Editor’s Note: This post is a part of What's A Man, a series exploring masculinity in India, in collaboration with Dr. Deepa Narayan. Join the conversation here!
By Cg Akhila:
A few years back one of my old friends shared shocking details about his ordeal as a teenager. He narrated his story of being molested as at the age of fourteen. While returning alone from school one day in Chennai, he became a victim of sexual assault which later pushed him into a world of loneliness and depression. On asking he replied that he was alone that day because his parents could hardly imagine that their son can get sexually harassed too. From the next day on, he preferred taking a bus rather than that regular auto. He changed his route but could never cope with the fear and embarrassment until he became vocal about his past.
Such cases are many but never brought to our notice because these are mostly underreported by both police and the media. Underreported, because it is still not a crime in our country and neither does it fetch much hype and attention as similar cases of abuse of women does.
Since the revelation by my friend, this topic became one the most concerned issues for my occasional brooding, and I started following up on male sexual violence. While I was skimming through the newspaper at my ancestral home in Kerala last summer, I came across a news of a sixteen-year-old boy getting raped by a forty-five-year-old man in the state capital, Thiruvananthapuram. In another incident that took place in Ghaziabad last year, a male student of Delhi University was raped by the goons of his girlfriend’s father. Then, the girl’s father set dogs on the sodomised boy, rubbed salt and chillies into his wounds and left him to suffer. Then another story this year which grabbed everyone’s attention was, ‘This story of a male rape victim will shock you.‘ It was a bold disclosure by a male rape victim about how he was repeatedly raped by his uncle since he was seven-years-old. How he overcame the fear of losing his masculinity and gathered the courage not only to kick his uncle but to say no to him is inspiring for all those silent sufferers of the crime. His decision to address the issue is an example of extraordinary courage which created the much-needed ground to initiate a discussion on the issue.
While many countries including India are still struggling with this reality of male rape, Sweden has already set up the world’s first rape crisis centre exclusively for men. Sodersjukhusct hospital in the country has started a 24-hour care for men and boys who have survived rape and sexual violence. Apart from this breakthrough the only other initiative in this direction which I could find is that by UNHCR (UN Refugee Agency) in the year 2012. The agency for the first time issued guidelines for UNHRC staff and other aid workers on how to identify and support male survivors of rape and other sexual violence in conflict and displacement situations. But what else are the societies across the world doing in this direction? Well, the answer is disappointing.
Most countries don’t recognise sexual violence against men as a crime. The rape of males above 14 years of age is not a criminal offence in the People’s Republic of China. In 2013, in Indonesia, a woman named Emayartini escaped a prison sentence for raping six teenage boys on the grounds of mental disorder. In 2011, the first ever conviction for sexual assault of a man occurred with a Beijing security guard as the perpetrator. The perpetrator had to be convicted taking refuge of the crime of ‘intentional injury’ rather than rape. The country which set an example with its effort to ban cigarette and smoking, Singapore, also shows a casual approach towards this grave issue. Here a male rape victim is not considered a victim under Section 375(1) of the penal code, which defines rape as an act of a man penetrating a woman’s vagina with his penis without her consent. So the definition of rape itself needs a check to make it more inclusive for justice.
India, which is far ahead of other countries in having a stereotypical view towards gender issues, also has no place for those victims who belong to the ‘dominating’ sex. Male was the forgotten gender while the rules for rape were framed in our country. The definition of rape in Section 375 of Indian Penal code does not include rape in which males are the victims. Section 377 of the Indian Penal Code, is the only section that criminalises all acts of non-consensual carnal intercourse, including male on male rape. In 2002, the Indian government decided to change the definition of rape and make it gender neutral but was criticised on the grounds that this would harm the interests of female rape survivors and victims.
If the law itself is so insensitive then how can we expect society to be compassionate in this regard? Myths related to male rapes play a greater role in their apprehension to come forward and report the issue. Male survivors are more often left to suffer silently. The worst taboo associated with his suffering is that of the loss of masculinity. How can a ‘protector’ be the victim? How can a man be raped? Was he a gay? Was he not man enough to fight back? These are some of the questions which the society immediately thrusts upon the victim pointing accusatory fingers. Burdened with such stigma and with the fear of being labelled ‘non-male’ and ‘non-masculine’ many survivors prefer being silent which further impacts their psychological health. People think that men are not vulnerable to rapes. But the truth is that many cases of male rapes have been reported in boy’s hostels, prisons and war-prone areas. In the case of the Syrian civil war (2011–present), such crimes have been most horrific with male detainees forced to sit on broken glass bottles, their genitals tied to a heavy bag of water, or forced to watch the rape of another detainee by the officials.
‘Men always want and enjoy sex’ is another disastrous argument which goes against the truth of them being victims of rape and sexual violence. Rejecting this myth that males always want sex, Roy J. Levin, and Wily Van Berlo wrote in an article in the ‘Journal of Clinical Forensic Medicine’ that slight genital stimulation or stress can create erections “even though no specific sexual stimulation is present.” An erection does not mean that the men consent to sex.
Silent suffering only leads to further increase in their trauma. Alizara Javaid in his research paper ‘Male rape: The ‘Invisible’ Male‘ has quoted the views of Sue Lees on this. Lees argues that “male victims quite often don’t report their case to the police due to stigma and fear that the police may think they are homosexual and not ‘real men’ for not fighting the offender off”. Javaid’s research threw light on masculinity issue and states that male rape challenges essential ideas about the masculinity of the victim. It is this confusion, shock, embarrassment, and disbelief that deter male rape survivors from reporting the crime. The very incident of a male rape makes a survivor vulnerable for jokes about his ordeal. The idea behind this mindset is that men are always expected to defend themselves, and those who can’t is not considered to be a man.
Psychologists say that suffering sexual abuse as a child can lead men to experience various psychological pressure to prove their manhood physically and sexually; be confused about gender and sexual identity; experience inadequacy, sense of lost power, control, confidence, sexual problems and a lot more.
It’s high time now that we need to stop this discrimination. We must accept that rape is not limited to traditional notions; it is not limited to gender. We must recognise rape as torture and rape as rape.