A Gender Left Behind
Updated: May 26, 2020
The last twenty years or so have seen great strides undertaken by legal systems, political mechanisms and civil societies throughout the world in what has been a long and gruelling battle against rape and sexual misconduct against women. The social ills of stigmatisation and victim blaming are still persistent but overall generation by generation education about this subject has increased, laws have been strengthened and media attention has been given. Today a rape allegation is serious business and prosecution around it is precise, ruthless and swift, as it should be. Yet, in the midst of this enlightenment an entire gender has been left behind.
To me numbers are not indicative of whether a crime is serious enough to be considered and included in discourse, yet it is important to establish, at the very beginning that male rape is not a one in a million phenomenon and the statistics around it are disturbing especially given how the public isn’t aware of them.
A report under the Bureau of Justice Statistics Department titled the National Crime Victimisation Survey in the United States found that from their control group of 40,000 households, 38% of the incidents of rape and sexual violence had males as their victims.
This statistic is despite there being a fundamental issue with actually documenting and collecting data about these incidents properly. This is because of three key factors. Firstly, the inconsistent and reductive definition of sexual violence and rape cause statistics regarding male victims of rape to show fewer cases. This coupled with outmoded gender stereotypes which inform the manner in which the collection of samples for such studies is conducted brings down the number of male rape cases. Finally, the cases of prison inmates are entirely left out with prison rape being a well-recognised issue yet being excluded from official government databases. This isn’t my opinion, rather the American Public Health Association’s analysis of 5 different government agencies’ statistics over a period of two years.
Some statistics by the US Department of Justice estimate that 1 in 10 males in the US experience sexual violence or rape either attempted or successful. However, the reason why I’ve quoted statistics from the United States is not because of a lack of such cases in India, rather the lack of studies in India regarding this. The absence of proper research and documentation in many nations, India included, is disturbing as an entire gender is left out of the war against sexual violence.
Proper data aside, if there are robust laws in place to punish perpetrators in cases like these then perhaps redemption can be sought by nations who claim the progressive tag. Unfortunately, laws in most nations are either non existent or extremely basic with cases of rape against men being treated as less severe than cases with women as the victims.
In India the Central Government in 2013 attempted to bring gender neutrality to its laws regarding rape but the move was heavily criticised at the time by women activists and ultimately the government retracted these definitions.
What is interesting however is that the government justified it by saying that Section 377 of the IPC punished unnatural sex and thus there was no need to include male victims into the fray. Now however Section 377 has been re-read by the Supreme Court and only has paedophilia under the original protection of men from rape ideal. Now there truly is no law in India which brings justice for male rape victims. At best they can hope that based on statutory rape terms and age of consent their violators will be prosecuted. This is one of the lowest points in the history of Indian women’s rights activism. In their misunderstanding they snuffed out a spark of hope for male victims of rape especially those whose rapists were women.
In the US the re-definition of rape to include penetration of various other orifices without consent only helped slightly as the issue of female-on-male rape cases still remains an issue. Moreover, many cases have seen young men (some as young as 13 at the time of the incidents) be mandated by law to provide child support for the children produced by the act of rape. The women involved are at most convicted of statutory rape (with the issue being of age rather than violation of consent).
In Indonesia it is believed that no legislation is necessary for cases of female-on-male sexual assault as according to the law it is impossible for a female to force or coerce a male into sexual intercourse against his will. In Singapore again there is legal recognition of male rape victims with rape being defined around genders itself which states that no male can legally be the victim of rape. In the Philippines male rape is defined as sexual assault rather than outright rape and holds a significantly lower punishment compared to a case of rape with a female as the victim. In the United Kingdom this pattern is again repeated as we see that females cannot be held liable to rape and are at most capable of being convicted of sexual assault which carries a lighter punishment.
The effect of rape on men is at the very least same in terms of traumatisation and psychological distress to those on women. Victims, especially those stuck in such situations for long periods of time suffer from emotional and physical abuse. According to experts the phenomenon of rape has less to do with sexuality and gender than to do with power dynamics. Therefore, many of the fundamental signs of sexual abuse remain constant despite the gender of the victim and the perpetrator.
The social stigmatisation of rape is also a constant with men who are victims of such incidents having to grapple with accusations on their sexuality, virility, strength and manliness. Many suffer from bouts of depression, body dysphoria, inadequacy, fear of intimacy, violent sexual behaviour, patterns of hatred of women and violence against them. Essentially the effects are brutal and there have been reports of homophobia, sexual confusion and transphobia materialising in the psyches of victims.
The issue of suicide is also exacerbated in the aftermath with men being even more vulnerable to it than women due to the idea of male independence and spirit of self-reliance that often prevents them from seeking help. This mixed with the blatant lack of acknowledgment both societally and legally of the crime they’ve suffered from leaves victims isolated at a time when help and support structures are most needed.
This reaction towards sexual violence against men is not a singular phenomenon. Rather it is part of a much larger pattern of dehumanisation of men as victims of violence, mistreatment, abuse and neglect.
The manner in which cases of domestic abuse and violence with men as victims are laughed away, shown as vessels for laughter in television and theatre, the lack of acknowledgment towards violence and mistreatment of men in war zones, the general apathy shown towards instances such as circumcision, especially government mandated and forced compared to the outcry against female genital mutilation shows that due to the assumption of male superiority in most societies upon women, crimes against men are generally seen as less appalling, horrific and concerning.
The Road Ahead:
It is necessary for feminist and egalitarian movements around the world to work for justice towards male victims of violence and sexual abuse. The phenomenon can only be checked by:
There has to be greater government involvement in bringing education to the masses about such instances in PSAs similar to those which speak about violence against women. There has to be greater knowledge spread about these instances in the civil society and the citizens of these nations have to be made aware of this pattern of abuse which lies just below the surface. Proper documentation and data collection have to be done, with better parameters set for studies and statistical surveys to help gauge the scope of such crimes.
The lack of proper support structures both by the government and the common citizenry are responsible for the lack of therapy sought out by victims. Often this leaves festering issues deep within the psyche of these men who feel isolated and bound by traditional gender stereotypes to “tough it out” on their own.
Finally, it is imperative that governments create laws that criminalise rape against men with the best possibility being modifying rape laws to be gender neutral so that rape against transsexuals and non-binary people is also considered valid. It is also important that male rape be considered as heinous as rape against females and that the punishment be made equal. This is necessary to show that the state considers the crime to be a serious one and that no rapist is safe simply due to the gender of his/her victim.
Without these measures we risk letting an entire gender remain vulnerable to sexual abuse while we take a horrific act like rape and make it gender specific thereby denying justice to many. However, if taken seriously by men, women and others of all walks of life we can take our war against sexual violence, abuse and exploitation to the peak of its potential. Then and only then can we truly overcome sexual violence.