Consider the Rapist: Everyone Gets Raped

It’s time to interrupt our regularly scheduled lineup of illness rants, writing news, and wacky Shakespeare happenings to bring you yet another infuriating installment of how rape culture is still alive and well in our supposedly civilized world. Three days ago, Rolling Stone published the findings of an investigation conducted by the Columbia School of Journalism on what went wrong in the exposé “A Rape on Campus,” in which a UVA student describes being gang-raped in a fraternity house. Once the account was discovered to have major inconsistencies (although it’s important to remember that the article’s subject, Jackie, gave an initial description of her assault–that she was forced to perform oral sex on several men in a frat house–that is still, by any legal definition, rape), the collective media response was to get swept up in whether or not Jackie’s experience as reported in Rolling Stone was true. What’s been lost as a result of this free-for-all of faultfinding and finger-pointing (and Rolling Stone’s decision to scrub the original article from its web site) is the fact that many, many rapes and attempted rapes have happened at UVA.

In fact, as anyone with an internet connection and the ability to type “rape” into a search engine could tell you, rape and sexual assault happen everywhere, all over the world.

You know what else you can find out if you look hard enough? Everyone gets raped.

And at the moment, by “everyone,” I mean men.

One thing that struck me after reading the Jezebel article ” ‘Law and Justice Aren’t the Same’: Interview with a UVA Rape Survivor” (see the first “many” in the above sentence for the link) is the fact that the reporter and the rape survivor, both young women, seem to have an incredibly low threshold for what counts as rape. Here’s one exchange between the two that raised my middle-aged, somewhat prudish eyebrows:

Let me ask you another question, which I want to preface by saying I understand, personally and well, that there’s a massive difference between drunk or even blackout sex and rape. But, some people really fear the potential gray area—they fear that some girls will think “regrettable” and cry assault.

I find that idea very out of step with reality, but it’s worth asking: how did you know the difference? How did you know when you woke up that you hadn’t consented? That it wasn’t just, you got drunk and had sex?

Because I couldn’t take a breath without hearing those guys joke about fucking my dead body. I knew very deep down that something horrific had happened. I knew I had not had the chance to make the choice. I did not want to fuck that guy. I did not in any way want to give him access to my body.

I know, when I’ve had drunk sex—vague memories, unclear situations—that I was an active participant. People would tell me the morning after, “You said this, you did this,” and I’d be like, “Sure, that sounds like me.”

There is a difference between having drunk sex and having someone penetrate you when you are lying there, basically unconscious.

Now, I could go into some extended analysis about the sexual mores of these two women and self-protection and all that. But I’m not going to–one, because it’s not my place to judge their mores, and two, because we’re Considering the Rapist here, and their comments give me a wee bit of insight into what college campus rapists might particularly be getting off on: bodies that are warm and limp and completely defenseless. In the Jezebel article, the interviewee said when she woke up and discovered where she was the morning after the rape, a man outside the room marveled that the man who’d raped her “is a necrophiliac, he likes to fuck dead girls.”

Hopefully, I don’t have to explain to any readers of this blog how vaginas and other female body cavities are always in use and not open to the sexual pleasure of others whether the body’s owner is awake, asleep, or incapacitated. I also don’t think I need to explain how the fantasy of a woman drunk or passed out in the vicinity of a male virgin/nerd/guy who’s hit a dry spell in his sex life is considered funny or even a dream come true in popular culture. (Just think back to the movie “Sixteen Candles” if you want a taste of how the fantasy works.) What I would suggest, however, is that men who like to fuck “dead” bodies may not stop with female ones.

So many men who patrol the comment boards of various media outlets are quick to pounce on articles that don’t consider how men who are falsely accused of rape have their lives turned upside down for no reason. I’m certainly not saying this doesn’t happen, but what I am saying is that this rhetorical stance (while being patently offensive to rape victims) seems to buy into the idea that a man can have sex with a semi- or fully unconscious woman “accidentally” or because he’s fulfilling his dream of getting laid for the first time, or getting laid with a beautiful body, or getting laid with a particular beautiful body he’s been worshiping from afar. The commenter implicitly sympathizes with the man accused: this is the dream, the commenter says, and I could just as easily be caught up in it as the next man.

What the commenter doesn’t tend to see is that people who are into raping others will rape anyone if the opportunity arises. In 2009, male prisoners-of-war in Uganda were gang-raped repeatedly by their captors over the course of days or weeks. In 2012, the National Crime Victimization Survey studied 40,000 households in the U.S. and revealed that 38% of the rapes reported had male victims. Further, over 46 percent of those rapes with male victims involved female attackers. Yes, that’s right: men can get raped by women. And according to a recent article on Cracked, the experience isn’t funny or a dream come true.

So if people who rape will rape anyone, and rapes are happening on college campuses–particularly in frat houses–what makes the men who are so skeptical of female survivors and so eager to exonerate potential rapists think that they’d be safe in a frat house after a stint of binge drinking? What makes them think that some passing fraternity brother (or group of brothers) wouldn’t find a vulnerable first-year or nerd an easy target for a reaming with an empty bottle? Or worse? Sure, guys in frats don’t want to be seen as gay, but rape isn’t about sexual orientation. It’s about power. And if a guy or an assortment of guys thinks it would be fun to fuck up your genitalia while you’re sleeping, they’re going to. Count on it.

How much money do you want to bet that there are men out there who have been sexually assaulted on college campuses, men keeping their trauma a secret because they don’t want to face the backlash if they speak up? Or because they know they’ll have to explain why they were underage and lied their way into a boozefest and got so drunk they couldn’t defend themselves? Or because they’ve rationalized the whole thing as just a harmless prank, and they were probably asking for it anyway?

We do everyone a disservice when we ignore the fact that everyone gets raped by rapists. We should find the men who get raped on college campuses and encourage them to tell their stories, just as we encourage women to do so. It shouldn’t be the case that we have to include men in an issue to get society to listen to women. But as a civilized society, we also have to face the fact that everyone gets raped and stop laughing (or, even worse, cheering) at the idea that men get raped and make a greater effort to include everyone in the healing process.

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3 responses to “Consider the Rapist: Everyone Gets Raped

  1. “How much money do you want to bet that there are men out there who have been sexually assaulted on college campuses, men keeping their trauma a secret because they don’t want to face the backlash if they speak up?”

    Oh, that’s an easy one. The entire contents of my bank account, and all the cash I can borrow from others. But it would be a sucker bet, if you were willing to take it. I already know the answer.

    If you’ll forgive me, though, you might be slightly on the wrong track with this comment:-

    “What the commenter doesn’t tend to see is that people who are into raping others will rape anyone if the opportunity arises.”

    One of the many reasons we don’t say more than we do is this very prevalent notion that when we are raped, it’s merely as a stand-in, there not being any women conveniently to hand to victimize. It’s not actually true, of course. The man who raped me barely realized that women existed. They simply weren’t part of his world. Perhaps under some extreme set of circumstances he might have directed his violence against them; I’ve no idea. But it is a fact that of the (many) people he is now known to have raped, all were boys and young men. He wasn’t looking for any random target on two legs that night, and turned his attention to me as a fall-back option. He was looking for me.

    The point is that when men are raped, they are most often raped *as men*, by people—of both sexes—who like raping men and seek them out for that purpose. Enough work has been done on patterns of perpetration for us to know that there are truly opportunistic predators, who don’t much care whether their victim is a man, a woman or a child. They can be among the most dangerous of all, because their motivation is often frankly sadistic: they get off on inflicting the maximum possible terror and pain. But they’re the exception rather than the norm.

    We’re also sensitive to the depressingly common experience of being instrumentalized, in the way you suggest here: “It shouldn’t be the case that we have to include men in an issue to get society to listen to women.” It also shouldn’t be the case that we should care about the rape of men only as a means by which we can move on to the truly important stuff. As that very good “Cracked” article to which you referred mentioned, this isn’t a competition, and compassion is not a finite resource. Provision for victims of sexual crimes of both sexes and all genders is miserably inadequate. Infinitely more needs to be done for all of them than is currently occurring, in any country. But men and boys who have been raped are just as raped as women and girls who have been raped, popular opinion to the contrary. “Including them” is not something that should be done, with an audible sigh, as a regrettable but necessary expedient in pursuing the objective of reducing the scale of sexual violence against women, vitally important though that is. It is something that ought to be done as of right, because it is right, and for no other reason.

    If men are to speak publicly about their experience of rape—and as you correctly say, there are more than enough of us out there who can do so—it will also require people to listen, rather than telling us authoritatively, from the standpoint of their superior perspective, what really happened to us, and how it matters (or, more typically, doesn’t) in the grand scheme of things. That’s not an easy thing to do, I acknowledge. Indeed, I personally don’t know anyone willing even to try.

    • Thank you so much for your powerful words. I’m so sorry for what happened to you. And you’re right–there are different kinds of rapists who are attracted to different genders. I shouldn’t have generalized about that. It’s important to get all the facts right when we’re talking about rape. Yet another reason why we should focus on the rapist and not the actions and character of the victims.
      It’s also very, very true that we should treat all rape survivors with compassion and care because it’s the right thing to do. You argue the case better than I could. My hat’s off to you.
      I don’t know why rape still has this stigma surrounding it, when over and over again we’ve seen how much trauma rape causes and how much need there is for understanding and healing. I don’t know why rape in particular is seen by society as an act that taints the assaulted, when it’s so clearly a violent, hateful act. I don’t know why prosecutors can’t bring character in when prosecuting rape cases when defense attorneys can freely bring in character issues about the accuser. (Although maybe prosecutors do, in fact, do this. I’m not well versed in legal matters.) And I really, really don’t know why male survivors aren’t being included in the conversation right now, when they really, really should be.
      I saw an article that suggested that men started reporting their assaults in the wake of the Jerry Sandusky trial. That broke my heart. The Sandusky verdict put away a grand total of one serial rapist, and only after years of warning signs, a slew of men who’d been attacked, and something like two or three years of investigation, while victim #1, the man who spoke out, was getting abused by the people of his community who didn’t like the fact that he was bashing on an icon of theirs. The whole thing leaves me speechless.
      Stay strong, my friend. And thanks again for sharing your story.

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