Not long ago, a young man named Justin Kardel, who was totally unknown to me, approached me via Twitter and asked if I’d consider featuring an essay of his. Now, my initial reaction was to decline; a lot of strangers ask me to publish their stuff, and if I did that I wouldn’t have room for much else. But something in his quiet, respectful manner captured my attention, and when I read his essay I found it a well-written and thoughtful look at a topic which isn’t discussed often enough: rape in which the victim is male.
Just over two years ago, on October 31st, 2013, I was raped by a man I had recently started dating. We had only gone on one other date and he was a perfect gentleman; he constantly complimented my looks and my style, we had great conversation and he seemed kind and considerate. He even paid the check, which is quite the godsend for a starving graduate student. So we decided to go out to a club for Halloween. I remember being handed a lot of drinks but I don’t particularly remember him having many; however, I was paying more attention to the costumes, the beautiful young men and women in the club, and dancing.
When last call came, we went to his place, where he continued to give me mixed drinks (constantly topping them off with 1800 tequila). He started kissing me, and I felt somewhat uneasy about it but went along without saying anything; I was lit and not really able to voice my concerns. Then he pulled out his penis and attempted to force me to perform oral sex on him. I protested and refused, but he kept trying, pleading and cajoling me until I eventually acquiesced. And then he raped me. At first it seemed normal; I didn’t enjoy it, but they are all different and you never know what it will really be like with a new partner during the first one. In my inebriated state, I thought the reason I didn’t enjoy it was because he was an incompetent lover; I was upset that he couldn’t satisfy me and I was angry that he went through with all this trouble without being able to seal the deal. But the next day I knew it was much more than that, so I blocked his number and purposely attempted to forget his name and face. After about a month I had largely succeeded, or so I thought; I had a sense that the incident might qualify as a sexual assault, but I convinced myself that it hadn’t affected me. Furthermore, I’ve suffered from worse assaults, like the time I was stabbed by an acquaintance; in that case I didn’t go to the police or even tell anyone for years because I took the attack as a strong sign that I needed to leave that circle of friends. Additionally, I didn’t want to waste my time and risk interaction with the police, nor did I really want to see him put in jail as I do not believe in the effectiveness of incarceration at preventing crime or reforming criminals. I felt the same way about the sexual assault, only more so.
Anyway, I didn’t think much about the incident, at least not consciously, until I was dumped by my girlfriend recently; since I really loved her and thought we had a great relationship, I started reexamining my past lovers to see if I could get an idea of what I had been doing wrong. When I did, my assailant shot to the front of my mind and I immediately recognized what I had denied for so long: I had been raped. I was devastated, and didn’t know who to tell (if anyone); I pride myself on my independence and I felt he had taken away my sexual agency because I haven’t been attracted to men ever since the rape. Also, I am a large, 6’5” male and should have been capable of warding off a man 7″ shorter and 60 pounds lighter than me; even given that, I was unable to stop him and became his accomplice during the rape. That fact has been very hard to deal with; even though I know the sentiment is retrograde, I cannot help but feel that I’m less worthy as a victim because I should have been able to resist. Eventually I started talking to one of my most trustworthy, easy-to-talk-to and open-minded friends, and then came the tears. I was finally able to accept it. It. Wasn’t. My. Fault.
I was violated, but it didn’t diminish my value as a human being. I may have been robbed of some of my sexuality, but we change as we age and grow and I don’t think I will be any less happy for that in the long run; to believe and act any differently would just give more power to his sexual violence. It’s water under the bridge—the best thing to do is not to hang onto the past, especially when there is nothing you can do to erase it. I forgave him, but only for my sake; I will never see or hear from him again and he will probably ever admit that he raped me. But I don’t particularly care. Prison wouldn’t solve anything, and the courts are loath to prosecute date rape cases and even less likely to prosecute homosexual rape. I forgave him so I would not carry that grudge, the kind of grudge that can corrode one’s heart, mind and soul; I know too many who have, and their lives are diminished by it.
But even given all that, I wanted to write this article because of the dearth of conversation on the rape of males in America. I hesitated for so long because of the stigma associated with it, but I think my story and those of thousands of other sexually-abused men must be told. Much like other marginalized groups such as sex workers, the only way to get any change in this country starts with wide exposure. It’s true that far fewer men report being raped than women; the CDC does not even report numbers for male rape, and men report sexual abuse at a rate only 58% that of women. But this is still a massive number of people, and is surely hugely under-reported because the stigma against men claiming they were raped is even worse than it is for women; furthermore, it does not include the most widely known type of male rape: prison rape. Over 200,000 men are sexually assaulted in prison every year, and the popular response is another hoary old “don’t drop the soap” joke or a statement that it is justified by their conviction for a crime. It’s sick how popular this sentiment is; rape rates in prison approach or even surpass those in sub-Saharan African war zones, yet few care because they think men who get raped are not “real men” and prisoners deserve that kind of treatment anyhow. It’s disgusting, and it’s got to change. I forgave my rapist so I could move on to do better things and live a fulfilling life. But I will never forget him, and he will forever inform me of the extreme brutality and trauma of rape, and why it must be addressed honestly and effectively. And for that I thank him.