The Media and Male Rape Victim Erasure

Jan 8th, 2013 by Nicholas Pell in Politics

News media articles about rape are, if you’ll forgive the indelicacy, “hot” right now. I see at least a half dozen on individual attacks or the nebulous “rape culture” every day. The latest bit of brain candy making the rounds? An infographic with questionable methodology. The infographic shares a commonality with most articles penned on the subject: There’s no such thing as a male rape victim, apparently. However, a quick bit of math suggests that men may more frequently the victims of rape than women.

The elephant in the room here is prison rape. Everyone knows about it; It’s a staple punchline to 10,000 tasteless jokes. That’s about the only acknowledgement you’re likely to see.¬†Less often, but still quite common, are the references to prison rape as some kind of value added punishment. After all, the men getting raped have been convicted of crimes — they probably deserve everything they have coming to them, right?

Above I claimed that it’s possible there are more rapes committed against men than women in the United States, a bold claim requiring bold evidence. So let’s break down what I meant by that and how I arrived at that conclusion. First, I’m not stating that more men are raped than women, though I suspect this might also be the case. My claim is that there are more actual rapes committed against men than women. Also, for the sake of simplicity, I am limiting my scope to the United States where I don’t have to consider things like rape as a weapon of war.

Now onto the math. First, it’s worth noting that the Justice Department has reported an 85 percent decrease in rapes from 1980, another statistic rarely acknowledged, but really even one is too many. How many rapes committed against women is that per year? According to the Department of Justice, somewhere in the neighborhood of 300,000.

Here’s where things get tricky: Getting an estimate of the number of men raped every year in prison is next to impossible. While rapes outside of prison are certainly underreported, the stakes are much higher on the inside. Those who report a rape inside don’t just have to worry about being murdered for reporting the crime; The very acknowledgement of their crime makes them more vulnerable to further attacks. Once one has been identified as a “bitch,” there’s no undoing the stigma. Estimates of male inmates raped range from 2 percent to as high as 20, but again, there’s basically no way of knowing for sure. So let’s split the difference and call it 11 percent. Out of a total¬†2,418,352 inmates, a whopping 92 percent were male, giving us roughly 2,224,883 men behind bars. Using our 11 percent number that means about a quarter million men are raped every year — and those are just the ones in prison.

Now it’s time to acknowledge the nightmare only previously hinted at above: Male rape victims in prison are rarely attacked just once. Gang rapes are more common than not and the end result of most sexual assaults in prison is one of two things: A target on the victim’s back inviting more rapes or straight out sexual slavery. Anti-rape activist Donny the Punk was raped by a couple dozen men more than 60 times over the course of three days the first time it happened to him. During his second incarceration, he was the “girlfriend” of a handful of marines who raped him repeatedly every day. Such experiences behind bars are more common than not, and the danger of a sexually transmitted infection, including HIV/AIDS, is very, very real. Donny the Punk died of AIDS he contracted during his first prison rape.

So why does the media not acknowledge these statistics for the most part? A few reasons I think. First, let’s be honest, basically no one cares what happens to someone behind bars. You couldn’t fill a thimble with the tears shed for inmates in this country where the prevailing ethos is more jails, more prisoners, more guards, more cops, more guns. The public is generally out to the right of prison guard unions who actually like things like cable television and weight rooms behind bars because it provides them with some bargaining leverage against unruly prisoners. Still, there’s another reason I suspect the problem of prison rape goes completely ignored on the left: Most of the victims are white.

I have little doubt that people will go ahead and find articles about prison rape and pretend like this is evidence of widespread awareness and disapproval. In response to that argument I have one thing to say: When was the last time you saw a single article about prison rape or sexual violence against men on your preferred social media feed? When was the last time mass rallies of the Take Back the Night or Slutwalk kind were organized against sexual violence against men? Short of Just Detention International asking me to write a postcard at Christmas, there doesn’t seem to be anything in the way of grassroots activism against prison rape.

It’s an epidemic problem and I’m waiting for a single one of the dozens of articles I see about rape on my feeds every day to acknowledge it. Good thing I’m not holding my breath or I’d be in trouble.

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