Reluctance, remorse and the other "R" word

It was late May of 2010, and a bright sunrise announced another beautiful sunny day in
Seattle. The lupine, snapdragons, and bellflowers in our garden were already in full
blossom. Though I brushed by, up the steps and through my front door, I could not have
been farther away.
I stepped into my shower, the warm water providing a familiar comfort. I stood under
that jet of clean, soft water, my eyes closed, trying to find any explanation for my
situation other than what had really happened. Anything else would have been fine.
Anything, just not the R word.
The R word, indeed. The US Department of Justice currently defines rape as: “The
penetration, no matter how slight, of the vagina or anus with any body part or object, or
oral penetration by a sex organ of another person, without the consent of the victim.”
Realistically, anyone can be raped, be they male, female, gay, straight, old, young,
right, or wrong. Still, I could not accept that such a thing had really happened to me.
This was not how I’d hoped to lose my virginity; nevertheless I was grateful it hadn’t
been worse. I could have been beaten, murdered, or left naked in some unfamiliar part
of town. My wallet could have “disappeared.” I could have contracted HIV or some other
STI. Luckily for me, none of those scenarios played out.
Guilt can play a cruel part on rape survivors. Many survivors even feel that they
somehow deserved what happened, and that they are to blame. She should have worn
different clothes. He should have fought back. They should have known better.
Especially for men, cultural stigma takes it even further: what kind of man gets raped?
Military cases are particularly difficult, where until recently, even perceived
homosexuality could cost one their job.
In my life, I’ve seen and felt many less­than­savoury experiences. However, not one
compared to this one. This sickly mix of disbelief, violation, and disgrace felt like a very
unwanted second skin. I lathered up in the shower, a little more than usual with a new
loufa, as I turned my priority to just feeling, well, less gross. One lather turned into two,
then three, dozen. I just kept thinking: “no, another...” And lathered up again. Each time
with a new washcloth, and a different soap. Before long, even the shampoo bottle was
empty. Taking a kitchen scouring pad and the Dial antibacterial hand soap from my
sink, I scrubbed most of my body raw. Still, no amount of soap or scrubbing could wash
that residual second skin away.
Shame is a powerful emotion, and can manifest itself in many different ways. For
myself, and many other male rape survivors, silence is a major one. The US Center for
Disease Control and Prevention reports 1 in 71 men have been raped, compared to 1 in
5 women. The US National Institute of Justice’s figures have 1 in 33 men, and 1 in 6
women, and the Pentagon reports 1 in 100, and 1 in 5, for service men and women,
respectively.
All of these, and other, studies are quick to note that the actual numbers may be higher,
and that the statistics are unreliable because they can only be based upon reported
incidents. Most studies agree that rape is possibly the most unreported crime, especially
among male survivors.
Even now, over five years after the fact, I read such statistics with a sly eye. I know
those numbers are wrong. I know that I’m no help to the faultiness of those figures; I
never reported my case.
In several cases of reported rape, survivors find authorities to be unhelpful. Police
officers who seem dismissive, doctors who seem insensitive, judges who appear
unconvinced, and even friends who are unsympathetic.
These situations do happen, though they have been on the decline in recent years.
Regulations have been updated, procedures are being overhauled, and better training is
provided to law enforcement and medical staff.
In many ways, coming out as a rape survivor has been far more difficult than coming out
as gay ever was. Most trusted confidants dismiss my story with: “Well, it didn’t bother
you for several years, what’s different now? Get over it,” or “What did you hope to
accomplish with that scouring pad? STIs are transmitted through blood, it would have
been too late!” Though most difficult, the most common reaction I get is simply none at
all. No words, not even a critique. Just cold, blank stares. Actions, and lack thereof,
carry more weight than words. So perhaps it’s fear of cold, harsh, disbelief that keeps
so many male rape survivors quiet.
Still in my shower, I was only vaguely aware that the water running over me was ice
cold. Reluctant to leave, I sat under that frigid stream of water until I couldn’t feel the
chill. When I did get out, it was well past noon. I threw the clothes I had worn that night
in the trash, quietly added “kitchen scouring pads” and “shampoo” to the grocery list,
and went on with my week like nothing was wrong.

Resources for rape survivors are available at Shoreline Community College in the
Counseling Center.
King County Crisis Hotline: 1­866­427­4747.
Snohomish County Crisis Line: 1­800­584­3578.

_Adam Byrd

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