Recently the Department of Justice redefined rape, expanding the definition to include men.
The FBI’s Uniform Crime Report had defined rape as “the carnal knowledge of a female forcibly and against her will.”
It has been long believed that only women experience rape. Or at least women were the ones most likely to experience it. However, a large percentage of men every year go through the similar shame, fear, and trauma that women experience after being raped. While the genders are different, the side-effects of the pain of rape are almost identical: denial, guilt, humiliation, anger, anxiety, depression, withdrawal from relationships, flashbacks to the attack.
Men who survive rape have one significant difference, however, from their female counterparts: men may often experience greater feelings of fear and shame. Why? Just looking at the old definition of rape displays societal views on male rape. In fact, if a male were to come forward with his story sexual assault, he legally wouldn’t be able to state that he was raped.
The old definition of rape implied that real men don’t get raped. The Department of Justice did not have programs or resources available up until now for male rape survivors. However, one in every eight rape survivors is male, so having these programs is long overdue and desperately needed.
There is an assumption that men who were raped “must have liked it” when forced to have sex with a woman or another man. This same thinking goes along with “she asked for it with the way she was dressed,” insinuating that women are at fault for being raped. The truth is, men can respond physically to stimulation even in traumatic or painful situations. This is where much of the shame arises, because male survivors of rape don’t understand why their bodies responded to the abuse. This is confusing for the survivor and can also provide leverage for the abuser.
There are more and more stories every year coming out about the sexual abuse of young men. At first it seems scandalous. Look at the Catholic Church and the Penn State Football program. It is treated in a way that makes the sexual abuse of boys of young men seem so rare that when we hear of such stories society reacts in shock and horror. But, as these stories continue to emerge, it is clear that such abuse is not so uncommon.
Sexual abuse for each gender should not be treated differently. The forcible nature of sexual assault or rape is equally traumatic and disturbing for either gender. While the U.S. government waited so long to define rape in a way that covers both gender, police departments have been struggling with how to prosecute cases that involved male rape victims.
Hopefully with this change in the definition of the law, it will give more men the courage to speak out and go forward with pressing charges. A young minister in Alabama told his story of being sexually abused by one of his superiors while studying to be a minister.
He went on to explain, “If you had sex with a little boy in Alabama, they would call it child abuse but they wouldn't call it rape. So I think this will make a uniform statement of law across the country and help the many abused victims that are out there.”
The harmful effects of sexual abuse should be treated equally for both sexes. Neither sex is immune to the pain of rape or sexual assault. If society continues to define abuse by gender differently we will alienate survivors of abuse. Silence will continue to dominate, and in turn, so will the abusers.
I’ve said it before, and I’ll say it again, rape is rape. It doesn’t matter who you are or what your age, race, or gender is. It is my hope and desire that men and women who have survived sexual assault will be able to come forward together with their stories and help bring an end to the stigmatization of rape in general.
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