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Breaking the silence

  • Published at 12:00 am August 28th, 2019
Male sexual assault
Photo: BIGSTOCK

Men get sexually assaulted too

Turag can beat you any day at football. Ask him about his favourite writer, and he will narrate the story of Sarat Chandra’s Pather Dabi, set in the context of British India. 

Most nights, when he is sure his parents have fallen asleep, he plays his guitar by ear. But on other nights, he lies down and helplessly prays to Allah to fix him because he was once molested by an elderly cousin. 

Like most people, Turag doesn’t know that sexual assault commonly happens to men. 

In Bangladesh, the Penal Code of 1860 and the Nari O Shishu Nirjatan Daman Ain 2000 mention punitive measures only for male perpetrators of sexual violence.

In reality, men can be sexually assaulted by all genders. 

Violations can take many forms, including rape, gang rape, sexual slavery, and enforced nudity. They can happen anywhere -- in schools, in farm fields, during night shifts, and even within the military.

Sexual assault carried out by men on other men remains one of the darkest secrets of war. Male detainees of the Syrian civil war experienced sexual abuse and were even forced to watch the rape of another detainee by aggressors. 

Women can also rape men.

A particular man might be physically weaker than a particular woman. He might be unconscious, drunk, physically or mentally disabled. Or he might simply not want to hurt her due to the belief that men should never hit women.

Anyone aware of how erections and ejaculations work can confuse a man and manipulate his body. The body’s automatic response to sexual stimulation can occur even when the stimulation is unwanted or unenjoyable.

Victims naturally think, “Does this really mean I enjoyed it?”

Sexual assault can occur as a part of a hate crime, too. For gay men, it is easy to connect it with the belief that they are paying the price for their sexual orientation in a homophobic society.

Contrarily, as many believe that only gay men are raped, a heterosexual survivor may begin to believe that he must also be gay. Ironically, rapists don’t question their orientation. It is often simply a display of power and revenge.

The denial of male sexual assault is rooted partly in the idea that only women are raped. Men are expected to feel safe because they are supposed to be able to defend themselves. So, when men are sexually assaulted, they immediately begin to deny that the assault has happened, asking themselves: “How could I have not fought back?” 

We are more protective towards young girls in our family. But have we ever paused to think whether or not our flawed understanding of sexual assault is making young boys vulnerable to molestation? 

Additionally, from a very young age, we internalize ideas such as men constantly wanting sex. Why did we glorify friends who dated older women? These traits are generally associated with the socially constructed concept of manliness.

Male rape victims do not suffer less than victims of other genders. Common physical effects include sexually transmitted diseases (STD), bruising, bleeding, soreness, etc. Post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) can cause flashbacks, nightmares, and severe anxiety. Suicidal thoughts are a common outcome of feeling isolated and ashamed. 

“Am I supposed to feel this way? Was it really rape? Who will believe me?” are the constant questions male victims struggle to find answers to. Social stigma discourages them to seek psychological, medical, and legal help. The Telegraph reported that 96% of male sexual assaults go unreported in the UK. 

The World Health Organization has identified sexual violence against men and boys as a significant problem that has been largely ignored by health care providers, government agencies, and criminal justice authorities. 

Men’s victimization disproves the misconception that women are harassed for the type of clothes they wear. A society that suggests women’s behaviour and freedom must be constrained to accommodate that narrative requires a deeper introspection of how we shelter aggressors. 

Rape is like that proverbial pebble in a pond that causes ripples far and wide; except it is not a pebble, but a boulder. It is a giant calamity that crashes explosively into someone’s life, and then flings shrapnel into every aspect of it, including their present, future, jobs, friends, and family.

Last week, a man in Gazipur committed suicide after a group of men reportedly gang-raped him. What did he go through? How did he look back at his life with his kids? What did he want the world to know about him?

To view sexual assault exclusively as a man violating a woman is an injustice to those whose stories do not fit the typical frame that is easiest for us to understand.

The sooner we change the narrative, the less the silence will be echoed. 

Myat Moe Khaing takes an interest in gender and indigenous politics.