The Spectrum: My reality of surviving sexual assault

This essay is part of The Spectrum, a weekly forum in our Opinion section for marginalized voices to share their perspectives. To submit a piece for The Spectrum or discuss story ideas, please email [email protected].

When I was 17, I was raped by a boy in my biology class. It happened at a football game. A football game. This was two years ago, but I only started getting help this winter. I had told my mom a few months after it happened because I spent the previous night shaking in my bedroom, sleepless and cold. So cold. I told her and she was silent for a long moment. Then she said, “Wow, he must’ve been abused too, to have done this to you.”

I don’t think she knew what to say to her son who told her he had been raped. I know she knew what she was supposed to say: “I believe you. It’s not your fault. I’m here if you need me.” As a survivor, I am telling you to say these things. But she did not say these things. She said, “Oh, something really terrible must’ve happened to that guy for him to do that to you.” If you ever find yourself in my mother’s situation, please don’t say that. That is not the kind of empathy I needed in that moment. “It’s not your fault. I believe you. I’m here for you, whatever you need.” That is all I wanted. That is not what I got.

I think a large part of why she reacted so poorly is because male rape is not really well covered in sexual assault prevention. I wonder how many of you didn’t realize I am a man until that last sentence, or even this one.

Male rape is even more underreported than female rape, and with good reason. Our society demands that its men be in control, in general and particularly in the bedroom. Being taken advantage of in this way is emasculation to the extreme. I can say from personal experience that people in our society don’t really believe men can be raped.

The only male survivor I have ever heard of is Shia LaBeouf. LaBeouf was raped at his own art exhibit (in which he allowed fans to view him while he wore a bag over his head which read “I Am Not Famous Anymore”) at a time when popular media was constantly criticizing him for his peculiar behavior.

Shia LaBeouf is the only other person I have heard of in my years of looking, my years of hunting for someone who has shared my experience. Anyone who could show me that there is a way out, that there is a way to live life beyond just “surviving.” Anyone. There is only Shia LaBeouf, only one man visible. And he was raped a year and a half after I was.

About a month ago, I told a couple of my friends about Shia LaBeouf. They do not know I am a survivor; he just came up in conversation. I mentioned he was raped and one of my friends started victim blaming. “But he’s like 6 feet 4 inches. 200 pounds.” I began defending LaBeouf in slightly harsh terms — I still find it difficult to separate myself from the emotions of the situation — and the debate began. It ran for a few minutes while another of my friends (a self-proclaimed feminist with generally forward social ideas) sat in silence. I turned to her for help against my friend’s victim blaming, and she legitimized his ignorance with, “Well neither of you know what it’s like, so…”

I was destroyed. I sat quietly for a long time, wanting to say something, not wanting to say something. Trying not to be suspicious. But I didn’t dare say anything, for fear of having the same line of questioning brought upon me.

It has been a long road to get to where I am, and it has been bereft of a role model. If there is one thing I want to accomplish with this article, it is to show my fellow survivors what everyone tells you: it does get better. Life has given me a distance and a strength to deal with this in ways I could never have imagined. It has not been without pain, but that was never really possible. It has been and will be incredibly difficult, but I can already see myself developing the wisdom and the will to move past this. I am still early in recovery, having been in therapy only a few weeks, but I see a hope that was not in me three months ago. A hope to be not just a survivor, but an advocate. A hope that someday I’ll even be ready to put my name to This. Someday.

The author of this story is a McCormick sophomore who would like to remain anonymous. He can be reached through [email protected]. If you would like to respond publicly to this column, send a Letter to the Editor to [email protected].