The FBI estimates that only around 37% of rapes are reported, the Department of Justice estimates it’s more like 26%. The CVC states that approximately 28% of victims are raped by husbands or boyfriends, 35% by acquaintances, and 5% by relatives. That is over half of all rapes being committed by someone the victim knows.
But we know all of this. We’ve always known this. For decades we could count on the fact that a person would be sexually assaulted, in this country, every few minutes.
But that’s not why I’m writing this.
I’m writing this because of a man I met, about four years ago. I was in one of those ‘life-changing‘ programs where they lock you in a room with a few hundred people, a few hours a day, and you do exercises that help you figure out how to take better control of your life. Picture Tony Robbins meets Oprah. I’m not knocking it, it was a pretty amazing four days.
But what stuck with me most was this guy I met. I’ll call him Brian. Brian was in his late 20’s. For one of the exercises we had to go up to a stranger and start a conversation, Brian picked me. We talked. I found out he was there with his brother and his girlfriend. They were all trying to start a business together but kept hitting road blocks. After much soul-searching, they figured out it was their own fears that were causing them to self-sabotage their own business. They decided to spend the money and attend this program–their future depended on them getting their act together.
He was a really nice guy and he invited me to lunch with them. His girlfriend and brother were kind as well and were all very focused on their new business endeavor. I couldn’t see any reason they would not succeed.
The next day we did a few more exercises, and in-between these, they would have a period where people could stand up and share their ‘a-ha‘ moments as we went along. There were over 400 people, so some days this could take just a few minutes. Other days, we could be sitting there for an hour listening to these stories. But it was fascinating. Fascinating to watch people figuring out their lives, their destructive behavior, how the habits they created from their childhood were debilitating them as adults with their relationships, their families or their jobs.
I saw one man, on the third day, stand up and apologize to the guy in charge that he was going to have to leave a day early. When asked why, the man simply said, “I disowned my son 12 years ago because he told me he was gay, I just realized today, that is something I cannot live with one more day. I’m going straight to the airport, and I’m flying to California, to hug my son.” He handed the microphone to the person next to him, and with a room full of applause and tear-filled eyes, he strolled out.
It was that type of program.
Later that day Brian got up to talk. I looked at his girlfriend. She shrugged, she had no idea what he had to share. He talked about their business, how his girlfriend and brother had put all their money and time into what was originally his dream and how he felt he was letting them down. He said he was scared. He said he had been scared for years now. He then, with shaky voice and shaky hands, begin to tell a story about what happened to make him so fearful.
He had gone into the Navy straight out of high school. He was 17, but his parents signed the paperwork, they knew there were no options in their lower-income life. A common story in America today. He talked about how he was on a ship in the middle of the ocean, when the first incident happened. His superior raped him.
He started crying as he talked, I looked over at his brother and his girlfriend, they were in complete shock.
He said he had no idea what to do. He was scared to death at what would happen to him, not only if he would get in trouble for saying anything, but from his fellow Seaman, would they think he was lying? Would they think he was gay? Would they harm him? He was embarrassed, he was ashamed and he fell into the classic victim stance of being too frightened to even be able to make a decision or take a step in any direction. It happened a few more times over the next few months. He never told anyone.
Then he stopped talking, and just stood up there in front of 400 people, and he cried. We all cried.
Men get raped too.
Sometimes it’s in the military. Sometimes it’s in prison. Sometimes it’s in High School. Sometimes it’s by a relative. Sometimes it happens when you’re a kid and sometimes it happens when you’re an adult. Rape estimates, for men in this country, are anywhere from 90,000 to 300,00 a year. The thing is, as you can well guess, most men don’t report it. Fear, embarrassment, whatever the reason, these men learn to just ‘suck it up‘ – the way we were told to do as children, when things happened and they wanted us to ‘be a man.’
I saw him later that day. We hugged. I told him that if I only got one thing out of this retreat, it was the fact that I had befriended one of the strongest people I’d ever met. I still believe that today.
This is in no way downplaying the amount of women who are assaulted in this country, not by any means. That number is horrific and disgusting and we need to not stop talking about it each and every day it continues. But I wonder if once in a while, when we quote the horrible numbers of those people who are taken advantage of in this country, there’s an entire group out there that should not be ignored. Not everyone gets the opportunity Brian did, to stand up and face their demons in the safety of a loving group of people. Maybe, in some way, we can all become that safe place for the rest of us by not forgetting this isn’t an issue that just affects women – it’s a human one. Just a thought.
And a side note, the amount of time it took you to read this article, 2 to 3 people in this country were sexually assaulted. Men, women and children. This needs to stop. One way, the very least we can do, is keep the discussion going. There’s a Facebook page called Rape is Never Justified, a daily reminder this is an ongoing problem. It may seem like a small gesture, but if nothing else, let’s at least start here.
Vince is the author of Einstein’s Shutter, among other works.