Sunday, October 21, 2007

The unspoken crime of male rape

This is the text of my That's Men for You column in The Irish Times on Tuesday, 9th October, 2007:

Male rape is a hidden crime of our time. Rape crisis centres increasingly hear about male rape but few cases ever come to trial. Yet Dublin Rape Crisis Centre says 12 per cent of its clients are male and that it expects this proportion to grow.

The phenomenon of male rape is concealed mainly by the reluctance of its victims to come forward. Heterosexual men may fear that they will be accused of being gay. Gay men may fear that they will be seen to have put themselves into circumstances in which rape could take place. In other words, they fear what has often prevented female rape victims from coming forward, namely that they will be accused of having asked for it.

Indeed, the tendency to blame rape victims for what has been done to them has been well established in research. And men are more likely than women to blame the victim. Therefore, one can see that a man who is raped might be more reluctant, for this reason, to come forward.

Matters are complicated where the man has experienced a physiological response of arousal to whatever acts were performed. Indeed, some rapists aim to bring about such a response as part of the abuse of the victim and to deter him from going to the police. The response, if it occurs, is no more than a mechanical one, so to speak, and it in no way mitigates the enormity of the crime that has been committed. Nevertheless, the victim may feel shame and embarrassment and therefore be reluctant to reveal what happened.

Male rape is carried out by both heterosexual and homosexual men. Indeed, there is reason to suspect that most male rapes are carried out by heterosexual men. This is understandable when you realise that rape has less to do with physical attraction that with power, control and rage. Therefore it is not necessary to be in a gay ‘setting’ or environment for a rape to happen – it can happen anywhere and to anyone. And it is more likely that the man will know his attacker in some way than that the perpetrator will be a complete stranger.

Yet the rape is traumatic and help is needed. For instance, research into this phenomenon would suggest that a man who is raped is more likely than a woman to be gang-raped. There is also a real possibility that he will be physically assaulted in other ways as well.

We read and hear about horrific physical attacks on women who are raped. These attacks amplify the effect of the rape itself. The same is true of male rape victims.

Traditionally, we think of prison as a place in which men can be sexually abused and raped by other men. I have never heard of cases of rape in Irish prisons. But we know, from research and investigations, about the rape of men by men in US and Australian prisons. This is often jokingly referred to in American movies in a way that would never happen in relation to the rape of women.

Do we believe that Irish prisoners are somehow inherently more decent than US or Australian prisoners? I don’t, and I suspect that sexual abuse and harassment of men in the prisons is also a problem in this country but one we never hear about, possibly due to a combination of shame and fear.

Men who have been raped can and do recover but this is more likely to happen and to happen more quickly if they get help. Dublin Rape Crisis Centre is at 1800 778888 and its email address is There are almost 20 rape crisis centres outside Dublin and you find information on them by going to the website of Dublin Rape Crisis Centre and clicking on the “contact us” link.

If you have been raped or sexually assaulted but you are not yet ready to seek direct help, at least read the material for male survivors of rape at an excellent Australian website. Click the “survivors” link on the front page to get to the material for men.

See also earlier post on this topic: Male rape - a hidden crime.

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