RAPED: A Male Survivor Breaks His Silence

RAPED: A Male Survivor Breaks His Silence (1995)

By: Fred Pelka

Editorial Note: I did not write this. I read this a long time ago, in my undergraduate years, and it was powerful then. With time it has become only more powerful. All of the issues mentioned here are more pressing now that ever before and this story is not one that should be hidden away behind academic paywalls. This is a dose of reality that we really need. Please read and share.

– AP



The man who raped me had a remarkable self assurance which could only have come from practice. He picked me up just outside Cleveland, heading east in a van filled with construction equipment. That early morning in May I’d already spent a sleepless 24 hours trying to hitchhike from Oxford, Mississippi to Buffalo, New York, so it felt good when I was offered a ride through the western fringe of Pennsylvania. First, though, the driver told me he needed to stop along the way, to pick up some building supplies. We drove to a country club undergoing renovation, where I hung out with his co-workers while he signed for several boxes of equipment which we carried back to his van. Getting back onto the turnpike he told me about one more stop he had to make.

As a man, I’ve been socialized never to admit to being vulnerable, to discuss those moments when I wasn’t in control. I know also how women and children are routinely punished when they speak out about abuse, how they are blamed for their own victimization. The examples are endless: Witness the contempt with which Anita Hill was treated. For these reasons and more I’m still reticent, years after it happened, to recount what happened to me that day in Ohio. This article marks the first time in 15 years I have publicly discussed it under my own name. The second building seemed deserted. We went up a flight of stairs, down a corridor into a side room. I looked around for the equipment he’d mentioned, and noticed him locking the door behind us. He slugged me before I could react, forced me down with his hands around my throat. As I began to lose consciousness I heard him say, “If you scream, if you make one wrong move, I’ll kill you.”

The police told me later that the man who raped me was a suspect in the rapes of at least six other young men.

The police told me later that the man who raped me was a suspect in the rapes of at least six other young men. During the assault his mood swung from vicious, when he promised to strangle me or break my neck, to self-pity, when he wept because we were both among “the wounded ones.” In that enormous calm that comes after the acceptance of death, I wondered who would find my body.

Most rapes don’t happen like this. Most victims know their attacker(s) — he is a neighbor, friend, husband, or father, a teacher, minister or doctor. The vast majority of rapes are committed by men against women and children, and the FBI estimates that anywhere from 80 to 90 percent go unreported. Rape is an integral part of our culture, and fully one third of all women in this country will be raped at some point in their lives. But this sexist violence does occasionally spill over onto boys and men. The National Crime Survey for 1989 estimated that one in 12 rape survivors is male.

For all this, nobody really knows how many men are raped each year, or how many boys are sexually abused. One study at the University of New Hampshire found that one in 11 young men surveyed had been sexually abused before their 18th birthday. I’ve seen articles which speculate that anywhere from one in nine to one in seven men will be raped or sexually abused in their lifetime, most often by other males, but these are little more than guesses.

“Since rape is generally misconstrued to be a sexually motivated crime,” writes Dr. A. Nicholas Groth and Anne Wolbert Burgess, “it is generally assumed that males are unlikely targets of such victimization, and then when it does occur, it reflects a homosexual orientation on the part of the offender. However, the causes of male rape that we have had an opportunity to study do not lend much support to either assumption.” Groth and Burgess interviewed men in the community who had been raped, and men who admitted to raping other men, and published their findings in the American Journal of Psychiatry. In half the cases they studied, the gender of the victim “did not appear to be of specific significance” to the rapist. “Their victims included males and females, adults and children,” and “may symbolize…something they want to conquer or defeat. The assault is an act of retaliation, an expression of power, and an assertion of their strength or manhood.”

In half the cases they studied, the gender of the victim “did not appear to be of specific significance” to the rapist. “Their victims included males and females, adults and children,” and “may symbolize…something they want to conquer or defeat. The assault is an act of retaliation, an expression of power, and an assertion of their strength or manhood.”

In their article, Burgess and Groth dispute some of the prevalent myths about male rape. The first is that men simply don’t get raped, at least not outside prison. Of course, if men don’t get raped then what happened to me either wasn’t rape (the police asking, “Did you come?”), or I’m not a man (my male friends wanting to know how I could “let something like this” happen to me). The second myth — that all men who are raped or rape other men are gay—is a product of our culture’s homophobia, and our ignorance of the realities of sexual violence. Most people find it difficult to understand why a straight man would rape another straight man. But if you see rape as a way of exerting control, of confirming your own power by disempowering others, then it makes perfect sense. If it makes you feel powerful and macho to force sex on a woman or child, think of how much more powerful you feel raping another man.

“I have a special place,” the man who raped me said after a long while. “It’s out in the country, where we can make all the noise we want.” It seemed obvious what would happen to me once we arrived at “his special place,” but I knew there was no hope for my survival as long as we stayed in that room. So I agreed to go with him to “the country.” I promised not to try to escape. It is perhaps an indication of his fragile hold on reality that he believed me.

We walked back to his van and drove away. I waited until I saw some people, then jumped as we slowed to make a turn, rolling as I hit the pavement. I ran into the nearest building — a restaurant — just as patrons were finishing their lunch. Conversation stopped, and I was confronted by a roomful of people, forks raised in mid-bite, staring.

“I think you’d better call the police,” I told the waitress. This was all I could say, placing my hands flat on the counter between us to control their trembling. She poured me a cup of black coffee. And then the police arrived.

The two detectives assigned to my case conformed to the standard good cop^ad cop archetype. The good cop told me how upset he’d seen “girls” become after being raped. “But you’re a man, this shouldn’t bother you.” Later on he told me that the best thing to do would be to pull up my pants “and forget it ever happened.” The bad cop asked me why my hair was so long, what was I doing hitchhiking at seven o’clock in the morning? Why were my clothes so dirty? Did I do drugs? Was I a troublemaker?

I used to be puzzled at how the bad cop obviously didn’t believe me, in spite of the fact that, by his own account, in the months before my assault six other men had come to him with similar stories. Then I heard of the Dahmer case in Milwaukee, how in May 1991 Dahmer’s neighbors saw him chasing a naked 14year-old boy, bleeding from the anus, through the alley behind their building. The responding officers returned the boy to Dahmer’s apartment, where Dahmer explained that this was just a lover’s spat, which the police believed in spite of the youth’s apparent age, and the photos scattered on Dahmer’s floor of murdered and mutilated boys and men. The police reassured a neighbor who called again, saying that everything was all right — this at the very moment Dahmer was murdering Konerak Sinthasomphone. Afterwards Dahmer dismembered Sinthasomphone’s body.

411fd9_048fa7b0f43d433e8a7a1164503fb397~mv2.jpgKonerak Sinthasomphone (1976-1991)

Sinthasomphone was one of at least 17 boys and men raped and murdered by Dahmer, their body parts stored in vats and freezers in his apartment. It was reported that his first assaults were committed in Ohio, so I had to brace myself before I could look at Jeffrey Dahmer’s photo in the paper. At first I was relieved to find that he was not the man who raped me. Then I thought how this meant my assailant is likely still out there, looking for more “wounded ones.”

Because I gave them such detailed information — the country club, the name painted on the side of his van — the detectives were able to locate my assailant not too many hours after I was brought into their precinct. The good cop asked, after I identified the rapist, whether I wanted to press charges. He explained how I’d have to return to Ohio to appear before a grand jury, and then return again for the trial, how the newspapers would publish my name, how little chance there was of a conviction.

“He says you seduced him,” the good cop said. “So it’s your word against his.” The bad cop glared at me when I told them there was no way I wanted any of this to be made public. “You mean,” he fumed, “I wasted my whole afternoon on this shit?” Standing in front of me with an expression of disgust, he asked, “How do you think this makes me feel?”

By then it was getting dark. I hitchhiked the remaining 200 miles home, studying every movement of every man who offered me a ride. I arrived at my apartment after midnight, walking the last 10 miles.

In the weeks that followed the assault, every stupid, insensitive thing I’d ever said about rape came back to haunt me. A friend of mine had been attacked several months earlier, also while hitchhiking. She told me just a few hours after it happened how she’d missed her bus, and didn’t want to be late to work. She said the man offering her a lift seemed normal enough, even “nice.”

“You should’ve waited for the next bus,” I lectured. Today I cringe at my arrogance. Hitchhiking, like walking alone after dark, or feeling safe on a date, at work, at home, is another perquisite to which only men are entitled. How dare she not understand the limits of her freedom?

While women tell me that the possibility of rape is never far from their minds, most men never give it a first, let alone a second, thought. This may explain why they react so negatively to accounts by male survivors. To see rape as “a women’s issue” is a form of male privilege most men would prefer not to surrender. They would rather believe that they can move with immunity through the toxic atmosphere of violence and fear they and their compatriots create. Being a male survivor meant I’d lost some of that immunity. No wonder I felt as if I’d been poisoned, as if I were drowning.

For years I pretended, as per the good cop’s recommendation, that nothing had happened, secretly feeling that I was somehow responsible, somehow less masculine. The turning point came with the media storm that swirled up around the Big Dan rape in New Bedford, Massachusetts. The movie “The Accused” is based on that incident — a woman assaulted in a bar while other men looked on and cheered. Naive as I was, I figured this was a pretty clear-cut case. Where the police might have doubted my will to resist (no broken bones, no massive lacerations), here was a victim overpowered by half a dozen men. How could anyone doubt that she had been brutalized? Yet, during the trial, The Boston Herald ran the front page headline “SHE LED US ON!” I realized then that, even had I been murdered, someone would have inevitably questioned my complicity: “He probably liked rough sex.”


Spreading doubt: Meme circulated online 2013-2016

It’s just this sort of victim-blaming that discourages survivors from reporting their trauma, or seeking treatment, but there are other factors which may discourage males in particular. Homophobia for one: The sort of gender McCarthyism that labels any man a faggot who cannot or will not conform to accepted norms of masculine feeling or behavior. Men who rape other men capitalize on this, knowing that straight victims don’t want to appear gay, and gay victims might fear coming out of the closet. Groth and Burgess report, for instance, that “a major strategy used by some offenders…is to get the victim to ejaculate.” This “strategy” was attempted in roughly half the cases they studied, and in half of those the rapist succeeded in ejaculating his victim. This confuses the victim, who often misidentifies ejaculation with orgasm. It confirms for the rapist the old canard about how victims “really want it.” And, as Groth and Burgess say, it leaves the survivor “discouraged from reporting the assault for fear his sexuality may be suspect.”

For male survivors of child sexual abuse there is also the unfortunate theory that boys who are abused inevitably grow up to be men who rape. One survivor told me it was for this reason he had decided never to be a father. Not that he’d ever wanted to abuse children, nor was there any evidence he ever would. He eventually came to realize that because some rapists are themselves survivors doesn’t mean that all male survivors of child sexual abuse turn out to be rapists. Finally, rape-crisis centers, the only institutions in our society founded expressly to help rape survivors, are identified by some men as hotbeds of feminism, and many men take “feminist” to mean “man-hating.” It’s true that the vast majority of rape crisis counselors are women, that the entire stop-rape movement is an extension of the women’s movement. For the record, though, I have never felt any hostility in response when calling a rape crisis center, this in spite of the fact that RCCs are often plagued by “hotline abusers” — men who call to masturbate to the sound of a female voice.

Finally, rape-crisis centers, the only institutions in our society founded expressly to help rape survivors, are identified by some men as hotbeds of feminism, and many men take “feminist” to mean “man-hating.” It’s true that the vast majority of rape crisis counselors are women, that the entire stop-rape movement is an extension of the women’s movement.

On the other hand, I’ve run across a good deal of hostility towards women from male survivors with whom I’ve talked. One man told me how certain he was that the counselors at his local RCC hated men, even though, by his own admission, he’d never called, and knew no one who had. A while back I attended a survivors’ conference organized by a Boston women’s group, attended by several hundred women and maybe a dozen men. One of these men stood up during a plenary session to shout at the women on the podium. As an incest survivor, he said, he felt “marginalized” and “oppressed” by the way the conference was run, despite the fact that a number of the workshops were specifically geared toward males, and that a keynote speaker received a standing ovation when he described his work with boys and men. Some male survivors even blame women for the denial and homophobia they encounter after their assault. They openly resent the (pitifully few) resources available to female survivors, as if any help women receive is at the expense of men. Even Geraldo has picked up this theme: His show on male survivors ended with an attack on rape crisis centers for their alleged refusal to acknowledge male victimization.

This hostility has been exacerbated by the so-called men’s movement, the Robert Bly/mythopoetic crowd, with their “Wild Man” and “Inner Warrior” archetypes. These men say a lot of absurd things about sexual violence, not the least of which is that “just as many men get raped as women.” This last statement is often repeated by Chris Harding, editor of Wingspan, which The Boston Globe calls “the bible of the new men’s movement.” Harding is generally quick to add that most of these rapes “occur in prison” — a statement which is as inaccurate as it is pernicious, assuming as it does that a disproportionate number of male rapes are committed by working-class and minority men. The men’s movement claims that rape is a “gender-neutral issue,” and thus has nothing to do with sexism.

What is ironic about all this is that what little acknowledgement there is of male victimization generally comes from the women’s stop-rape movement. To the extent that male survivors can tell their stories, it is because of the foundation laid by feminists. So this woman-bashing is as ungrateful as it is gratuitous.


Misplaced Anger: Meme circulated by a ‘Men’s Rights’ Advocacy group.

One source of confusion appears to be the distinction between victimization and oppression. Male survivors charge that feminists see rape as a “man vs. woman” issue, emphasizing the central role male violence plays in stunting and destroying women’s lives, and they’re right. The distinction is that while many women, and some men, are victimized by rape, all women are oppressed by it, and any victimization of women occurs in a context of oppression most men simply do not understand. Rape for men is usually a bizarre, outrageous tear in the fabric of reality. For women, rape is often a confirmation of relative powerlessness, of men’s contempt for women, and its trauma is reinforced every day in a thousand obvious and subtle ways.

For myself, I don’t need for rape to be gender neutral to feel validated as a male survivor. And I certainly don’t need to denigrate women, or to attack feminists, to explain why I was abused by the (male) police, ridiculed by my (male) friends, and marginalized by the (male dominated) society around me. It is precisely because we have been “reduced” to the status of women that other men find us so difficult to deal with. It was obvious to me at the police station that I was held in contempt because I was a victim — feminine, hence perceived as less masculine. Had I been an accused criminal, even a rapist, chances are I would have been treated with more respect, because I would have been seen as more of a man. To cross that line, to become victims of the violence which works to circumscribe the lives of women, marks us somehow as traitors to our gender. Being a male rape survivor means I no longer fit our culture’s neat but specious definition of masculinity, as one empowered, one always in control. Rather than continue to deny our experience, male survivors need to challenge that definition.

As Diana E.H. Russell says in The Politics of Rape, “Women must start talking about rape: Their experiences, their fears, their thoughts. The silence about rape must be broken.

The same must be true for men. And so I offer this article as my first contribution to that effort.

I’ve been back to northern Ohio exactly once in the 15 years following that day. Seven years ago I was traveling from Boston to Chicago with a car full of friends. It was early morning, and I was sleeping in the back seat when we pulled off the highway, and steered onto a street that looked oddly, disturbingly familiar. Rubbing my eyes, I felt an unsettling sense of deja vu. And then I remembered. “Time for some coffee,” the driver said, and I wondered then if we would eat breakfast at that same restaurant, if I would meet that same waitress. We didn’t, and I chose not to tell my companions what had happened to me all those years ago.

Today I think I might be less disconcerted. Today I think I just might have told them what happened.

Originally published (1995) in Patricia Searles and Ronald J. Berger, [eds.] Rape and Society, by: San Francisco: Westview.

Further Reading

A Reply to Lauren Southern’s “Why I’m not a Feminist” by Jenna Christian in Everyday Geopolitics Huston (2015)

Men’s rights activists, gathering to discuss all the ways society has done them wrong by Monica Hesse in The Washington Post (2013)


I Was a Men’s Rights Activist by: Edwin Hodge in MEL Magazine (2016)


Hybridity, Anthropology, Comics and Pop-Culture

I’m presenting a lecture for students of anthropology of popular culture. These are the lecture ‘slides’. This one is a bit of a comics lecture – you need both audio and video to understand what’s going on.

Maybe I’ll make a video once the audio is recorded.






Magic Mike – Exploring Career Options

As I find myself getting closer to the end of my thesis I find myself contemplating my professional future. The city I live in has been plastered with posters of male strippers… Though I hadn’t previously considered stripping as a career, I find myself entertaining all manner of outlandish options…

So, with popcorn in hand, I set off to do some ‘research’.

I saw Magic Mike 1.

For the first hour I was truly floored. An excellent director, a good story that seemed to be heading to great character development. I was all like: SHIT! I came here for a movie about strippers, I got a movie about the human condition. That’s Rocky territory.

Then the movie tumbled sharply downhill. Great character set ups were given away to build up the hero, which made the film a little predictable and typically romantic. I hear the lead wrote the script, which explains everything. Ego ruined a great story.
As a big guy, I was sad to see that the stereotypical big guy (wrestler Kevin Nash) was token furniture. The dude can’t dance, which gives us big dudes a bad name. I can do a better body roll, and I’m not cast as a male stripper. If they need a replacement, they should give me a call.
Anyway, do I want to be a stripper… no. Did I learn something form this movie? Yes, but almost against its will.

TL:DR: Magic Mike, A shitload better than it looks, but lots worse than it could have been.

3 stars.

Then, I saw Magic Mike XXL…

I’m going to say something controversial.
There was something real about the first Magic Mike. There was something real about the fact that the only actual characters in that film were whiter than mayonnaise. There was something real in the fact that the female audience were mostly cast from a model agency. Something real about the constant need to affirm heterosexuality. Even about the puke-inducingly perfect American-dream male lead.
Magic Mike was a realistic white boy fantasy of a ‘stripper with a heart of gold’ where the lifestyle comes with perks which are in tension with the consequences of constant self-objectification.

Mike XXL gives up on all of that.

Consequence, character and complexity are traded for universal accessibility. Where Mike 1 was unashamedly a story from a fixed perspective, Mike 2 tries to cover all possible audiences and be a universal fantasy. In a excruciatingly transparent bid for appeal it reaches out to all the audiences the first film neglected: we like gay people! we like ethnicities! we like women of all body types! Theoretically, that’s great, but for all the effort Mike XXL puts in to be appealing, it put very little into anything that resembles content.

What do we get? We have a road-trip, feel-good bromance about aging strippers with a heart of gold. The movie works so hard to be inoffensive that, at times, it actually feels like its aimed at a family audience. A family comedy about a group of nice-guy-sex-objects trying to discover who they are and getting up to hijinks along the way.

The best part was the audience reaction. The all-female cinema I saw the film in swooned, giggled and gasped at every cue. Which was a useful tell about what we all were watching. The first movie was an ambitious story about the consequences of a fantasy lifestyle. The second is the fantasy. And as a pure fantasy, it had its moments. It was fun.

Do I want to be a stripper? Sure, why not! All I need to do is master three moves. The fall-down floor-hump. The thrusting-body-roll. And the simulated crotch-sniff. I was pleased to see that my freerunning background would give me a head start. Did I learn anything? No.

TL:DR: Magic Mike XXL, everything you expect of a family movie with strippers.

2 stars.

Body Shame, Neoliberalism and Rhetoric

I’ve been reading about how bodies (as in, your body) and neo-liberal politics (like those of your government) interweave. I think its really important. Governments convince us of their plans and ideas by telling us stories with very specific language. Sometimes these tricks are transparent and silly, other times they are hidden and subliminal. When they work, we get the message without even realizing that we got it. In politics, these are called social narratives. There are tonnes of examples in how language is used to change the message. Kinda like economic and political refugees became ‘boat people’ and then ‘queue jumpers’, then, in the language of folks like Donald Trump ‘rapists’ and ‘terrorists’. This is where things get really scary and insidious.

One really clever trick of neo-liberal policy is shame. This is stolen from the Advertising industry. Advertising gives us images of beauty that most of us physically can’t meet then shames us into consuming stuff with the promise of reaching that impossible ideal (like surgery, gym memberships, cosmetics, shampoos, etc). This is the idea of ‘body shame’ and the advertising industry uses the language of ‘health’ and personal responsibility to sell their product. The neo-liberals use it to sell their agenda. We can all agree that most of us can do things to be more healthy. We can’t control everything, but generally, we can eat well, exercise, meditate or do a whole bunch of other things to make ourselves healthier and fitter. There is a level of personal responsibility involved. Like advertisers, the neo-liberal system uses the language of health to push aside real reasons behind peoples economic difficulties. It promotes the idea of discipline and merit as the only reason that a member of the public might be in economic strife.

Obviously, this isn’t true. I’m a migrant, and I saw from the experience friends and family how substantial an obstacle an accent can be when a person is looking for work. Or how difficult it can be to get that gig if you can’t afford a suit for that interview or the fare for the bus to get to the job. Countless studies show that class, race and sex play into economic success in major ways. This is a truth that is so well documented it is impossible to deny. It is very inconvenient to the neo-liberal world view. Since denial is impossible, the task becomes to silence the complaint. To get people to not talk about the real issues that challenge the neo-liberal ideal. The solution that is used is shame. If personal responsibility is drawn in, people can’t help but feel that their failures are their fault. Talking about it directly is bad, because if the neo-liberal establishment comes out and directly accuses everyone of their failure people will talk back about circumstance… an argument that wouldn’t play out well. So, instead the analogies begin. The reasoning goes, most people already have body shame, lets move this shame into the political realm:

“Neo-liberalism is a political rationality that tries to render the social domain economic and to link a reduction in (welfare) state services and security systems to the increasing call for ‘personal responsibility’ and ‘self-care’. In this way, we can decipher the neoliberal harmony in which not only the individual body, but also collective bodies and institutions (public administrations, universities, etc.), corporations and states have to be ‘lean’, ‘fit’, ‘flexible’ and ‘autonomous’: it is a technique of power.”

The genius of this is that it implicitly turns people into fat. If you get messed over by an unjust social or political system, clearly the system is to blame. If that system is ‘fit’, ‘lean’ and ‘healthy’ the whole thing turns on you – you are the waste, fat and decay. A trick of language that effects our thinking.

While there is always a level of personal responsibility for health AND ones place on the ladder of economic success, this tactic is designed to swing that balance into the realm of impossible ideals. In reality we know not elements of health can be controlled. Illness is conditional and inherent as much as it is controllable. So is economic success. We can’t all be Steve Jobs, because we don’t have his specific skills, networks and privilege, just like we can’t all look like Scarlett Johansson because we don’t have her bone structure. Nor can we all swim like Ian Thrope because we don’t have his body type and his big feet. We need to understand the rhetorical weapons used to sell dangerous ideas. Otherwise, we reach the increasingly common reality: people start to fall by the wayside because of their circumstance and we are all too ashamed to talk about the true nature of their, and our, social troubles.


The quote is from: ‘The birth of biopolitics’: Michel Foucault’s lecture at the Collège de France on neo-liberal governmentality Translated by Thomas Lemke