Nearly all the famous serial killers preyed on women, and the notable exceptions I can think of are Wayne Williams and Jeffery Dahmer. Williams and Dahmer both preyed on young men, and they both used drugs and alcohol to subdue their victims. Williams was successful for so long simply because no one gave a damn about poor black boys in Atlanta at that time, and no one thought there was such an animal as a black serial killer. It took the mothers of the victims marching in the streets to get anyone to sit down and think that maybe the murders were related. Dahmer also preyed on poor young men, some of them prostitutes, some of them run aways or cast aways. Once his victims were found there wasn’t much debate as to if the crimes were related.
But this isn’t about murder it’s about the crime of assault. Let’s forget for a moment that the weapon of choice here is a penis, and let’s forget for a moment the target area of the attack is a woman’s vagina. Let’s strip this crime down to it being a case of one person harming another. If it were that simple we would still have an overriding obligation to stop the criminal and help the victims. Were this a case of a person walking around hitting other people in their heads with a hammer then we would still have the duty to stop this person, and the treat the people being hurt. This is a very simple concept. If we cannot do this, if we cannot agree that this is something we need to do, that we have to do, then we are done as a civilization.
But rape isn’t just about one person hurting another person. It is overwhelmingly men hurting women, and not just hurting them, but violating them in a way that most men simply do not understand. It is more than just a physical assault. It is a rape of a woman’s sense of security, and an invasion of her psyche. There isn’t a male counter crime to compare this to at all. We men get off light on this one, and we’re lucky enough not to understand this crime the way women do, but that ought not to shield us from the horror, or lessen our obligation to prevent it, and understand why rape occurs, and why it affects women the way it does.
A few years ago there was a man in Texas raping other men. A reporter for MSNBC wrote that this sort of attack on men was much worse psychologically because one in four women was sexually assaulted and men very rarely were. I couldn’t figure out if the male reporter thought that women could expect to be raped, and therefore were more prepared for it mentally, or if he thought it wasn’t as bad for women because it happened so damn often they were simply used to the idea. The article was pulled, but it had already gotten past an editor or two, and you have to wonder if the other men who read it couldn’t understand why it was wrong to begin with. I am making a huge assumption there was no women involved in this process.
The aforementioned article more or less reflects a lot of what people in general and men in particular think about rape, or don’t think about it. More than any other crime that occurs, people in general and men in particular, look at, and look for, mitigating factors. Was she drunk? Was she dressed for it? Was she a tease? Was she in the wrong place at the wrong time? Was she his wife? Was she poor? Was she black? Was she born in the wrong country? One of the victims of the East Coast rapist had this man hold a knife to her throat and tell her he would kill her infant son if she fought back. What exactly are the mitigating factors in this rape? Can you think of a man, any man, who has ever been put in a similar position in a crime? Can you think of a man, any man, who has been assaulted, tied up, and then had his attacker return to assault him again and again? There is a reason men don’t get it; it doesn’t happen to them.
Of course, rape does happen to men all the time, in prison, and just like women, they are ignored as victims to this crime. They are, after all, criminals. In some way there are a lot of people in general, and men in particular, who believe the men raped in prison are getting what they deserve just like they seek out mitigating factors when it happens to women. Our attitudes towards men getting raped in prison is mirrored in our attitude in women getting raped outside prison. We blame the victim until we know enough not to do so. The woman is guilty of something or she wouldn’t have gotten hurt. This isn’t always the case, but it is in enough cases to damage our sense of morality and we know it.
Think about how all of this would have played out if there was a man out there who had sexually assaulted seventeen other men. Think about the sensationalism that would surround the case, and how much attention it would be getting. Were there some college freshman, who was a man, who had been ambushed on a running trail, beaten into submission, and then raped, it would be a national news story. Because the person who was beaten and raped was a woman, and this happens all the time, you know, this isn’t news at all. Only because this man had so many victims for so long is this a news story at all. This is a crime that happens all the time to women, it goes underreported more than any other crime, and one in four women will be raped.
There is something terribly wrong here. We have to get past the idea that this has anything at all to do with sex. We have to get past the idea that women are to blame for this. We have to get past the idea this isn’t something truly horrible, and we have to start understanding why it happens to damn often, and why people in general, and men in particular, just don’t seem to give a damn.