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Originally posted in Everyday Feminism

(Content warning: sexual assault, rape, victim-blaming)

In February of 2014, actor Shia LaBeouf was whipped, stripped, and raped. By a woman.

Although he remained silent about the assault for a time, the young actor eventually told the world that he was raped by a female stranger during his Los Angeles art installation, #IAMSORRY. The installation ran during Valentine’s Day weekend and allowed art show attendees to sit silently in a private room with LaBeouf, who wore a paper bag over his head.

In an October 2014 interview with Dazed Digital magazine, LaBeouf told reporter Aimee Cliffthat a woman whipped his legs for ten minutes, removed his clothes, and proceeded to rape him. After she fled from the scene, LaBeouf sat silently in shock, unsure of what to do or where to turn.

LaBeouf’s art show collaborators, British artist Luke Turner and Finnish artist Nastja Säde Rönkkö, claimed to have intervened to stop the assault, but the woman (whose identity remains unknown) has not been charged with any crime.

Sadly – but not unexpectedly – LaBeouf received disturbing backlash for speaking out.

Critics asked why he didn’t “fight her off” (thus attempting to discredit the deep loss of control that LaBeouf experienced when he was raped) and made jokes that he must have enjoyed it because “what man wouldn’t enjoy no-strings-attached sex?”

Others accused him of fabricating the rape for publicity or laughed off the feasibility of a man being raped by a woman entirely.

These taunts, accusations, and denials are exactly the type of victim-blaming that the feminist movement has been fighting against for decades in terms of the rape of marginalized people.

They deny the power and control that LaBeouf’s female assailant exerted over him because he is a man and therefore should have “fought back.”

Many people simply won’t admit to the real societal damage caused by women who sexually assault men.

The patriarchy has cemented society’s idea that “real” men are always craving sex and constantly, infallibly “ready to go.” Under these prescribed circumstances – where women hold the key to sex, which men are relentlessly seeking – men are expected to be grateful for any sexual advances thrown their way, wanted and unwanted alike.

Worse yet, popular culture has made male rape into a culturally accepted joke.

Let me be very clear about one thing: Rape is never a joke.

The concept that sexual assault of a man by a woman is impossible, ridiculous, or funny stems directly from assumptions about patriarchal gender roles – precisely the same assumptions that are used to blame and silence other rape survivors.

There is no question that in our world, the number of cisgender men raped by women is much lower than the number of cis and trans women, trans men, and non-binary people who are raped by men. But this doesn’t mean that male survivors should be cast aside or laughed at.

In order to be true allies of rape survivors, we absolutely must support all survivors – not just those who we identify with.

This article seeks to investigate the experience of one type of rape survivor specifically – that wherein the survivors are cisgender men, which means that their experience of their own gender matches that which they were assigned at birth.

And hopefully, by understanding more about the rape of men by women and recognizing ways that society undermines male rape survivors, we can create a more inclusive community where all survivors feel safe and supported.

In order to do so, let’s take a look at some significant reasons why the rape or sexual assault of men by women should never be downplayed or joked about.

1. An Erection Does Not Equal Consent

Let’s start here: Not all men have penises, and not all people with penises are men (because not all people are cisgender!). However, the social myth that it’s impossible for men to be raped by women comes from the (oppressive) assumptions that 1) all men have penises and 2) erect penises are always signs of sexual arousal and consent.

But despite what people will tell you, it is physically possible for someone with a penis to be raped by someone with a vagina.

The scientific truth is that men can have a physiological response to sexual coercion even if consent has not been given or desire does not exist.

Research shows that deep fear and traumatic stress, coupled with the physical stimulation of an assault, can result in involuntary erections or ejaculations.

As another example, according to research psychoanalyst Paul Joannides, most men experience REM sleep erections in the morning when they first awaken – and these erections are often not accompanied by feelings of sexual desire at all.

Simply put, just because a man has an erection does not mean he wants (or has consented to) sex – because the body is capable of having erections without any sense of sexual desire.

This is not unlike the phenomenon in which people with vaginas who are raped sometimes experience self-lubrication of the vagina or even orgasm during their assault.

These survivors often have a hard time admitting that they experienced physical arousal or pleasure while being raped, and feel that their body has “let them down.”

It’s plain and simple: Sex without consent is rape – erection or not, lubrication or not, and last but not least, orgasm or not.  And this is universally true, regardless of either person’s gender or sexual orientation and no matter what prior relationship existed between the two individuals.

All people deserve to have complete autonomous choice in their sexual activity.

This remains true even if no physical violence has been enacted against the survivor (see section three for more about this important distinction). Just like a woman is not “asking for it” by wearing a short dress, a man is not “asking for it” because he has an erection.

2. Sexual Assault of Men by Women Is More Common Than You Think

Society teaches men and women from an early age to strive for power and control – and that rape is one of the most devastating and powerful forms of control over another person. To believe that these societal messages affect only men is false. Women are susceptible as well, and women can be rapists – even if the number of female perpetrators is much, much lower than the number of male rapists.

For example, statutory rape of a male student by a female teacher is one way in which an older woman can exert authority and power over a younger man. And although she may be the most famous case, Mary Kay Letourneau is not the only predatory teacher ever to take advantage of a young male student.

Over the last few years, an increase in cases of female teachers committing statutory rape against their teenage male students has been reported.

But this doesn’t necessarily mean that the numbers of assaults are going up – it may simply suggest that more survivors are coming forward.

Still, there are undoubtedly many more cases that go unreported – due to manipulation and abuse of the minor, or due to the minor’s fear of society’s retribution against them.

Statutory rape of boys by adult women occurs outside of the classroom as well. Women who sexually assault their own children or children whom they have authority over (as the child’s counselor, coach, or mentor, for example) make up many of the cases.

But it’s not just boys under 18.

Adult men are also sexually harassed or assaulted by their female partners.

However, because of the lack of research done in this field and the fact that many men feel intense pressure not to report these crimes, statistics regarding the rape of adult men by women are unreliable.

When reviewing this topic, it’s also very important to recognize that the number of identified woman rapists is very low compared to that of men overall. Only 3-4% of single-perpetrator sexual assaults are attributed to women.

Taking into account that we don’t have reliable statistics about how many men are raped by women – and the undeniable fact that even if we had accurate numbers, they would be drastically lower than those of cis and trans women, trans men, and non-binary people who are raped by men – it’s crucial to recognize that we can still help male survivors of rape.

And of equal importance is the fact that we can be supportive of them in a way that doesn’t detract from the support offered to other survivors.

3. Not All Sexual Coercion Involves Physical Violence

Woman perpetrators often use very different tactics than men to push for sex, such as repeated unwanted touching, emotional manipulation, and intoxication.

Categories of sexual coercion include foresexual or presexual contact (kissing, touching, or groping against the survivor’s will or without their consent), coercive sex (described above), attempted rape, and completed rape.

Studies show that women are much more likely to instigate unwanted foresexual contact or coercive sex than the latter two categories.

New research estimates that roughly 19-31% of college men experience some degree ofunwanted sexual contact, and researchers believe that the bulk of the perpetrators in these cases are women.

A woman who coerces or forces a man to have sex with her, even without initiating any physical violence, is still a rapist. “People think men can’t be raped and they don’t understand that…no still means no,” says Curtis St. John, a representative for MaleSurvivor, a national support group for male survivors of sexual abuse.

It’s crucial to remember that all sexual harassment, manipulation, and assault is extremely problematic, for men as well as women – and downplaying any aspect of it hurts the movement to support survivors.

4. Survivors Who Are Men Are Even Less Likely to Report Being Assaulted

Survivors of sexual assault who are men are much less likely than women to report it to the police. There are many reasons for this, all grounded in society’s fucked up teachings about gender.

Sadly, some men may not even realize that a crime has been committed against them.

According to sexual assault researcher Garnets, “because most men have internalized the social belief that the sexual assault of men is beyond the realm of possibility…men have trouble accepting their rape experience as real, not only because it happened to them, but that it happened at all.”

This idea is bolstered in cases where no physical harm was done to the survivor.

Other men may feel that they have lost their manhood as a result of being assaulted and experience profound shame and embarrassment, causing them to stay silent.

Many straight men don’t speak out due to fear of being ridiculed as gay because they weren’t interested in sexual advances from a woman.

Because the patriarchy has taught them that being gay is “wrong” from birth, they may not even be willing to admit that they didn’t want to have sexual contact with their rapist, for fear of being labeled as gay.

Project Unbreakable has chronicled some of the horrible things that male survivors have been told by their rapists and their supposed “support systems.” One survivor’s ex-fiancé told him to “man up” when he panicked after seeing his rapist for the first time in the eight years since the rape occurred. Another young man was told by his rapist, “You’re a guy. You can’t say no to a girl like me.”

When messages like these are the prevalent experience of male survivors, it’s no surprise that many are hesitant to speak up.

In order for this to change, it’s crucial that we as a society stand up for male survivors along with other survivors. All survivors deserve equal recognition and equal justice.

5. Male Victims Experience Traumatic Fallout After Rape, But Are Still Made into Jokes

Many men who are sexually coerced or raped by women experience long-term negative consequences, including symptoms of post-traumatic stress.

This is especially likely to happen when older women rape young men or when alcohol is involved in the rape.

As previously mentioned, a man who has been raped by a woman and achieved erection or ejaculation during the assault may feel deep disappointment in his own body. He may feel that he doesn’t have the “right” to call the event rape because he had an orgasm.

Even if his body had a different reaction to the assault, he may still feel deeply conflicted about calling the rape out on what it is. After all, society has told this very man – consistently since he was very young – that having sex should be one of his top priorities in life and that he will be admired and venerated for his sexual conquests.

Research shows that most rape survivors, regardless of gender, are deeply traumatized by the unfathomable loss of control over their own bodies that they experience when raped.

However, men are much less likely to be honest about how much they are suffering in the aftermath of an assault, due to gendered expectations of masculinity and the public response to male rape.

It’s no secret that the rape of men is downplayed by the media and often made the punchline of jokes. Whether it’s a news commentator doubting the legitimacy of a survivor’s experience, or a crude joke on Tosh.O, the rape of men by women simply isn’t taken seriously in the public eye.

But here’s the thing. Rape is never funny. Certainly not to survivors. And it should never be delegitimized or downplayed.

Check out this article for just a few reasons why rape jokes are never acceptable (and ways to cope with hearing them).

Resources for Male Survivors

Men who have been sexually assaulted or raped by women are not alone.

Organizations like MaleSurvivor and 1 in 6 offer helpful resources for men dealing with the aftermath of rape, including hotlines, support groups, access to therapists, daily affirmations of hope, and recovery retreats. They also provide a large body of research for people who want to learn more.

And if you are the partner of a rape survivor, read up on ways that you can support and help your partner.

All Rape Is Real

There’s still a long way to go in acknowledging and respectfully representing men assaulted by women.

After LaBeouf’s experience at #IAMSORRY, popular commentator Piers Morgan made an all too familiar victim-blaming statement, proclaiming that “LaBeouf is one of the toughest actors in Hollywood…[but] he just let it all happen.” Morgan also called LaBeouf’s allegations of rape “truly pathetic and demean[ing to] real rape victims.”

As if Morgan – or anyone else, for that matter – has the authority to define what “real” rape is.

Rape comes in many forms and sizes, but it is devastating to the survivor no matter what.

And as feminist critic Van Badham eloquently states, “After Shia LaBeouf’s art gallery trauma, we should affirm that all rapes are ‘real,’ and all are breaches of trust.”

***

To become a better ally of rape survivors, we must support all of them. And wonderfully, supporting male survivors of rape actually helps all survivors.

By working together – and never delegitimizing any case of sexual abuse – we can create a more inclusive survivor community.

shots

Sometimes you read something that you wish you could unread. But then you realize, that no matter how much it hurt, you are stronger and better off for having read it. Because you are looking through the eyes of a person with a completely different worldview than you, who has divergent morals and boundaries – and it’s good to know that those people exist, so that you can learn how to keep as far away from them as humanly possible. And so that you can speak out in response.

I had such an experience the other night. While browsing the internet as I am wont to do on sleepless nights, I came across an article from the blog Feministe that confronts a recent piece in the Good Men Project (GMP). GMP is a collective of people (mostly men, of course) working to “define enlightened masculinity” in the 21st century and “identify what makes a good man.”

The story is written by a self-admitted rapist. A raging alcoholic rapist, who despite having been told by at least one women that he raped her, still doesn’t usually feel that the label fits (except when he’s morbidly depressed). And he has a claim to make:

“When you party, when you move in party circles, you accept certain tradeoffs…you start figuring out that one of the tradeoffs you’ve accepted is a certain amount of rape.”

So, the author sets us straight: Rape is just a side effect of partying. When you drink to excess, you’ve just got to expect to get raped some of the time. Or that you yourself might become a rapist due to your intoxication.

Written anonymously, the article chronicles the “struggles” of a young man who loves to binge drink and has had “more than one, less than six” experiences that he knows may have been considered rape by the women involved. But that’s not going to stop him from drinking – no siree.

The article, deftly entitled “I’d Rather Risk Rape Than Quit Partying,” was hailed by the female GMP editor Joanna Schroeder as a “frank, open confession;” she also goes on to thank him for “sharing his struggle with his own experiences.” Anonymously, that is. Schroeder does note that she and GMP “do not agree with his conclusions” — and yet her tone throughout her editorial notes is one of praise and acceptance for his “honesty” despite admitting that he is “deeply troubled.”

On the surface level, I can understand why GMP might have thought this was an acceptable thing to publish. They may have believed it was unexplored territory that might educate other “unaware” rapists who have a drinking problem. But when you read the piece and the editor’s notes as whole, it invariably leaves you feeling pity and understanding for the rapist. It is the exact rape-apologist bullshit that the author himself decries in his confession.

Do I think that something needs to be done to help more people understand what the concept of consent means? Absolutely, hell yes. Education on the issue would probably prevent some people from “unwittingly” date raping (as if there were really such a thing). But presenting a sob story about how this poor dude has been walking around being a rapist all these years without even knowing it — and harping on why we should understand that it’s mostly society’s lack of understanding of consent and his substance abuse that are to blame — works to make the reader feel forgiveness and understanding for him instead of making them want to change the system. They may finish the article and say, “Wow, I never really thought before about the fact that rapists have feelings too, and that they just drink too much to know what’s going on. He was a really nice guy most of the time but he just got out of control.” As if to conclude, “who among us hasn’t drank a pint of whiskey and then molested someone without their consent or when they were passed out?”

I just cannot find this point of view valid in any way, shape or form. I feel somewhat incoherent in my writing because my blood is still boiling. Date rape hits close to home – I know a lot of survivors, many of whom continue to blame themselves for what happened. But this post by NO MEANS tries to say that only men are rapists or that only women are raped. Rape is universal, perpetrated by both genders, all ages and against all different classes.* I use the example of this article because it is particularly inflammatory and works to uphold current standards of rape culture, and because the acts committed by Author Anonymous are an extremely common but ignored form of rape.

I know that the editors at GMP received a lot of backlash for posting this piece, and that I am very late in jumping on the bandwagon, but that doesn’t keep me from wanting to speak up. They should be ashamed of offering pity for the author instead of denouncing the fucked-up mindset that allows people like him to continue raping without consequence.

We cannot go on like this, for the health and sanity of future generations. I want my children to grow up in a world in which they are not taught that date rape is “no big deal.” I want them to understand and look for consent in their sexual lives. I want them to know that what they wear, what parties they go to, or whether or not they choose to consume alcohol and/or drugs does not mean that they must accept rape as a tradeoff.

I want to teach my boys to respect women, and my girls to respect men. There cannot be one without the other.

*Check back soon for a piece on the molestation of men by women, which should be completed in the next few weeks.

Cat-Calling Sucks

This morning two men in a truck honked, stared and yelled things at me as I walked to work.

Saturday a male stranger in the elevator called me sweetheart and another man on the street asked if I would go home with him.

Last week one of my male colleagues yelled out “va-va-voom” when I walked into a board meeting.

Last month a parking attendant outside my office building told me that he wanted to marry me and that he would stalk me until I broke up with the fake boyfriend I told him I had in order to ward him off.

Last summer three men walked past me on the stairs of a bar. One turned around and grabbed my ass, squeezed hard and guffawed. All three proceeded to laugh uproariously and continued on their way. I was too stunned to say or do anything so I just stared as they left me there on the stairs. A few weeks later a strange man in a club came up behind me while I was dancing with a girlfriend and pulled my waist towards him, pushing his crotch into my behind. I turned and demanded an explanation. His answer: “You backed into me.” Bullshit. Straight out lie.

These aren’t the worst examples of street harassment, just a few that come to mind. I am cat-called almost every single day of my life, no matter what I’m wearing or who I am with. But mostly when I am alone, walking to or from work or home.

Worse: I’m not an anomaly. This happens to most girls. All. The. Time. Cat-calling is not a compliment – it’s degrading, humiliating and demoralizing. It limits our ability to walk down the street without fear – even in broad daylight while wearing professional attire.

The featured quote says it all: I may be walking through a public place, but my body is not public property. I am a individual person with rights to my own body, not a sexual toy/object inviting your comments, stare or touch. Please consider this and apply it to ALL people as you move through your day.

Here are some great resources for people who are looking to learn more about how to identify and combat this type of harassment:

HollaBack! You Have the Power to End Street Harassment
Stop Street Harassment
Meet Us On The Street*

*Anti-street harassment week was April 7-13, 2013. Visit this website for news about next year’s event and additional resources.

You're Quite the Philanthropist, So You Deserved This

I found this fantastic rape analogy on the Ms. Foundation twitter (@msfoundation) today. I think everyone should read it. And I mean, everyone. It so perfectly simplifies what so many of us have been trying to explain for so many years – that just because a woman wears something that makes her feel and look beautiful, chooses to be sexually active in her life and goes to a party that men will be attending does NOT mean she deserves to be raped.

Read this analogy. Think about it. Word.

steubenville

My friend’s son is a smart, handsome center forward on the basketball team – he’s got everything going for him. College scouts coming out to see him play, tons of friends and a sweet, lovely girlfriend. His mom is so proud of him; she’s looking forward to seeing what his future will bring.

Then everything changes. One night he goes to a party where he isn’t familiar with the crowd, drinks one Jägerbomb too many, and passes out. There are some guys from the rival basketball team there, and they decide it would be hilarious to mess around with him.

These boys (also intoxicated) carry him upstairs, strip him naked, film themselves making lewd comments about how he’s “a big homo and takes it up the ass,” and begin inserting inanimate objects into his anus. Numerous partygoers take photos of the crime and film themselves laughing and taunting my friend’s son (still unconscious). After assaulting him for hours, urinating on him and taking numerous photos that are shared over social media, they finally tire of him, dump him in someone’s front yard and go home.

My friend’s son wakes up the next morning not knowing what happened but possessing a deep sense of foreboding – until later that day, when someone forwards him a picture of what was done to him the evening before. He is shocked, disgusted, angered and hurt. But he cannot yet imagine how bad things are going to get.

And my dear friend, his mother? She is utterly distraught and outraged. Her son was innocent – he didn’t deserve this treatment, this brutality, this cruel “joke” that she knows will haunt him for the rest of his life. She gets a community group together and they take a stand to get justice for what has been done to her poor son. Everyone is sympathetic – even the parents of the perpetrators and the rival team’s coaches have to admit that this was a vile, inexcusable act, from which my friend’s son may never fully recover. The community truly unites around the victim, lifting him and his family up in a time of need.

Except that I made this whole story up.

When something equally terrible actually happened to a 16-year old girl in Steubenville, Ohio last August – when she was raped by multiple star members of the “Big Red” football team while so intoxicated that she was unconscious – this is a little how the reactions went:

“The rape was just an excuse, I think …What else are you going to tell your parents when you come home drunk like that and after a night like that? She had to make up something. Now people are trying to blow up our football program because of it.” – Nate Hubbard, Big Red volunteer coach

“Everybody on those Web sites kept saying stuff that wasn’t true and saying, ‘Why wasn’t this person arrested? Why aren’t the police doing anything about it? Everybody wanted to incriminate more of the football players, some because some of the other schools in the area are simply jealous of Big Red.”
– Steubenville Police Chief William McCafferty

“He didn’t do anything” – Nate Richmond, defendant Ma’Lik Richmond’s father

[To the victim] “You ripped my family apart. You made my cousin cry. So when I see you it’s going to be homicide.” – Unnamed 16-year old relative of Richmond via twitter

Only some stopped to think – Does it make sense to blame and attack the victim and not the perpetrators of the crime, football stars Trent Mays and Ma’lik Richmond?

Other school officials protected the boys. Steubenville Big Red football coach Reno Saccoccia told the principal and school superintendent that he had no reason to suspend the players who posted online photographs and comments about the girl the night of the parties from play – because they didn’t think they had done anything wrong.

When approached in November, Coach Saccoccia claimed that he did not “do the internet” and therefore he hadn’t seen the photos and other evidence from the night of the rape. One reporter questioned him again on why he didn’t discipline the players, and his response was “You made me mad now. You’re going to get yours. And if you don’t get yours, somebody close to you will.” It appears that Saccoccia took further action to shield the players from prosecution, despite being aware that they had raped the young woman. Evidence introduced by the prosecution includes a text message that Trent Mays sent in reference to the attacks, in which he claimed that Saccoccia “took care of it.”

Fast forward: the two accused boys, Trent Mays and Ma’lik Richmond, are handed a guilty verdict on Sunday, March 17. They will both face time in juvenile detention centers for their crimes. At the scene of the trial, the boys cry; they apologize to the victim. And then, most shockingly, CNN cries with them. In news coverage immediately after the judgment is read, award-winning news anchor Candy Crawley and CNN reporter Poppy Harlow talk at length about how the verdict will negatively affect the boys’ lives.

The victim is a passing thought as Candy asks a legal expert what this charge’s lasting effect will really be on Mays and Richmond – and how being registered as sex offenders will make things difficult for them. Poppy also mentions that this was an “alcohol-fused party” and “alcohol [was] a huge part in this” – almost seeming to excuse the boys’ actions because of their level of intoxication. Harlow, appearing incredulous, adds that just because Mays took a nude photo of the girl and disseminated it publicly, he will serve an extra year in prison.

Sexist double standards like these are often published as legitimate news. In 2011, 18 men ranging from middle school age to 27 years old were charged with gang-raping an 11 year-old girl. This article from the New York Times focuses primarily the devastation of the town and the ruined lives of the boys, barely mentioning the young victim. In passing mention of the assaulted child, the article criticizes her style of dress and tendency to wear makeup, and places blame on her mother for not knowing where she was. Instead of asking what demented sense of morality these boys might possess in order to commit such a heinous crime, the article asks “how could these young men have been drawn into such an act?” Sheila Harrison, a 48-year old woman who was familiar with some of the offenders adds “It’s just destroyed our community.  These boys have to live with this the rest of their lives.” It’s as if the important question is, how much future trauma and bother will they be subjected to because they gang-raped an 11 year old girl?

The question I want to ask: what can be done to help the victims of rape and to prevent these horrendous crimes against women from being so commonplace, and so accepted, in our society?