One of the common criticisms among anti-feminists is that cis-male rape survivors are left behind by the feminist movement. It’s common for rape survivors to carry around a lot of unresolved hurt and anger (I know from experience) and it is my intention to handle this topic with care and respect. First of all, if you’re here as a cis-male survivor of rape, we support you! I’ve written this whole thing for you and it is my sincere hope that some of your anguish will be lessened by the end of this. Maybe it won’t, I don’t know, but that’s my intent.
If you feel like no feminist has ever acknowledged it, I would like to take this opportunity be the first. Cis-male survivors go through things. Cis-male survivors need support. Cis-male survivors exist. Cis-male survivors experience the damage of rape in some ways that are unique to their cis-male experience. Among my feminist acquaintances, I know we read studies and first hand accounts on this topic in an effort to stay informed. We are not cis-male survivors, but we do make an attempt to learn about the unique challenges you face. You’re not invisible to us. We know you’re suffering. We don’t want you to do it alone. We want to help. But all of the above is just a bunch of words, and I’ve found that actions do tend to speak much louder on this specific subject, so without further ado…
What has feminism done for me?
In the earliest known definitions of rape, male survivors were not considered. Rape was considered a crime with a male actor, a female acted upon and another male injured by proxy. Those rapes were not considered violent crimes, but rather a sort of property offense. Look, for example, in biblical law concerning the rape. When an unmarried woman is raped, according to biblical law, her father is compensated financially for his vandalized property. The “spoiled” woman then becomes property of the rapist, as a means of taking responsibility. Because this was considered a purely financial property crime, this law did not consider nor try to prevent various aspects of violence, such as sexual abuse in the home, same-sex rape, intimate partner violence and a litany of other things. The violence was not considered the problem, but rather the lost resources that could have come from a profitable marriage. These fathers forfeited such profits after their daughters had been de-flowered, so the rapist was financially responsible. It has been a long evolution forward from there.
Age of consent
It was not until the renaissance that there was any notable movement to question whether it was sufficient to let tribes and families determine age of consent for their children. With this, they became vaguely legally understood as persons and not chattel. Through the renaissance and early enlightenment, a few odd nations began to define the age of consent at the underwhelming age of 10; which was vastly prepubescent for both sexes.
The next big jump, at least in the United States, was in the mid nineteenth century when women’s groups started pushing to raise the age of consent to today’s standards. An influx of child rape cases descended on the courts. The actions of the women’s movements around this time were problematic in many ways. Nonetheless, out of this extremely problematic moment, a germinal seed of consent was born that was critical to rape prevention and criminalization.
Capacity, coercion, grooming and other such vital concepts were never legally imagined before this period, leaving the majority of both child and adult rape survivors with no protection. Most sexually abused children had no recourse before this time, unless they were left dead in the streets (another crime for which there were some laws, if applied). This was the beginning of justice for many men and women.
Rape crisis centers/rape education
Unsatisfied with systemic and societal response to rape, the National Organization for Women formed the first rape crisis centers in the united states in the 1970s. They were the vanguards of rape education and anti-rape community action. Along with these first centers, NOW distributed radical literature giving others the “blueprint” to follow suit and form their own rape crisis centers. It was during this period that confrontational public displays were organized to stir up cultural discourse. Take back the night marches were one such mechanism of creating rape awareness that happened in the early 70s and multiple “speak outs” where women shared their firsthand accounts were another. Before this time, rape was almost entirely considered a rare crime, committed by a stray madman. Rape was socially unacceptable to discuss and victims suffered in silence. It was only through this dialogue that rape was discovered to be prevalent and not an aberration.
Bringing rape education into schools is what is largely credited with the dramatic drop in sexual abuse and the increase in the percentage of abuse that is reported. Although they did not initially include these groups, rape crisis centers across the country now house some of the only formal support specifically for rape survivors who are men, GLBTQI, undocumented, disabled, POC, sex workers, the homeless and others.
Legal redefinition of rape
Before the 80s, forced anal or oral penetration was not legally rape, nor was digital penetration or penetration with objects. Before this time, it was literally impossible for a man to be acknowledged as having been raped under the law. NOWRTF worked to redefine rape on the state level to include these things, to raise the statute of limitations (prompt reporting was considered essential into the 80s), to eliminate requirements for a corroborating third party, to promote Rape Shield Laws and to make marital rape illegal. Marital rape was legal in some states as late as the 1990s and in all of them before the 70s.
Cultural redefinition of rape
In the early 70s, radical feminists shifted the conversation to include acquaintance rape. Before this time, stranger rape was commonly thought to be the only sort that was occurring. Further feminist research into the 70s 80s and 90s exposed that acquaintance/family/intimate partner rape was far more prevalent than stranger rape. The Rape, Abuse & Incest National Network or RAINN was instrumental in building awareness around this issue.
Confrontations and Opposition to majority male institutions that offer inadequate rape protections
Feminism has played a number of roles in response to rape in prisons; an epidemic for men. Historically, prison abolition has been a feminist cause and it is growing a strong following among feminists again in modern times. Other feminists have not wholly endorsed prison abolition, but work for decriminalization of various offenses that would divert millions of people from prison. Others choose to address the rape itself within these institutions, which has successfully led to legislation aimed to protect detainees from this violence.
Feminism has a similar relationship with the US military. While some feminists call for a summary termination to our military operations, others address military rape specifically.
This is a very hastily compiled, incomplete history, but I hope it is useful. Feminism remains the primary vector by which rape survivors are gradually receiving more protections. Our approaches in the past have been problematic and flawed in many ways, but we continue to refine our perspective and reach out to more and more rape survivors and high-risk populations as we discover them or they approach us.
I wish you swift, profound healing and hope that one day you will feel safe in coming to us for support. We’ll be here.