Male assault

Those who have been raped often feel that they have somehow lost their manhood.

rape 88 (photo credit: )
rape 88
(photo credit: )
Rape is a difficult enough subject for women. But for a man who has been raped, the shame and anguish can sometimes be considerably worse. A myth exists that men cannot be raped. Those who have often feel that they have somehow lost their manhood. Ron Yakir heads the National Men's Hotline For Sexually Abused Men and Boys, an offshoot of the women's Tel Aviv Rape Crisis Center. The hotline was established in 1990 by the executive board of the Tel Aviv center in response to male callers who, when phoning the women's crisis center, preferred speaking to male counselors. Today the Men's Hotline receives calls from as far afield as the United States. When the line was first set up there were no statistics available about male rape in Israel, so the center used the United States and United Kingdom as their benchmark, assuming that the numbers were much the same. "In the US, one in six men has been sexually assaulted at some point in his life," says Yakir. "In the UK, the figure stands at one in seven. In children up to the age of 12, the number of boys who have been sexually assaulted is equal to the number of girls, and children are the most vulnerable [victims to attacks]. Most callers to the hotline are men who've been attacked by another man or group of men. Many report incidents from the army, particularly during initiation ceremonies. "They don't define it as group rape," explains Yakir, "but older soldiers have forced new recruits to perform oral sex on them. They often cover them with a blanket and because the soldier doesn't see what's happening, they can't prove anything later on." For sexual assault to happen, Yakir stresses, sexual organs don't have to be involved. A man doesn't have to get an erection; neither does there have to be sexual passion. The hotline's definition of sexual assault is quite simple: if a man feels he was sexually assaulted, he was. "It starts at a young age: a father, grandfather, uncle, babysitter or teacher abuses a boy. We don't teach our children about the possibility that sex can happen between two males, so when a boy is sexually assaulted by another male, he cannot translate what's happened to him as something sexual." And despite preconceptions, men can be raped by women. "We know that mothers sexually abuse their sons. We also have calls from men who were forced by their female bosses to have sex with them. They say 'I'll report you to your wife, she's not going to believe you.'" In Israel, the problem is compounded by the pervasiveness of a Strong Male stereotype: Israeli men are educated to become warriors. "A lot of Israeli men go to the army where they're taught to be strong, defend themselves, be in control. They're ashamed, afraid the police won't treat them right, afraid nobody will believe their story. They're worried that people will think they're not man enough to deal with the situation on their own." Only about 5 percent of men report the abuse to the police, compared to 20% of women. Nevertheless, in its first year the hotline received 19 new callers. By last year the number had risen to 700 with a total of 1,700 men phoning in to report sexual abuse. "We expect to have a 25% increase this year on last year. In the first eight months of 2005 we already grew by 25%," says Yakir. Just as startling are the statistics put forward by the Hotline for Sexually Abused Religious Men and Youth. Based in Jerusalem but servicing the whole country, the Religious Men's Hotline assists observant men. In the two years since its inception in 2003, it has received nearly 200 calls. "Religious communities tend to try to deal with their problems internally so serious issues often don't get out," says volunteer Shalom Atlas. "Sexual issues are usually not talked about - by men or women - although obviously religious people have sex lives and there are all kinds of dysfunctional behavior within communities." One of the main differences between the two lines is in the religious line's sensitivities to language. "Secular people are more specific in the way they describe secular acts. We are not," says Atlas. "It's very unusual for us to use the word for the male sexual organ and men seldom tell us exactly what happened. They might say 'he touched me' or 'he tried to get it up.' We are also sensitive to issues of sin and belief. If, say, a 12-year-old has been raped by a teacher, rabbi or someone in his family, what adds to his trauma is the question 'why did God allow this to happen to me?' We have to hear the level of pain in his belief." While stories of sexual abuse against men are acknowledged and related in the Bible, they perhaps merely highlight the fact that the Bible recognizes the immorality of such acts. But that's little comfort to a young boy who might, within the confines of a religious community, consider himself "damaged" and therefore not a great "catch" for a potential shidduch as a result of abuse. So taboo is the subject that the religious hotline has not yet received formal rabbinic approval. Some volunteers have even come under criticism for being associated with it. This doesn't, however - as Atlas is at pains to point out - prevent the hotline from finding a rabbi who is able to give support when the need arises. "Someone I know told me that when he was five, his upstairs neighbor told him he had to look into his pants to make sure he wasn't wetting them. He said to me, 'I guess that was abuse,'" says Atlas. "He didn't realize. I know a 28-year-old who was raped by his rabbi when he was 13 and didn't tell anyone. He can't be the only person in Israel who has had this happen to him. Men who've been sexually abused can sometimes feel confused about their identity. "It doesn't mean you're gay if you've got an erection during the abuse. It's a natural physical response and nothing more," says Atlas. Chapter 3 of Ecclesiastes speaks of a time to keep silent and a time to speak. Atlas urges all men who are in need of help to seek assistance. "In Hebrew, to remain silent means to hide or keep secret. It's not just a question of saying or not saying it. It's a question of hiding it or not saying it. It's not appropriate to keep silent. There is nothing more terrifying for a man than to imagine that he can be raped. Above all, our goal is to give back to people who've been sexually abused a sense of being in control… because sexual abuse is the ultimate loss of control." • Calls at both hotlines are confidential. • One-on-one counseling and support groups are available. • Assistance with opening a case with police is given, but only if requested. • Hotline for Sexually Abused Religious Men and Youth 532-8000. • National Men's Hotline for Sexually Abused Men and Boys 1203. • SAWA (Arabic) crisis hotline 582-2211.