The men you never hear about

By Ruth Davenport

I once attended a seminar presented by a rape survivor who took us through the harrowing event itself and then got to the worst part: the call to the police immediately following the rapist’s departure.

"Who’s the victim?" asked the desk officer who answered the phone.

"I am," was the answer.

The desk officer burst into laughter, thanked the caller for the diversion and hung up the phone.

Maybe I should mention at this point that the rape survivor was a man.

The story, unfortunately, is true. Gay and straight men alike suffer sexual assault and domestic violence to the same extent, if not more so, as women.

Statistics won’t support this claim. Calgary Police Sergeant Monty Sparrow of the Domestic Crimes unit tells me that while 98 per cent of reported domestic abuse victims are female, only two per cent are male. Does that mean that men are getting abused by their spouses or partners only two per cent of the time? Not very likely.

"The number one reason that men won’t report domestic violence is because they’re more willing to accept it," explains Sparrow. "If a woman slaps a man, it’s understood he did something wrong. The number two reason is simply that it’s embarrassing."

It’s difficult to wrap westernized minds around the concept of the battered husband or male rape for the simple reason that Western society rejects the concept of men as vulnerable, weak or defenceless. Yet, there are numerous circumstances under which a man may be victimized and they don’t all occur in prisons or as anti-gay reactions. Men get beaten and raped by both women and men, straight and gay, at home, in the office and on the street-and they suffer for it in a myriad of ways.

A battered husband or partner will suffer all the symptoms outlined under the exclusively titled "Battered Woman Syndrome," though he will obviously never be able to invoke it as a defence in court for a violent reaction against his abuser. Gay men who survive rape develop strong self-loathing attached to their sexuality-as though there weren’t enough homophobia out there already. Straight men who survive rape either doubt their own sexuality or must face the age-old belief that one can’t rape the willing, despite the fact that erections can occur as an involuntary physiological reaction to extreme stress and do not indicate consent according to the National Centre for Victims of Crime Web site. The one common element in all these reactions is that the overwhelming majority the victims, regardless of age, orientation or manner of abuse, will suffer in silence.

"I’ve had a lot of chats with people who have a disappointing perception of the police reaction," says Sparrow. "[Male] victims who have lived with abusers all their lives didn’t come to us because they thought we wouldn’t believe them. Just give us a chance."

Responding to violence against men doesn’t stop with an enhanced police reaction nor with the implementation of shelters and resources for battered and victimized men. While these elements may be considered a sign of the changing times, there’s still a long way to go. There’s still a very convincing and insidious societal perception that real men will fight to protect themselves and to preserve their honour and ergo, a man who is abused or assaulted must have wanted or deserved it. "Real" men believe this and in their humiliation and shame, turn to self-destructive and violent behaviours of their own rather than admitting their perceived "inadequacy."

This is not a gender war. Male abuse is not the flipside of female abuse. The onus is not only on the victims of violence to react and speak out-it’s on all us observers to
provide a more tolerant climate in which they may do so. People abusing other people is not something to dismiss based on stereotypes-regardless of orientation, gender and manner of abuse, a victim is a victim, blood is blood and bruises are the same colour no matter who bears them.

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