet crossing the line. When something doesn’t feel right, ask yourself: ‘How might the situation affect the people who are involved? What’s the possible outcome? Could the situation get worse if you don’t do anything?” If yes, then now you can evaluate the best way to respond.
4. Decide on a course of action. There are many ways you can step in when something isn’t right. Stepping in can make all the difference, but remember to never put your own safety at risk. If it’s a friend, and you’ve done Step 1, you know what to do next. Other methods of stepping in could be:
* DISTRACT You can disrupt the situation just by talking, striking up a conversation about anything or starting. Your goal is to prevent a situation from getting worse, or better yet, buy enough time to check in with the potential victim and ask them if they are okay.
* DIRECT Ask directly if they are okay or if they need help or someone to stay with them. You can ask if they’re ready to leave or if they’d like to grab a bite with you to help remove them from an uncomfortable situation.
* DELEGATE There’s comfort in numbers. Enlisting allies, like another mutual friend, can defuse the situation much more smoothly than trying to go it alone. You can also look for someone else who might be in a better position to get involved – i.e. tell the bouncer, find an RA, look for the person’s friends, or call the authorities.
5. There’s not a one size fits all response. Intervening can be tough if you feel like your actions should be a massive act of heroism, like fending off an attacker. But there’s more than one way to help, whether it’s as subtle as talking with a friend about concerning behavior or planning ahead to leave a party safely. All of these conversations set a tone: Your friends will know that you’re a safe person to confide in and that there are clear boundaries worth respecting. In this case, follow up the next day to go over what happened and why it was worrisome.
With more men breaking their silence, help for male victims is increasing.
Help for both men and women can be found by calling the National Sexual Assault Hotline at
1-800-656-HOPE (4673), chatting at online.rainn.org, or logging online at www.rainn.org. Additional resources can be found at nomore.org.
“Four years ago, I was ashamed to report that I was raped by a woman,” admits Michael. “Today, I’m stronger. If more men spoke out, the topic wouldn’t appear strange to others. I realize that I’m not alone. I urged others to listen with an open heart and mind. Give men the same respect and treatment that you would give a female victim.”
So, when a man cries out “rape,” how will you respond to his call?