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‘I’m a Survivor of Rape and Intimate Partner Violence–And I’m a Man’

4 minute read

The topic of campus rape has been making its way to Congress and the White House, and coverage of this issue has increasingly been making headlines. But conspicuously absent from the conversation is the narrative of male and queer survivors.

My name is John Kelly, and I’m a survivor of rape and intimate partner violence. I was raped twice while in college, but one of my experiences doesn’t fit into traditional definitions of rape. While incapacitated, a male former intimate partner performed oral sex on me. The amount of pain and anguish that rape caused me was no different than that of my other rape, a more widely accepted iteration in which I was forcibly penetrated.

It took me a long time to come to terms with my experiences, in large part because I didn’t have the language to articulate them. The confusion, fear and shame I felt, coupled with my school’s inability to respond, contributed to an attempted suicide and subsequent hospitalization only weeks after my second attack. Rape and intimate partner violence are rarely spoken of within the queer community, or with male survivors.

Last week I became the first person ever to testify before Congress on same-sex dating violence. My hope is that as coverage of this topic increases and begins featuring a greater diversity of voices, the stigma surrounding same-sex sexual violence will dissipate. I hope that as this becomes something we feel more comfortable talking about, survivors will easily be able to receive the help needed, regardless of sex, sexuality or gender identity.

TIME’s recent cover story on campus sexual violence was much needed, and activists and survivors across the country are moved to see such stories making national headlines. But TIME didn’t mention male survivors or queer survivors once. Indeed, women experience sexual violence at higher rates than men, due in part to gender norms. The effects of sexual control, coercion and violence of men against women cannot be overstated. Men commit rape at significantly higher rates than women. The 2010 National Intimate Partner and Sexual Violence Survey (NISVS) shows that 98% of female rape victims and 93% of male rape victims report having only male perpetrators.

The gender norms that allow men to rape at such staggering rates also create ideals of masculinity that silence male survivors. The percent of male survivors is higher than generally understood, particularly among at-risk demographics such as queer and gender nonconforming men. The NISVS showed that 1 in 71 men are victims of rape (forced oral or anal penetration), and nearly 1 in 5 men experience some other form of sexual violence (such as the 5% of men who have been made to penetrate someone else.)

Using the more inclusive definition of rape as any forced/nonconsensual penetration—including being made to penetrate—the same study shows that 6.2% of men are rape survivors, about 1 in 15. A 2011 survey of studies investigating same-sex sexual violence, published in Trauma Violence Abuse, found the median rates of rape for gay or bisexual men was 30%, and 43% for lesbian or bisexual women. The 2008 book Social Work Practice with Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, and Transgender People found that 25%-33% of all surveyed same-sex relationships involved domestic violence. Other research shows rates of sexual assault victimization in the transgender community may be greater than 50%. I cannot prioritize either of my rapes, and neither should statistics or the law. Sexual violence in the LGBT community is an epidemic.

These types of assaults—against men, against queer people and between people of the same sex—are happening on our college campuses. While the narratives are few and far between, we are finding our voices.

While major publications have often chosen to focus on predominantly straight, white female narratives, populations that are at high risk for sexual violence are being ignored in a way that continues to be detrimental to the safety of these communities—my community. We must include narratives of people of color, queer people and trans people to show the varied forms of sexual violence on college campuses and beyond. Only then will we begin to solve the crisis of sexual violence in higher education, and the epidemic of LGBTQ sexual violence.

John Kelly is a rising senior at Tufts University, where he studies religion. He is the Special Projects Organizer and an ED ACT NOW Organizer for Know Your IX, and a certified rape crisis counselor in the Commonwealth of Massachusetts. He tweets at @john_m_kelly.

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