There’s a really important resource for those of us who work with or have pen pals in prison: 1 in 6. 1 in 6 is the (low) estimate of the number of men who were sexually abused or raped as children or teenagers by adults – including far more women than society wants to think. Actually, why doesn’t EVERYBODY check out the 1 in 6 website right now? I promise that this blog post will be waiting for you. This is such an important issue that receives so little practical support, why not get educated so you can be part of the solution? If you are a man who is a survivor or the partner of one, 1 in 6 offers actual help: “Free and anonymous chat-based support groups for male survivors of sexual abuse or assault—and partners of men—who are seeking a community of support. Each group meets weekly and is facilitated by a counselor.”
As young women, my friends and I often shared our own experiences of childhood sexual abuse and rape, often with nervous laughter, a defiant look, or a dead, numb look and tone. It’s usually a sign we haven’t processed and integrated it. Very few of us at that stage will call it what it was – rape, incest, assault. We just tell the event(s) like out of context stories, often drunk at the end of Girls’ Night Out. My generation, Gen X, was taught rape was a stranger with a knife or gun in a park at night and had various ways of protecting ourselves. In reality, those ways, including self defense classes, didn’t address the biggest problem: almost 90% of those who experience sexual violence knew the person who did it – often very well. We had no language for it and then somewhere in our 30s, often when raising children who are around the age we were when violated, the word finally bashes its way into our consciousness: rape. And nothing is ever the same again.
I’ve heard transgender friends share their childhood sexual abuse truths with the same dull voice that comes from repeating it to therapists like rote memorization, too. It’s not an event that skips or chooses queer, trans, cisgenger, straight, class, lookist, race, faith or any other people.
This includes cisgender men – hetro, gay, bi, ace and whatever other labels used for sexuality.
I don’t know if I’m unusual in being the “only person that I’ve ever told” for so many men. Women tell me about their horrible experiences, too, very quickly. I think I give off a “harmless” vibe. (Male friends say I confused them with how easy it was to talk to me and feel safe, even if attracted to me.) Maybe I am so ADHD open about myself, it’s contagious. Or people can tell I don’t ever assume anyone would go through the Hell of claiming something that can temporarily destroy their life (community support for survivors is usually nil) and have it be a lie. The effects live in the survivors, while the rapists and paedophiles almost always seem to bounce back to their regular life. Maybe raping is their regular life. With 1 in 4 women raped, especially 1 in 5 raped in the US military by a “fellow” American soldier, and the 1 in 3 women who have been raped being raped by a group of men, you’d think that we’d all know lots of rapists. Add this 1 in 6 when it comes to men, we really should all know tons of rapists.
We do. It’s just that people don’t want to believe that their friends and family members could be rapists. I had a husband confess to me that he raped someone – and he didn’t even see it as rape. Evidently she was now feeling strong enough to tell people. He told me first, saying in a disgusted tone, “We were practically having sex, and SHE SAID NO, but at that point, what did it matter? We’d already done other stuff.” My heart froze and head went numb. He left the country soon after this and years later I read the online that he was sexually assaulting women, and I certainly don’t doubt them. Sisters harmed by him, I’m sorry, and I got your backs.
But did I connect the word “rapist” to a husband I suddenly hated? To someone who literally fell off of my respect radar? No, strangely, I didn’t. “She said no” were his exact words and that he didn’t care. Rapist. That an otherwise intelligent, progressive man who even did half the housework without me asking would do such a thing didn’t quite click. Maybe I was in shock. I only cried once in our break up and divorce, and always wondered why I wasn’t feeling as nearly distraught as I had been over my old boyfriend in that that break up.
It would not be until my second marriage, hearing my new husband – a “salt of the earth” guy – talk angrily about how he should have had sex with his passed out prom date because she’d said they’d have sex that I thought RAPE. I sat on the couch watching him clench his teeth in rage about not taking an opportunity to rape someone, and my own experience of being raped started churning deep inside, fighting to get away from him. I thought I was crazy. The more misogynistic he revealed himself to be, the more a person who wanted to rape and said felt little control around 14 year old girls (the age I was when raped by someone I trusted completely in all matters, including to respect the fact that I wanted to stay a virgin), the more my subconscious and consciousness minds fought, bringing me to a nervous breakdown.
As I did rape recovery work, I started wondering not about my friends who in their teens and 20s spoke of their rapes as if they were normal pieces in a Norman Rockwell painting puzzle that wouldn’t quite fit, but about why no guys stopped these rapes. Many girls were raped in public, like a friend who was passed out in back of a truck where all the high school kids were tailgating (except there was no game; trucks in graveyards or parked along Main Street was there all the town’s action happened). While passed out, a guy raped her as (she learned later) others cheered him on. Or in situations, like where a friend was offered a ride home from a party by two male friends when she was fifteen and was raped, where two or more guys rape a girl they know and will see every school day; how did it never eat away at one of them? Where are all these men now? Our co-workers, our neighbors, people in our religious and political communities – are they haunted? Do they try to block the memories? Are they afraid, like my rapist, that because there’s no statue of limitations on raping someone underage in that state, that at any time their victims could all tell the police now? My rape is filled with various rape related agencies. His wife, saying I wanted it in writing, collaborates with all the other evidence. The thing is, his life is so terrible, for now, I’d rather let him live in fear. The combination of crystal meth and now methadone has ravaged his body and he’s universally hated (often behind the back) by everyone I’ve ever met who knows him. His wife’s family, including a rather popular blueglass roots band, disowned her for marrying him.
I had known a Cornell University student of poetry whose predicted brilliant career kept being disrupted by stays at state mental hospitals, then alcoholism, and finally suicide. His mother had sexually abused him. In the 80s, before the book Courage to Heal (written just for women) even was published, there were almost no resources for survivors of childhood sexual abuse, and certainly nothing for men – especially men who were violated by women, and even less for those who lived through incest by the mother.
The Goddess Spiritually movement really helped me as a teenager to process what of my rape I’d allow myself to name. Mostly I was enraged and for a year my body – almost independently of my mind – physically attacked every man I knew who treated women poorly. This included the man who raped me. A local saying was “Where Heather goes, bruised shins are sure to follow.” But the Goddess Spirituality movement at that time never told me how patriarchy hurts men – although I can’t blame it, as women were *just* barely getting any evidence that once upon a time, we mattered. Instead, it led to women having to figure out how someone could have power and not be an abuser. It was like being a victim made you good, because having power was too male. We were still in a binary world, and thank the deities that Starhawk invented terms like “power -within”, “power -over” and “power-with.”
Now I’ve moved from blaming patriarchy to blaming kyriarchy: “derived from the Greek words for “lord” or “master” (kyrios) and “to rule or dominate” (archein) which seeks to redefine the analytic category of patriarchy in terms of multiplicative intersecting structures of domination… Kyriarchy is best theorized as a complex pyramidal system of intersecting multiplicative social structures of superordination and subordination, of ruling and oppression.” – Elisabeth Schussler Fiorenza, Wisdom Ways: Introducing Feminist Biblical Interpretation
Today most rape crisis centers have absolutely nothing to offer the 1 in 6 men sexually assaulted or raped as children and teenagers. Liberal Vermont has terrible services in general. The same goes for domestic violence – if a man or transwoman wants to stay at the shelter last I heard only one Vermont shelter allowed transwomen and none allowed men. Lionel Richie was the first famous man to speak out about domestic violence against husbands. (Maybe he was also the last?)
Queer people rape and sexually abuse children, too, but finding ways to talk about it without giving fodder to homophobia has been difficult. A gay friend with a gender neutral name was drugged and raped in college. He called 911 and the police arrived with the rape kit – and made jokes when they saw the victim was a man. A woman I met was sexually abused by her mother’s lesbian partner in the 80s. For liberals*, how were we to process this? Gay women were capable of sexually abused 3 year olds? Stand by the victim and risk looking homophobic, in a world that already too often thinks homosexual and paedophilia are the same? Meanwhile, domestic violence in gay and lesbian couples was causing a similar issue. Do victims speak out and ask for help – knowing that some people would call them “traitor” and remove them from their part of the queer community?
This was happening in activist circles, too. Only a couple years ago did Earth First! finally support a woman raped and manipulated by an older male guru type when she lived in a group with him protecting wolves. She lost her entire support network when she left and told. Her story is so common, it’s why leftist groups lose women so frequently to feminist women only groups. When your male heterosexual lover values everyone in the world more than you, and everyone working for change ignores the kyriarchal, misogynistic status quo in the leftist scenes, it’s hard for a self-respecting women to remember why she bothers in the first place. (A woman who was a working member of my old food co-op said of meetings “The two men in the collective argue with each other loudly, we watch unable to get a word in, and they arrive at decisions we approve because we just want to leave. I don’t think they realize that they’re not in charge of the collective. They never make any space for how we, the majority of the working members, all women, discuss and make decisions when alone. 90% of the membership are basically tokens. If I yell and interrupt like they do, they say I’m being emotional.”)
So if it’s *this* bad for women and people in the LGBTQ community, two groups that are proven to have less equality in this society, to have people believe that we’ve experienced sexualized violence plus deal with the fall out against us, imagine how hard it is for the supposed “winners” in kyriarchy? But I’m not writing about adult men – that’d require more research. I’m writing about children who are physically small and vulnerable, and teenagers who are psychologically not adults and, like children, dependent on adults. And when they are at an age and place in life when they feel they can (or must, for their sanity) tell, they ARE men.
I’ve known a lot of men who honored me by sharing their pain with me before anyone else. Some had been sexually abused by the so-called “typical pedophile” – a person who doesn’t care what sex the child is. One was “lucky enough” that the Uncle violating him had also sexually tormented his mother, the pedophile’s younger sister, so the family was not surprised. Some classist people assume this is “white trash shit” – this was a wealthy family. Another was sexually abused as a child by his Wiccan High Priestess’s boyfriend, the current High Priest. Others had female babysitters who called the boy “gay” in order to confuse him for not wanting sex with her (these women ranged in age from 17 to mid 30s) and while his mind said no, his body responded to her touching. This can happen to women, too, and doesn’t mean that the rape was desired. It’s just a normal, basic physiological response. Others woke up after a party and found themselves tied to a bed with a woman having sex with them. (How many parents are teaching their sons about rape and the dangers of women, including girlfriends?)
It’s not “just” things done to the body. Sexual abuse includes seeing things inappropriate for the age or that the person didn’t want to see. One man told me about seeing a pornography video with older guys when he was a child. It gave him insomnia,which he still had when stressed, the images coming back. A group of siblings told me about being at a Wiccan wedding in the 80s where the Great Rite was physically enacted by the couple as everyone watched. (If Paganism doesn’t own the disgraceful aspects of its past, we’ll be like the Catholic church and have others tell the media for us. All religions have people in power who abuse it, especially sexually. Those who clean house on their own like the Episcopal church in the 1990s don’t have to deal with being “outed” like the Catholic church, in its attempts to keep things “hush hush.” The New Age movement has a lot of abusers to name as well.)
Are there any books specifically for these different men? Go to Amazon and search. Ok, now go to your yellow pages or DuckDuckGo and find the local Men’s Rape Crisis Center. Check the therapist listings at Psychology Today for therapists who are trained in working with men who were sexually abused as children. Think about how our society talks about men who were sexually abused or raped as children and teenagers.
What’s the recovery option? For a lot of survivors of all genders it’s self medicating.
If about 1 in 100 Americans men are in prison, and drug possession is the reason 7 in 8 prisoners were convicted out of the 80% there for drug related crimes, and we know that many survivors of sexual abuse and rape self medicate, do you suspect that maybe some of the 1 in 6 are in prison for possession of drugs that lots of people have tried? Or were like 14 year old me, kicking and punching every jerk I knew?
If you get the trust of someone in prison, and that can happen quickly as they’ve been ignored and dehumanized for so long, you will hear secrets. As you show that you are trustworthy, reliable and honest (including about setting and maintaining boundaries), like with any close friend, you may get the “I was raped by my Aunt” or “My family’s pastor molested me” one line, followed by “But it didn’t affect me. I don’t know why I’m even telling you since it’s not a big deal.”
And you might learn this NOW especially, with media coverage of things like #metoo, R. Kelly, Corey Feldman, and Afrika Bambaataa.
A lot of the trauma of sexual assault and rape depends on how the people closest to you react when you tell them. Remember that you can make a huge positive impact if you listen, believe, and respect the desires of the person telling you about their experience. Do not explain their experience to them, tell them to confront anyone, or tell anyone. Trauma is about powerlessness, so recovery has to be in their control. Prison does not offer decent psychological services to inmates who have a psychological disorder on record. They certainly won’t offer anything for a man who experienced childhood or teenage sexualized violence. Often the few psych workers at a prison don’t even have private meetings with patients. Instead, very personal matters are yelled about through the cell door, allowing the other inmates and guards to hear. The guards have no education about psychological issues, especially at state prisons. So if you were going to say “Tell someone,” don’t. If they had someone to tell they would have already. “When we push others to get help, we’re often responding more to our own (difficult to tolerate) feelings than to the other person’s needs.” – 1 in 6. You’re it. You’re the only resource the person has.
When this happens, go to the 1 in 6 website. Copy everything, print it and send. Next write with your pen pal or talk on the phone/ in person about trauma, discussing how it’s affected you and people you know (don’t use names) plus how our culture is a rape prone society. They are probably sure that they’re the only one this has happened to, and you want to let them they’re not alone, without triggering them by sharing traumatic details.
If they decide that the event(s) may have affected them, ask if you may email the organization 1 in 6 and have them mail a free copy of the book Stages of Recovery to your friend. It doesn’t have triggering content, which is something that always concerns me. I don’t want my friend freaking out in emotional flashbacks and end up retraumatized, naked in the hole without even a blanket.
Yep, that’s how Texas deals with prisoners having psychological problems. That’s rehabilitation, I say sarcasticly.
It’s important that you have dealt with your own sexualized violence issues. People who are in denial about a facet of reality will try to shut up anyone who mentions it. I have experienced this about disability and chronic illness, where people really need to believe it can’t happen to them, so they make up some spiritual, ethical reason why a tick bit me and millions of other people, or why I have a strong genetic response to pollution. This kind of social Darwinism “where we get what we deserve” was part of the Christian Calvinist predetermination that allowed capitalism to blame the poor for being poor. Rape survivors and people with disabilities get a lot of hurtful comments meant to comfort the person who superstitiously clings to karma or pop psychology they don’t fully understand. Don’t be one of those cowards. The person was raped because there are people who rape and this is a society that maintains the status quo.
* Interesting fact: a study entitled “Ideologues without Issues” looked at data from 2,500 Americans and found that both liberals and conservatives lean left on most issues from gun control to same sex marriage. Americans actually have a lot in common – except what we label ourselves! Once we’ve labeled ourselves “conservative” we won’t vote for the Democrats who actually represent the values we say we have when labels are removed!