Male on male sexual assault isn’t about sexual orientation
In recent days, there have been a number of media reports that have cropped up involving men who have been raped by other men in prison. Perhaps you have seen them?
One involved a Zimbabwe man who was found guilty of forcibly sodomizing his cellmate. In that incident, a judge ruled that the person was guilty and sentenced him to an additional seven years.
The other story involved a Colorado prisoner who filed a federal lawsuit, alleging he was sexually assaulted by another man while guards did nothing.
Sadly, some in the media have reported on these stories in ways that are dismissive and frankly, disgusting. Without calling out specific websites, we’ve even seen a few stories that intimate with a wink and a nod that somehow, the guys were “asking for it”.
And that’s really unfortunate.
The hard truth is male prison rape is real. As reported by ABC News, over 200,000 men are raped in jail each year. That metric, which ABC got from the organization Stop Prison Rape, is likely much higher.
That’s because most men who experience some form of sexual assault in jail don’t report it. The reason? Shame. Yep, that’s right – shame. They don’t want to get tagged as “not being man enough” because [stereotype] “real men don’t get raped”.
Part of what fuels that shame is fear – fear that they’ll get labeled as weak or – yep, you guessed – gay.
As a counselor who has worked with many male victims of sexual violence, I can tell you that rape has absolutely nothing to do with sexual orientation.
Instead, it’s about power and control.
Yet, we continue to see some in the media report these stories in ways that focus on the victim’s sexual orientation instead of the crime.
Recently, I spoke to Michael Salas, a licensed mental health counselor in Dallas and Certified Sex Therapist. Salas helps male victims of sexual assault as part of his counseling practice. Here’s what he shared with me.
“For heterosexual men, there can also be shame about having their sexual orientation unfairly questioned. The shame that these men can have can make them feel weak, as if they “let” it happen.”
And therein lies the problem. The more the media focuses in on the sexual orientation (straight, gay, bi) of male rape victims, the less likely these men are to step forward and tell their stories.
As part of this piece, I also spoke to Meredith Alling. She is the Development and Communications Director for 1in6.org; a non-profit organization that provides support to male victims of sexual assault and their families.
According to Alling, “From an early age, men begin receiving the message that they should never be, or even appear, weak or vulnerable. In fact, the idea that men cannot be victims is central to gender socialization,” she said.
“These kinds of myths around masculinity can cause shame and guilt for a survivor. Add to that the public silence and stigma around the issue, and we find that most men who have had such experiences do not begin to address the negative effects until their late 30s, 40s, or 50s, if ever,” Alling added.
In reporting stories of male sexual assault – in prison or otherwise, it is imperative that news organizations, including niche websites, focus in on the crime that took place and not speculate about “motives for victim reporting” or “sexual orientation”.
To do otherwise only promotes stereotypes. Additionally, it silences the voices of victims who desperately need to share their stories as part of the healing process.
Here’s the hard truth – men are raped in prison- straight and gay – and it doesn’t have jack to do with with their sexual orientation. Period.