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Male Rape: The Resilient Taboo

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"Something was either slipped into my drink or I effectively drugged myself, but either way it doesn't matter; what matters is how that person took advantage."

Peter* is sitting down in an empty university classroom on a sunny afternoon. Although he starts off describing what happened to him in a very matter-of-fact tone, his words slowly become heavier with emotion, all while he holds himself.

The 23-year-old student from Dublin, Ireland, was raped by another man two years ago, but it has been a long and dark journey before admitting it to himself in recent months. In the last few weeks he has told his boyfriend of six months, a select few of his friends, and his work colleagues. Because of how it happened, he doesn't remember his rapist's face or much else about him. At the time he was taking medication for depression, which is why he's not entirely sure whether his drink was spiked or whether the medication, once mixed with alcohol, made him vulnerable.

"I was going through a period of deep depression," he explains, "and I had taken to going out on a Friday night and getting incredibly drunk with friends. That was a way of numbing the pain for a couple of hours. But ... I don't know if I was spiked. I found myself in this person's house, with no recollection of getting there."

"I knew what had happened was awful, I knew it was wrong, and I knew anyone else would tell someone or run to the police. But because I was so depressed at the time, I had no self-worth. I had no self-confidence. I just kept going with being in denial about it, going to college and acting like everything was fine. That is why it wasn't dealt with until a couple of months ago."

It wasn't just Peter's emotional or mental health that was damaged, however. The physical result of Peter's rape was a sizable anal fissure (tear) that will require surgery, as previous treatments don't seem to be effective. Despite it already being two years old, Peter admits that he doesn't know how long the fissure will take to heal: "It could be two months, it could be six months, it could be a year."

Although Peter didn't want to let it affect his work life, it inevitably did. In an attempt to distract himself from his trauma, Peter overcompensated by taking on more shifts in his new job. That quickly led to him breaking down in the staff room in front of a co-worker, who noticed that he was acting strange. "All these customers were queueing to get a drink, and all I kept thinking is that I had been raped. [My co-workers] were brilliant with me when I told them, though."

Male rape is not a trauma that only gay men are subject to, however, and the Rape Crisis Centers in Ireland do not include sexuality in their statistic reports, although they have noticed a recent increase in attacks on trangender people. "I think most men might not report it or seek help," Peter fears, "because [they think] that's somehow invalidating their masculinity. They would think, 'Why wasn't I able to stop them?' A lot could have sexual crises over it, making them question if they are gay. It's horrible to think that society makes them think that. It's because of all of these taboos around a man being raped that I believe the figures are so comparatively low."

Although the numbers may be low when compared with those of female clients, Ellen O'Malley-Dunlop, CEO of the Rape Crisis Center in Dublin, has noticed a recent rise in men coming to the Center to avail themselves of their services. "The percentage [of male clients] has jumped from 11 percent to 19 percent in recent years.... We don't know why, but we're hoping that it's because of our awareness campaigns." The Center has made major efforts to raise awareness of their services with media campaigns, including posters on buses and advertisements in cinemas. There are two different versions of their posters: one showing a male face, the other female, to show that rape is not exclusive to either gender. However, O'Malley-Dunlop does acknowledge that there are cultural restraints against male victims. "For a man to be attacked by another man," she concedes, "it seems to create a stronger silence." The rise in male attendees to the Dublin center, however, shows promise of those social taboos breaking down.

Today, Peter is in a "very open, honest, mature relationship," which he is certain has helped him through his process of coming to terms with what has happened to him. He was glad to announce during the interview for this piece that he has been depression-free since February of this year and looks forward to finishing his college studies. He has recently started counseling to deal with his trauma, but he insists that this is not something he will allow to break him.

*Peter is not the interviewee's real name, but he asked to identified as such for the sake of this piece.

For further information, contact one of the following centers:

USA: rainn.org
Canada: casac.ca
England and Wales: rapecrisis.org.uk
Scotland: rapecrisisscotland.org.uk
Ireland: rcni.ie