James was raped. Is that a crime?

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The Independent Online
'I thought I was the only person it had happened to. For years I tried to bury it,' says James.

At the age of 10, James was raped by a man. He is one of those who have been working to start a new helpline for male victims of rape that opened in Bristol this week.

Aid such as this is a rare event. Adult men who have been raped commonly find it hard to find help, and even harder to ask for help. Their plight, unlike that of raped and sexually assaulted women, is one which wins little sympathy.

On this subject, the criminal

system is remarkably prejudiced against the male gender. A savage rape against a woman can be met with a life sentence. For an equally savage rape against a man the maximum sentence is 10 years. Are men thought to be less damaged by sexual assault? The experience of James, and of adult male victims of rape that he has worked with, says they are no less vunerable.

The man who attacked him was a neighbour. Most men who rape men, like men who rape women and girls, are known to their victims. He was married, in his mid-twenties, with children of his own.

Research suggests that the overwhelming majority of rapists who choose male victims are heterosexual. Male rape is not, as many assume, a crime confined to some kind of mythical seedy and shameful homosexual underworld. It is, like the rape of women, not a display of sexual preference, but of power.

But James, as he ran back to his home from the countryside on the edge of the town where he had been brutally assaulted, had already been made to feel a peculiar shame. 'I felt guilty. As though it was my fault. I couldn't tell my parents: somehow I thought they would have blamed me, been angry with me. I tried to hide the fact that it had happened.

'It only happened once. But after that I was always the odd one out.'

At home he had recurrent nightmares of a lorry killing a child. At school his work suffered: he could no longer concentrate. He felt uncomfortable among the other boys. His parents wanted to move him to the private school that his older brother had attended, but the tales of bullying and ragging there made him refuse. As it was he was being bullied, pushed in queues, called names. He was small for his age: perhaps that was partly why his assailant chose him. And the shock of the attack had made him quiet and introverted. He cried easily. The other boys called him a sissy for breaking the male code of invulnerability. 'I had been branded as a victim,' he says. 'I felt weak and helpless and frightened.'

That fear did not leave James when he left school, nor did it for most of his adult life. His father did have a soft side, but he presented a macho image to the world, and he wanted his son to do the same. He was aware that his son was vulnerable and fearful: he wanted to 'make a man of him', rather than questioning him to find out what he feared. The possibility of a young man being raped hardly crosses a parent's mind. But the average age of male victims, according to one study of survivors, is 20 years old.

James tried to forget the experience. 'But I knew something was wrong,' he says. 'I found it hard to relate to girls. I couldn't keep a relationship.' Like many adult male survivors of rape, he feared going out at night. He came to work in London and was twice mugged, once being stabbed in the process.

'If you are a man and you are mugged, you almost feel there's some shame attached to it. You've been beaten. And men who have been raped feel humiliated, too, because they've failed as men, failed to fight their attacker off.'

Partly to overcome an intense feeling of loneliness, he turned to alcohol, a common reaction among the victims of male rape. At 32 he sought treatment for alcoholism and, in the course of that, revealed for the first time to another human being his past. 'It was such a relief,' he says, 'to learn I wasn't the only one.' It was the beginning of a slow journey away from the control that his attacker had exercised over him for 20 years.

His fear is much lessened now, though he still is wary of loud young men in groups, and he is still insular in character. He changed jobs: now, at 45, he works in

the community with psychiatric patients. Some of his colleagues know his history and understand.

If there had been a helpline available, or the subject had been more widely discussed, James might have been able to begin this process of recovery earlier. But Survivors, the first national telephone helpline, only opened in 1986. It is able to operate just three days a week.

Male rape seems to be thought of as somehow more sordid than female rape. When Victim Support in Bristol, which has started the new helpline, was looking for sponsorship to pay for the training of counsellors, they found some companies shied away. A party to raise funds attracted only friends of the organisers, despite local media coverage. And James still does not feel able to talk publicly, under his real name, about his experience. He believes that the reactions of his neighbours and the world at large would be the same ones he feared from his family, years ago, when he ran home trying not to show tears. 'I'd worry that they'd think I was asking for it,' he says. 'Male rape is still seen as something dirty. It's still shaming.'

Bristol's helpline for victims of male rape and sexual assault is open Thursday evenings on (0272) 530808. The Survivors national helpline is 071-833 3737.

(Photograph omitted)