I was propelled out of my procrastination and fear of starting this blog by an article I read this morning from the New York Times by Sohaila Abdulali that set my thoughts to swirling. Ms. Abdulali was gang-raped in Bombay 32 years ago. She was stirred to write this article after the recent events with the girl in New Delhi who died following a gang-rape. The link for Ms. Adbulali’s article and the one she wrote 30 years ago are at the end of this post.
I would like to think that in thirty years there has been a great deal of growth in awareness and understanding of rape and the survivors of rape, and I suppose that is true in some cultures. But in far too many countries around the world, the victims are still being stigmatized and blamed. The shame and isolation they endure is crushing. Even in the U.S., victims continue to be revictimized by the system.
Ms. Abdulali said in her culture she was taught that the horrible thing about rape is the loss of virginity/virtue and that loss of virtue brings shame on the family, particularly the male relatives. So what about married women who are raped who have no virginity to lose? It is still considered a shame to the husband, why? They are not shamed because they did not protect their daughters or wives. No, they are dishonored as if the girl had done something wrong, as if she brought it upon herself. This is not only true in India, but in many places around the world.
What the articles did not address, and this is where my mind started whirling, is what happens to boys and men who are raped in these cultures. What is the significant loss for them (according to the same sources)? What are they told? How is the shame transferred to these male victims? I have no doubt that men and boys are raped in those cultures. I’m not sure there is a people group where they are not. I don’t have any study to cite but looking at the human trafficking statistics for males, it is easy to see that sexual predators exist worldwide and will use their power to exploit regardless of gender.
All societies, including the U.S., are still fairly silent on the rape of males. I’m sure a great many go unreported so statistics are skewed. But the truth is, the damage from rape is the same whether male or female: one’s body is violated and controlled by another; one’s power to choose is taken away; one’s sense of personal wholeness and safety is damaged; and for most, no matter how unfair it is, they will bear the burden of shame. A shame that belongs on the perpetrators. A shame that belongs on the powerful who misuse their power. A shame that belongs on authorities that turn a blind eye. A shame that belongs to societies who want to pretend these problems don’t exist and close their hearts to victims.
I honor Sohaila Abdulali for being a bold woman and speaking out, for taking her life back and finding joy again. I honor all survivors of sexual assault, and do my small part in bringing awareness. Let’s begin to put the shame where it belongs.