Breaking the silence around same-sex rape

Like many people, Kathy Walsh did not realize males could rape other males until she saw the movie “Deliverance” when she was a teenager. “Pulp Fiction” did the same thing for today’s youth with its graphic depiction of same-sex rape, and the men in both movies were reluctant to come forward and talk about what had happened to them.

"Men are reluctant to come forward when they have been sexually victimized,” Walsh said.

Walsh is the executive director of The Tennessee Coalition Against Sexual and Domestic Violence (TCASDV), which among other things advocates awareness and education about sexual violence. “I think people are less likely to come forward about their experiences with being raped or sexually assaulted by someone of the same sex because of all the taboos. I think it is very much hidden in the community.”

But men are not the only victims of same-sex rape. A woman can rape another woman.

“I think with woman to woman sexual violence that there is a real denial because we don’t want to think of females as predators. I think rape in the gay and lesbian community overall is pretty well hidden,” Walsh continued.

Rachel Cook Freeman, clinical director of The Rape and Sexual Abuse Center (RASAC), wants to help educate people as to what rape is.

“Rape legally is defined as penetration, be it oral, anal or vaginal. It does not have to be penile penetration to be considered rape. There can be woman on woman rape because there are other forms of penetration. Any other type of penetration by a finger or an object would be considered rape as well.”

According to the U.S. Justice Department, one in 33 men has been a victim of rape or attempted rape compared to one in six women. Experts say men are less likely to come forward due to fears of being perceived as weak or they think it hurts their masculinity.

“There are many extra barriers to gay and lesbian victims coming forward,” said Freeman. “Three of the biggest barriers are disbelief, denial and homophobia reactions. So many myths about opposite sex rape make the woman feel she deserved it. These myths are the same for same-sex rape. All victims have to deal with these myths. It is important to break down these myths. Rape is rape. Regardless of drugs, alcohol, being asleep…if there is not consent, it is rape.”

”We need to identify that it does happen,” Walsh said. “The more we talk about it and identify and demystify it, the more likely people will be to come forward for help. I think things like this article are important. The more we write about it, the more people will talk about it. It is also important when survivors speak out. It is so powerful because it lets people know they are not alone.”

Like opposite-sex rape, the perpetrator in same-sex rape is most of the time someone the person knows.

“You are more likely to see date rape, partner rape, or acquaintance rape than stranger rape,” said Freeman. “Also, rape can be a big part of a domestic violence relationship.”

This is not always the case, however. In December, there was a report of a serial rapist in Texas who had struck five times that the authorities were aware of. They fear there were more victims who were too ashamed to come forward. Also, there have been reports of predators using the Internet to find victims.

“We are hearing more about same-sex rape because it is often a hate crime,” said Freeman. “The rapist can be heterosexual or homosexual. The act of rape is not sexual; it is about power and control.”

“It is possible there are times people in the gay and lesbian community stay quiet longer because they are afraid to bring more negative publicity to the community,” said Freeman. “With all the myths of sexual deviancy and immorality in the gay community, it can be difficult to get people to believe that rape has occurred.”

“We need to create specific services to help the victims of these crimes,” said Walsh. “I think it is very important that people have people they can talk to.”

RASAC provides counseling for rape victims. “Every rape client we see, one of the issues they struggle with is relationships,” said Freeman. “One of the goals is to increase their feelings of trust and intimacy to allow them to have healthy relationships. Once you have been abused or raped, there are triggers that can bring back the memories. It is important to have a supportive partner to help recognize when that happens. It is important to recognize those triggers. Taking control of the situation is one way for victims to regain the control they lost when the rape occurred.”

”Rape is not biased. Rape is not gay or straight. It can happen to anyone,” said Freeman.

If you are the victim of sexual assault, you can call the RASAC crisis line at 1-800-879-1999 for help. April is Sexual Violence Awareness Month. There will be a statewide awareness event featuring David Keith, actor in such movies as “Officer and a Gentleman” and “The Rose”, on Wednesday, April 25 on the floor of the Tennessee House of Representatives.

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