Reason Magazine published an excellent article today entitled “Rape Factories.” It details the horrors of the prison system and how rape is systematically used against inmates, not just by other inmates, but by those overseeing them.
Prison rape is the quintessential example proving a point that I have made frequently: rape is not a women’s issue. Rape can and does happen to all genders.
Don’t get me wrong: it’s true that the threat of being raped is much lower for men, and that men do not have to worry about rape as a factor of life as women do. Women have to alter their behaviors to avoid being raped. We are constantly on the lookout for it. It is tempting to think that because rape happens predominantly to women that it is a problem that only effects women. This is not true.
Reason’s article’s first subject is Tom Cahill, a man who was put in jail during a peaceful protest:
Cahill’s story began in 1968, when he was arrested in Texas during a peaceful antiwar protest. An Air Force vet who opposed the Vietnam War, he did not prove popular among jail staff in the heavily military town of San Antonio. Before placing him in an overcrowded communal cell, he says, the guards spread word that he was a child molester. Cahill remembers with a shudder how one of the staff members shouted “fresh meat” before leaving. After 24 hours of beatings and gang rape, his life was shattered.
This is a man. The violation of his body is no less serious than the violation of a woman’s, yet his abuse is almost invisible. This is because our conception of rape is SOLELY a force of violence from a man against a woman. In many states, rape is legally defined as such. Obviously, this is a huge problem for men who would like to seek legal or emotional support for what they have gone through.
One might argue that rape against men only happens in prisons where there are populations of “inherently violent” men put together in pens and can’t handle any kind of civic behavior.
However, there is no way to know how often man-or-woman-against-man rape happens, because there is virtually no support for men who have been sexually assaulted. Women have social institutions and organizations to help them deal with the rape. Think of rape crisis centers, support help lines, etc.
There is no community of that for men. Instead, they are made to feel even more ashamed than women are, because they are men. They are supposed to be strong, dominant. It is a psychological torture as well as physical. There is little if any avenue for justice, and virtually no avenue for support. Thus, the shame that comes with the rape of men is compounded and pushed even further into secrecy, much in the same way it is for women, only worse.
Rape is about power. 100%. The person in power rapes the person who is not in power. Who is in power shifts depending on the situation, the time, and the people involved. It has little, if anything, to do with gender or sex. While power and gender often correlate in our society, they are not the same thing — as prison rape clearly shows.
It is important, if you truly care about eradicating rape in society, to recognize this. If you treat rape as a question of gender or sex and forget the fact that at its core it’s about power, you will never make any headway. When you treat it as a gender issue, you mask the true sinister nature of rape. It hides in gender issues, so that it can stay entwined with our society so that we will never be rid of it.
Rape is not a women’s issue. It’s everyone’s issue, and the sooner we realize that, the sooner we’ll be rid of it.