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male rape ‘I’m over 6ft. I’m athletic. I didn’t think I was going to believed’ – the impact of sexual assaults on men

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Stock image: Many men who are the victims of sexual abuse find it very difficult to speak out

Stock image: Many men who are the victims of sexual abuse find it very difficult to speak out

Stock image: Many men who are the victims of sexual abuse find it very difficult to speak out

Another year, another report indicates that Ireland is being besieged by an epidemic of sexual violence. In research about to be published in the Journal of Interpersonal Violence, academics from Maynooth University and Trinity College Dublin found that one in five Irish women and one in 10 Irish men have been raped.

Half of women and 20pc of men have experienced some form of sexual harassment in their life while 31pc of Irish adults experienced sexual harassment. Sexual violence is undoubtedly “a gendered issue” as described by the studies co-lead, Dr Frédérique Vallières, director of the Trinity Centre for Global Health at Trinity College Dublin.

But while there are clear substantial differences in the rates of sexual violence between the sexes, it is important not to forget its male victims, particularly as statistics for them are probably inaccurate due to under-reporting.

The study was unable to access people in vulnerable situations — the homeless, hospitalised, imprisoned or institutionalised, who suffer very high statistics of sexual violence. International studies have found that while girls are more likely to be victims of rape, sexual assault or childhood abuse, victimised boys are much less likely than girls to report it. In Ireland, 2009’s Different Systems — Similar Outcomes report found that only one pc of men report rape or sexual assault to the Gardai, and 50pc told nobody.

“Men feel it is more shameful for them to have been the victim of a sexual attack,” said Noeline Blackwell, CEO of the Dublin RCC.

“Like women, they have that sense that they won’t be believed. For men, this shame is reinforced by a society that assumes it is a man’s place to be strong. But rape happens to you no matter your gender or sexual persuasion.”

From birth men are told to toughen up, be strong, not to cry or display any signs of weakness or vulnerability.

“Male victims feel emasculated. On top of admitting this terrible trauma that has been done on to them, they have to admit to being less powerful. While in some cases, they fear because of their size and strength that they won’t be believed,” Blackwell added.

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Noeline Blackwell, CEO of the Dublin RCC

Noeline Blackwell, CEO of the Dublin RCC

Noeline Blackwell, CEO of the Dublin RCC


“I never reported my rape to the police,” said Jack* who was assaulted by someone he considered a close friend.

“I’m over 6ft. I’m athletic. I didn’t think I was going to be believed. You never think that someone would de-power you with a horse tranquillizer.

“I was 19, a time in my life where I was making new friends, having new experiences. I was befriended by an older guy. I started to notice that he was starting to isolate me, take me away from the groups we were hanging out in. I now realise that this was him grooming me.

“When we were at a party together I started to feel weak and wheezy. I went to bed…and that is where the attack took place. It consisted of some physical violence, but it was a sexual attack.

"I had been drugged. I was completely helpless. I had no power in my arms and my legs. It was painful. I was aware of what was happening and unable to do anything about it.”

The next thing he recalls he was coming around the next morning.

“I ran to the bathroom, took all my clothes off and wiped myself down. I remember putting my underwear in my pocket. When I got in the door I scrubbed myself down, to the point of bleaching myself clean. I looked in the mirror and resented what I saw.

“I blamed myself for putting myself in that situation. Someone I thought was a friend, someone I trusted, had taken something from me. He dehumanized me.”

It would be 17 years before Jack sought help after he had a breakdown at the age of 36.

“I entered into relationships but they all failed. Physically I could sustain them but mentally I wasn’t there.

‘What would happen if I opened up to a woman? Would I be seen as a sad case?’ I felt that showing a level of vulnerability in any environment where men were involved, triggered a sense I might be abused again. I started having flashbacks of the attack and brought myself to the state where I thought my attacker was going to revisit me.

"Eventually, I became convinced I was going to end my life.”

That’s why he contacted the DRCC in 2017. “I was reluctant to go to my first consultation. It was the longest drive I ever took. But it was something I needed to share. After I spoke to the counsellor the first thing she said was ‘I believe you’. To hear those words, from a woman, brought me to tears. I think I cried for the whole session.”

John* was raped in 2015 by someone he had a previous encounter with.

He said: “I had a feeling that’s where the evening was headed when we first met that night so it had started consensually. But at a certain point, I asked him to stop. The consent was withdrawn. That’s when he held me down and kept going.”

The fact that he had initially given consent contributed to John not fully accepting that he had been assaulted. “Had you asked me the morning after my attack I wouldn’t have said I was raped. I’d have said it as a bad sexual experience. But after a while I realised that something else was going on here, there was something different about it.”

John thinks it is important to talk about his experience if only to allow others to tell their own stories. “When I talk about it, someone else will often come forward and say ‘I had something similar happen to me’. It’s quite prevalent.”

But even then, people might not make the connection between your story and their own lives. “Some people have a reflex of not wanting to, or not being able to, admit that something like that had happened to them. They have no idea of what consensual sex or non-consensual sex looks like.”

His rape has left him with a total lack of trust in people. “It’s difficult to form meaningful relationships, anything involving physical touch or letting people into my home, is still quite difficult.”

His assault occurred quite soon after he came out. “I felt stripped of the ability to go out and have the experiences that most young queer people my age have.”

He never confronted his rapist. About six months before lockdown, he reappeared on Grindr. “It was distressing. I took a screenshot and told my friends, ‘this is the guy if you see him when we are out, get me out of there. I don’t want an altercation. My biggest concern would be that he would approach me as if nothing happened.”

Because their cases were considered historic (anything that occurs six months or longer) John and Jack were waiting between 12-18 months for a face-to-face meeting with the DRCC, although they had access to the free 24-hour national helpline in that time.

“Our waiting lists have never been as high in the history of the centre,” concluded Blackwell. “It has gone up quickly. It’s now at over 400 people, over a third of whom contacted us between July and September. The generalised anxiety we are all feeling at the moment has helped wounds they had been buried for a while came to the fore. So, we don’t mind the number on the waiting list. We are just concerned about how long it is taking us to get them face-to-face help.

“Covid will go away. But, as a society, we have to rethink our beliefs about sexual violence and recognise that it’s an area where there is a silo of hurt. That can’t be kept behind the dam forever”.

*Names in this story have been changed to protect the identity of the victims

Contact details

DUBLIN RAPE CRISIS CENTRE: 1800 77 8888 National 24-Hour Helpline. Check out drcc.ie
MEN’S AID: National Confidential Helpline 01 554 3811. Check outmensaid.ie
MALE ADVICE LINE: 1800 816 588. Check out mensnetwork.ie

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