In the weeks since Harvey Weinstein was revealed as Hollywood’s most notorious sexual predator, countless news stories have illuminated the extent to which women are abused, harassed and sexually assaulted by men — especially men in power. In America, an assault happens every 98 seconds. 90 percent of the victims are women. Many women feel powerless, or that reporting these crimes will make no difference, meaning that two of every three assaults go unreported. It’s not hard to see why; victim-shaming continues to happen, stories continue to be denied (Lena Dunham, I’m looking at you) and men in power continue to go unpunished, a fact proven by our very own pussy-grabbing President.
There is, however, an under-discussed fact which needs to be highlighted — men are victims of sexual assault, too. Statistics show that one in six men has had an unwanted sexual experience in their lives, a fact recently humanized by men like Anthony Rapp and Terry Crews, both of whom bravely stepped forward to share their own stories of sexual abuse. A quick scroll through any Internet comment section, however, reveals that these men are being weaponized by misogynist trolls looking to silence women. The fact that men are raped doesn’t negate the severity of the problem being disproportionately faced by women. If you think it does, you’re part of the problem.
This doesn’t mean that we shouldn’t be trying to understand the problem and help to eradicate it. Men live in a world which conditions them to behave like men, whatever the hell that means. After all, nobody can really pinpoint a universal definition or image of masculinity; sure, we deem muscle bros, aggressive bread-winners and men in positions of power to be somehow more “manly,” but these stereotypes change alongside cultural context and are never, ever stable. There are some common assumptions though, and one is that men should be strong and silent instead of being vulnerable and open to emotional discussions — we should “man up.” This attitude partially explains why a staggering 96 percent of male sexual assault (according to UK statistics) goes unreported, and why men are committing suicide at alarming rates — especially in the UK, where it’s the biggest killer of men under 45.
Actor Terry Crews hinted at this when he discussed his experiences (allegedly being groped by Adam Venit at a busy party) by saying it made him feel emasculated. The assumption is that when men become victims, they are weak — they’ve somehow failed the weird macho test forced onto them by society. In the case of Crews, the importance of race cannot be underestimated. Black actors are still cast in the role of “thug,” and that this assumption of hyper-masculinity leads to them being profiled, disproportionately incarcerated and even killed. If Crews — a tall, muscular black man — had punched Venit – a white gay man – he would likely have been profiled as the aggressor.
When actor Anthony Rapp came forward to speak about the time a drunken Kevin Spacey made passes and eventually climbed on top of him when he was just 14 years old, a very different conversation ensued. Famous shit-talker Morrissey first blamed Rapp’s parents and then blamed Rapp himself — hardly surprising words from a man now well-known for his wild and often racist, Islamophobic comments – whereas Spacey himself shrugged it off, said he couldn’t remember and then came out as gay. Problem solved! Depressingly, Rapp’s story isn’t a rare one — five percent of boys and 20 percent of girls in the U.S. are victims of child sexual abuse.
Furthermore, Spacey’s bullshit “apology” and subsequent comment that he was both drunk and secretly gay reinforce the damaging assumption that homosexuality and pedophilia are the same thing. They aren’t. The insinuation has historically been weaponized against LGBTQ people. It happened in the UK in the form of Section 28, a piece of legislation that kept queer teachers out of education just in case they, you know, rocked up in drag and conducted secret gay conversion courses to a soundtrack of Judy Garland and Mariah Carey. More recently, trans people have faced a barrage of discrimination in the media, which is similar in the sense that it usually uses the subjects of kids, education and schools to argue that their existence is NSFW. Trans kids have become the scapegoats of this conversation, and it needs to stop.
The irony in all this is that LGBTQ communities are actually more likely to be victims of sexual violence, especially trans people. There are also other factors to consider, namely that trans people are more likely to be impoverished — a statistic which can’t be ignored, especially in the context of trans women being murdered while fighting for survival as sex workers.
Even as a white gay man in a relatively privileged position, I’ve experienced my own share of sexual assault; I’ve been masturbated at, backed into corners, kissed, licked and groped in broad daylight, flashed by strangers, had my hand shoved down the pants of random men and been threatened with rape. But in my own experience, it has still been men — sometimes, but not always, men I knew to be straight – that abused me.
This obviously isn’t always the case, but research on female perpetrators of sexual violence is still scarce. Last year, The Atlantic reviewed one comprehensive report that collated various studies of sexual violence. Although men were still disproportionately named as abusers, the number of women that were guilty of sexual abuse highlighted that more work needs to be done, especially in prisons where female workers were actually more likely to abuse female inmates than their male counterparts.
In a post-Weinstein world, we understand that sexual assault is complex — anything from forced penetration to groping, harassment and propositioning can constitute abuse. As our understanding broadens, so does our line of questioning. We need to look at what can be done to protect men from sexual violence, but we must also acknowledge that women, LGBTQ people and PoC (people of color) are still at disproportionate risk and, most importantly, that stereotypes like the black thug and the queer pervert are muddying the discussion. It’s time for men whose voices have been silenced by the societal stranglehold of masculinity to start sharing their own experiences. Anthony Rapp and Terry Crews may have opened the floodgates, but now it’s time for men to start sharing their own stories and contributing to a conversation that desperately needs to develop.
If you have been sexually assaulted, there are resources to help you.
- Main & Featured Image: STV