Violation knows no gender

<>The #MeToo campaign has captured the nation’s attention. I am, however, uncomfortable with it being only about women. Rape and rape culture should be eradicated, regardless of the gender of the person assaulted.

The violation is no less, the trauma, equally that. And if women find it difficult to speak out, pause and consider how challenging it is for men to. The topic is still taboo. The reality, raw.

There can be no separation of gender, in these harrowing violations.

Many years ago I interviewed a man who, uniquely, told his story. He was stopped by men in a passing car, asked for directions. When he approached the car, he was pulled in, and gang raped. When he broke free, in his desperation, he ran to the nearest police station. To say they were ill equipped to deal with the situation would be kind.

The horror of his experience left an indelible mark. His story was unique again because his rapists were caught, after they did the same thing to another man, in a nearby town. The four of them are being given three meals a day in prison, while for years he wrestled with the multi-levelled affects of his rape.

Now, a decade or so later, he has regrouped. He met a woman, married said woman. They had a child; and then they left this country because he could not bear thinking about raising that child in this one.

Male rape does not happen in “certain areas” – let’s be clear about that. Just like domestic abuse has no colour nor socio-economic limit, so rape, including the rape of men and boys, is colour blind. And it is far more prevalent than is comfortable to admit. Even when we know.

The man in the example I have just given was white. So was this man, who begged me to share his ordeal. This is the first time I am telling his story. Let’s call him Joe.

Joe was an average kid with a keen sense of adventure, and the urge to do great things in this world. With great enthusiasm, he joined a boys adventure club. And that’s where he was groomed and abused, for the first time.

He fled the group. In a twisted irony, his family forced their “suddenly unruly” young boy to attend church. Where the same man, connected to the boys adventure group, again abused him. Regularly.

Joe dropped into a drowning despair, and tried to commit suicide. “I failed, and it was the start of many things that I failed at,” he told me. Somehow, he had become convinced the abuse was his fault, he was the common denominator, that he was bad. Evil, even.

By the time he was 11, he was selling his own body to buy the drugs he wanted to feel better. Not even better about himself, he said. Just, better. No matter how fleetingly.

By the time he was 15, he was a father to a child that he could never claim as his, and at 17 he was a father again. His children’s mother, was 37.

Then Joe had an emotional breakdown, and revealed his years of abuse to his family. He wrote a painstakingly detailed statement and filed it at the police station.

His family did not believe him. Their response, was to disown him. He said quietly that his statement was ignored by the police. He said he had no proof of this, but he was absolutely clear that there had been no follow-up. “A sign of the times,” he said. This was 30 years ago. “Nobody believed that a church man could be capable of this.”

As it turned out, that same man was eventually, arrested. When he went to trial, police said he was discovered with what was then described as the biggest haul of child porn in the Western Cape.

Joe attended the trial. He rewrote his statement; handed it in to the police, again. And some weeks later was told it was “too long ago” to count for anything. He sat behind the bedraggled and filthy accused in the courtroom, shaking with rage. He was 15 all over again, still unheard. He rocked and rubbed his hands over and over across his face. He said the fact that nobody believed him then cost every single boy since.

After plea bargains were done and the measly sentence was passed, Joe went absolutely still. And silent.

When he emerged, his face was stone. He had made up his mind, he said. Justice would be served. If not by the courts, he would mete it out himself.

Mere months later I heard the news. Joe had purposefully gotten himself into prison. I still don’t know what he did, I never asked. He had gotten as close as he could to his rapist.

But just not close enough, to deliver his own justice.

Joe was found early one morning, he had hung himself using his own belt.

I am, by no means, detracting from the harrowing experiences so very, very many women and girls have had or are having.

Quite the opposite. I think if everyone, men and women, were achingly brave about the magnitude of sexual abuse, that reality would create a unity against rape that would permanently slash and burn the apathy – and pretence – that it’s not as bad as people think. Truth is, it’s worse. Far worse. And only through both genders taking a stand, together saying enough and no more, together, will we stand any chance of it being stomped out.

Maybe we can adjust the campaign call to #meNtoo