Stigma powerful for male victims of rape

Published 12:00 am Thursday, September 4, 2003

A man said he was raped last Monday in a motel on Main Street. That’s rare &045; not necessarily because men aren’t raped, but because few ever come forward, some experts say.

The rape of a 19-year-old was one of two or three adult male rapes reported in Albert Lea in the 18 years Assistant Police Chief Dwaine Winkels has been here, he said.

Statistics are hard to come by. The numbers the FBI collects nationally don’t include male rape because the data-recording method defines rape as a crime against women. A method that does count rapes against men was created in the 1980s, but only 23 states use it, and Minnesota does not. A survey by the Bureau of Crime Statistics in Washington, D.C. doesn’t have enough participants to give an accurate sample because the crime is so uncommon.

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And it’s impossible to know how many occur, since many victims never come forward to be recorded.

But at least two organizations that run e-mail discussions on the subject say only a few members who were victimized have gone to law enforcement. Rape of both sexes is widely regarded as underreported compared to other crimes.

The experience for men is not completely different from what a woman goes through &045; blaming oneself and feeling violated.

But there are also strong stigmas that keep men from coming forward for different reasons than women, said Richard Gartner, a psychologist and president of Male Survivor, a group that deals male victims of rape.

&uot;They feel both violated and hurt, and all the things we associate with rape. But men deal with a lot of things that deal with what it is to be a man. We tend to see women as victims, but if a man is violated, he feels he is not a man,&uot; he said.

He said that rape can make a man question if he is gay, and make him feel weak and robbed of his masculinity because he didn’t protect himself.

There is also a fear that others will feel the same way about him. He said that straight and gay victims often feel at fault, thinking they were in a situation they could have avoided.

Rape of either sex was rarely reported until it became a women’s liberation issue in the 1970s, said Lara Murray, a senior program director for the National Center for Victims of Crime. She said many programs that came out the movement excluded the possibility of men being victims and inhibited men from coming forward.

&uot;If I’m a man do I really want to call the women’s center about being assaulted?&uot; she said.

In fact, some states’ statutes define it as a crime against women, she said.

She said groups like Gartner’s, which is only 10 years old, are a fairly recent phenomenon. Recognition of the crime has increased recently because of the Catholic church rape scandals, she said.

Winkels said he thought men don’t come forward for the reasons Gartner described, but also for the same reasons women have. &uot;We’re a fairly small community and it’s extremely difficult to keep secrets in a small town,&uot; he said.

He said it takes courage and fortitude to come forward for what can be a difficult process.

Investigations and trials, he said, require victims to recall disturbing memories and relive traumatic moments. He said that support from an advocate, a close friend or a relative is crucial to someone is traumatized.

Despite the difficulty, there is at least one good reason for victims of rape to come forward: Under-reporting can allow rapists to continue to prey on people and get away with it, Winkels said.

(Contact Tim Sturrock at tim.sturrock or 379-3438.)