Society Magazine

The Major Problems With How We Discuss Men and Sexual Assault

Posted on the 22 May 2015 by Juliez
The Major Problems With How We Discuss Men and Sexual Assault

“But men get raped, too.”

Trigger Warning: In this post, I will be writing about rape and sexual assault, particularly in the case of female survivors and male aggressors. As a heterosexual, cisgender female, this is the dynamic of sexual assault about which I know the most, but it’s necessary to acknowledge that rape also occurs in ways other than this dynamic.

“But men get raped, too.”

All too often, I hear these five words used as a way to shut down discussions about rape and rape culture. I’ve heard them from men and women alike, and while this statement in and of itself is certainly true, I have a problem with using this fact as a supposed answer to the equally valid reality of rampant violence against women.

First, rape is a really difficult, often unfathomable thing to discuss. Many discussions about rape — including ones that I have overheard and participated in — involve people sharing their personal experiences. When survivors are brave enough to share their stories, it is our job to listen to them. Even if no one is sharing a personal story, the fact is that rape and sexual assault have become a prevalent part of our society. One in six women have been the victim of an attempted or completed rape in their lifetimes. Chances are, therefore, that you know multiple women and girls who have survived rape, even if you don’t think you do.

But this discussion doesn’t undermine or erase sexual assault of men. The assumption that it does is unproductive, insensitive and ultimately misses the point. Conversations about sexual assault can’t be about contests about victimhood (which is hardly a badge of honor or title to be won). They must look towards solutions and healing.

We have to acknowledge that while men absolutely experience sexual assault — and that we must fight for a world in which nobody has to experience assault — discussions of sexual assault shouldn’t be a contest of who experiences the phenomenon more frequently, nor should the validity of one’s experience be based on overall rates of this phenomenon. The undeniable fact that women experience sexual assault at a disproportionately frequent rate is salient, but not based on that rate itself — rather because that rate points to the fact that sexual assault is the result of the systemic, misogynistic, patriarchal culture that deems women’s bodies as objectified property, as something to be obtained.  Sexual assault is overwhelmingly experienced by women because men are not perpetually objectified and degraded in the same way as women are.

The other statement often made about men in relation to sexual assault is that “real men don’t rape.” I also find this statement problematic. First, who are the “real men” this statement refers to? Categorizing men in this way perpetuates an idea of hegemonic masculinity. Who defines what “real” means and what does it entail, exactly?

We must focus on the fact that sexual assault is a choice men make and one we must teach them not to make rather than enforce the idea that some men are simply “bad” and inherently, uncontrollably prone to assaulting. Rapists are not this one-dimensional, evil “other.” They are not mythical creatures from a foreign land who swoop down and rape innocent victims. More often than not they are people we know: In fact, a study conducted between 2009 and 2013 found that 82% of rapes were committed by someone the victim knew. Rapists are our neighbors, co-workers, and the celebrities we see on TV. Sometimes they are even our family members. They are always real, live human beings.

With that said, I hope everyone continues to have productive, meaningful discussions about rape, rape culture and victim blaming. Education and discussion are crucial to moving forward and making progress towards a society where rape is not a rampant occurrence.


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