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Susan Estrich: Male-on-Male Rape

Posted on Dec 20, 2006

Susan Estrich

“None,” the police officer in charge reported to my student.

That was the answer to how many instances of rape of men and boys had been reported in the city (it happened to be Boston, where I was teaching at the time) in the previous year.

My student was incredulous. He knew of more than one. “None” was simply not a plausible answer.

What was going on?

I have been working in the rape crisis field for more than 20 years. I was one of the first clients of the Boston Area Rape Crisis Center, in its earliest days, more than 30 years ago. This is my passion, or one of them.


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And yet, in all these years spent traveling across the country speaking to groups about rape, writing books and law review articles aimed at legal reform and, most recently, training lawyers and other professionals to work with rape victims, I have spent my time almost exclusively in the company of women, helping women. Once, in San Diego, I met a man who worked for a treatment center focusing on male victims, most of whom were afraid to report, afraid they’d be treated like “fags” by the police (even though some were straight), too humiliated even to tell him what had happened. Can you blame them?

We need more men on our team. We need to bring male rape into the 21st century. “None” was never the true answer. It certainly isn’t today. What “none” means is that serious criminals are getting away with rape, and boys and men are suffering the stigma of shame along with the pain and anguish of brutalization.

In Houston, police announced Monday that they are working to find the man who is responsible for the rapes of at least five teenagers since mid-September. I say at least, as did the police, because they believe there may well be more victims who are simply too ashamed to come forward. It’s the “pride thing,” as one officer, Lt. Richard Whitaker of Baytown (where two of the attacks took place), described it.

The attacker’s pattern is eerily familiar. He appears to be between 18 and 21 years old. His victims have all been males in their late teens. “I think he just sees one that he prefers, and then he begins to follow them and gather information, finding out where they live and watching their house,” Lt. Whitaker speculated. His modus operandi is simple: He attacks at gunpoint, robs them and rapes them, usually in or near their homes. Investigators believe that, notwithstanding the robberies, rape is the motive.

Male rape in the 21st century resembles nothing so much as female rape in the 19th and early to mid-20th centuries. Men are afraid to come forward for many of the same reasons women were (and some still are)—fear they will be blamed for their victimization; that their sexuality will be the issue, not the assailant’s wrongdoing; that they will never escape the stigma, no matter how blameless they are. The supposed offense to the male ego—the gay-bashing, the guffaws—has no place in dealing with a serious violent crime. And yet, to deny its prevalence is to ignore how serious and difficult this problem will be to address.

Boys need to be taught that it isn’t their fault if a man with a gun (or even without one) rapes them. They need to be taught that it doesn’t matter whether you’re gay or straight: No one has the right to force sex. This is a crime of violence, not sex. They need men—in police departments, hospitals and district attorney’s offices—with the training and expertise to deal sensitively with the physical and emotional issues involved, in order to win the victim’s cooperation, in order to catch and successfully prosecute the perpetrator. They need, in short, all the support structures we have built for women victims, and then some. It is time to take male rape out of the closet and deal with it in the courts.

The man who attacked me used an ice pick instead of a gun. He followed me into my parking lot and stole my wallet and my car. In so many respects, other than my gender, it is just the same as what is happening to boys in Houston who are as old as I was then.  It is time we treated it the same.

To find out more about Susan Estrich and see works by other Creators Syndicate writers and cartoonists, visit the Creators Syndicate website at

Copyright 2006 Creators Syndicate Inc.

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By Anton, February 25, 2009 at 11:33 am Link to this comment
(Unregistered commenter)

It is my understanding that the VAST majority of rapes involving adult male victims occur in prisons.Although the rape of adult men outside prison walls does occur,it is VERY RARE.
But what is far more common is the rape of boys(under 18)by adult men and sometimes by other boys; which undoubtedly is grossly undereported.

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By Skruff, December 24, 2006 at 6:49 am Link to this comment
(Unregistered commenter)

There is very little common ground in Male and female rape.  Although I am aware that the politically correct crowd wants all dissimilarities removed, the fact remains that a likely product of male on female rape is a child, Male on male rape produces no such ongoing reminder.

While the jury is still out on the causes of male female rape, there is only one reason for male male rape. Of course this is another inequality that liberals don’t wish to hear or address.

In addition to taxing us for more services, giving lawyers more work, what is to be gained by bring this issue forward. 

Thanks for the thought, but any such “problems” with which I have to deal, I’ll do so without a thought about what’s the currently “in” abuse de jour! Or conversely how society wants me to behave.

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By CJ, December 23, 2006 at 10:16 pm Link to this comment
(Unregistered commenter)

I’m glad to see Estrich—obviously a female AND a feminist—brought up the subject, which is never brought up. Toby’s got it right (also regarding suicide by males), whereas busta’s comment is, in its complete vacuity, offensive. Most male-on-male rape occurs in America’s vast prison system, wherein are incarcerated one-quarter of the world’s prisoners. Prison is big business—naturally, in capitalist America, wherein no “variable” capital goes to waste, except as unemployment is essential in the maintenance of slave wages. Prison labor undercuts even slave wages.

Even on entertainment programs as fine as “Law & Order,” cops and prosecutors use the probability of rape in prison as leverage, such that mere execution seems only mildly too harsh punishment. The fact is, most Americans think men bound for prison deserve whatever happens—so much for the myth of a compassionate America and for the myth claiming that Hollywood is liberal. The Romans were more kind-hearted. At least they sent prisoners off to die, or to realize a very real freedom (as opposed to the ersatz “freedom” Bush is always spouting off about), as Gladiators. (Michel Foucault is particularly relevant on the topic of social control by means of the threat of incarceration.) Most Americans, however, don’t mind a bit the utterly dehumanizing degradation that is the rape of a male by another male. Indeed, such rape is even more dehumanizing than in the case of rape of a female, for at least one obvious reason I need not mention, but also, and not least, because American society grants tacit permission to men who rape other men. Any complaint by victims is igored.

I’m reminded of the lady teachers who get time served or probation after having raped—over and over—male students; while any male teacher convicted of the doing the same receives a sentence of years in prison, whereat he’s likely to be raped himself, if not murdered, which might be preferable.

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By probably 80% of raped women do not report it, December 23, 2006 at 4:27 pm Link to this comment
(Unregistered commenter)

There is no difference between the pride of men and the pride of women, no difference in the psychological effect of having that pride violated, except that society forces women to ‘get over’ their pride, early, from the get-go, and encourages men to overvalue their own pride for life.
Rape is a tough crime to report, period. It is even tougher to take it to trial, knowing that you have been raped and you will lose, and the jurors and people following the case will most likely come away thinking of you as either a vindictive liar or someone who can’t deal with sex. Rape juries, male or female, carry their society’s gender stereotypes into the courtroom. In the case of a male rape victim taking it to court, who knows how the jury would react? To some jurors it would be a more heinous crime because they think male rape is ‘unnatural’, whereas female rape, although cruel, has an evolutionary purpose. To others, it may seem less heinous, because a man should be more able to defend himself against a man. In any case the standard of proof SHOULD be the same. But would it be the same? Would a higher percentage of male rape victims win their cases? I have a suspicion they would. The thing is, if the standard of proof in rape were somehow lessened for male victims, it may finally result in fairer application of justice for female victims of rape.
If you are male and you’ve been raped, then take the bastard down by taking him through the court. It takes incredible guts, and usually the only way women can make themselves do it is by thinking about the little girl who will be the next victim if they don’t. It is definitely an heroic thing to do, but there’s definitely no glory in it, just miles and miles of blame and humiliation by a society that deep down just doesn’t have much respect for ‘victims’ of any class. The rape laws in combination with persistent gender stereotypes and other prejudices make winning a rape case especially difficult. So it is rock-steady self-respect, which has nothing to do with the touted ‘male ego’, which is required here.
‘Self-respect’ in men or women is achieved the same way: by trying to do what you know deep down is the right thing, regardless of how hard it is, and regardless of how society or your peers treat you.
There is something else around these issues that isn’t much spoken of: the number (how many?) of hypocritical men out there who don’t rape, but who appreciate the fear stranger-rape generates to control the behaviour of their girlfriends, wives, daughters. For these hypocritical men, who often outwardly revile rape, and may honestly believe they love the women in their life, the rapists are performing a kind of community service.
Just something to think about.

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By Chaseme, December 23, 2006 at 5:24 am Link to this comment
(Unregistered commenter)

What do you think the war in Iraq is; it’s a case of rape? Their commander in chief being the perpetrator to thousands of men and women, for that matter, with violent, destructive, and abusive treatment they face being forced to fight a senseless war.

“It is a crime of violence, not sex. They need men—in police departments, hospitals and district attorney’s offices—with the training and expertise to deal sensitively with the physical and emotional issues involved, in order to win the victim’s cooperation, in order to catch and successfully prosecute the perpetrator. They need, in short, all the support structures we have built for women victims, and then some. It is time to take male rape out of the closet and deal with it in the courts.”

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By HeadlessHessian, December 22, 2006 at 11:17 am Link to this comment
(Unregistered commenter)

This is not new folks!  Its been in the news for decades…c’mon how about priest abuse of kids…remember the movie ‘Deliverance’, ‘ShawShank redemption’ (sp).
So one said a word!  Its time it got some attention.


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By Rick, December 22, 2006 at 6:21 am Link to this comment
(Unregistered commenter)

There is a simple and traditional method of eliminating rape from a society.

One simply kills the rapists and any who would help rapists.

If men are interested in a solution to male-on-male rape, they will probably prefer the lethal solution.  If men try to implement such a solution, they will probably try it without the cooperation or approval of women such as the one who wrote the above article.

Rape is not a crime of violence—it *is* a crime of sex.  Sometimes rape involves violence—it can just require threats of violence or the inherent power-inequality of an abusive social position.  Sex and violence are not dichotomous;  one cannot prove that something is non-sexual by proving that thing to be violent.  So long as society tries to represent sex as something inherently good, the problem will only get worse.

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By Toby, December 21, 2006 at 5:34 pm Link to this comment
(Unregistered commenter)

Once again, I think commentators have it wrong about men.  We don’t keep quiet because of pride, we keep quiet because we know talking won’t help us. Seriously; is there a rape hotline for men?  Is there a shelter for men who’ve been traumatized? I didn’t think so.

It also explains why there are so many more successful male suicides as opposed to females—women know that if they ask for help, they’ll find some.  Men have no help, and if you don’t believe me, try and find a men’s shelter in your home town.  And I don’t mean the city jail.

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By Rodney Matthews, December 21, 2006 at 4:33 pm Link to this comment
(Unregistered commenter)

This happens in America’s jails everyday.It happens in America’s homes and religious instutions on a regular basis. It happens as a result if the internet. Should anyone be suprised that men rape boys or other men? Isn’t that what jeffery dalmer and wayne williams did? Manhood and masculinity is the reason such crimes go unreported. Until society offer compassion to these victims and instill in the victims that they are not gay or less of a man or responsible for what happened to them these crimes will continue to go unreported.

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By busta, December 21, 2006 at 2:33 pm Link to this comment
(Unregistered commenter)

Ms. Estrich’s columns are drivel. She writes like her Fox News mentor Bill O Riley.  Thank the Good Lord that she does not have a show. She speaks 10 times worse then she writes.

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By Skruff, December 21, 2006 at 1:18 pm Link to this comment
(Unregistered commenter)

We have long spoken of the male assault on the feminine half of our culture.  Women say (when men discuss such things as child support custody of children, and the woman’s role in a “family”)Men just don’t understand… Their way of saying “OUR ISSUE, stay out of it!”

You for all your trying CAN’T make men women, nor boys girls.  Some stuff (because we’re men” we’ll just have to suffer alone…

So pardon me if I remark “OUR ISSUE stay out of it!”

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By phil osopher, December 21, 2006 at 10:14 am Link to this comment
(Unregistered commenter)

man on man rape is where the revolution hit a brick wall. boy bush is the meme rider of that brick wall; his era is the gannon-scenario visited on what is to w the despised middle class.

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