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Susan Estrich: Male-on-Male Rape

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.

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 www.creators.com.

Copyright 2006 Creators Syndicate Inc.

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