Warning: Violent and honest content about a current news story is discussed herein.
Last week, a local high school basketball team was in a vacation destination close to here for a holiday tournament. From the various news stories i have read, this is what we know: At the time of the incident, the kids were unsupervised. They were in the basement of a vacation cabin where the younger players were begin “hazed”. Comments were made to the younger students that it was part of being on a team, and that they would get to do it to freshman players when they were upperclassmen. The younger students were beaten by the upperclassmen with pool cues. Two of the younger students suffered minor injuries. A third collapsed the next day and was found to have a punctured colon and bladder where he had been sexually violated with a pool cue by three of his teammates. He spent eight days in the hospital being physically repaired. The team continued to play on. When they returned from the tournament, the offending three (As if the rest of the team beating freshmen with cues isn’t offensive enough), were expelled from the team and suspended from school by the county school board. Many members of the school board are infuriated that the team didn’t come home immediately following the incident, that the team wasn’t better supervised, and that the school board hasn’t been give a complete account of everything that went on (At least not as of yesterday, and this happened between Dec 21st and 23rd.) Two of the accused three are being held in jail on aggravated rape and aggravated sexual assault charges. The third was released on bond. The victim is at home, trying to recover from his physical injuries. The emotional injuries will be much harder to heal.
There are far too many vile issues to deal with in this story.
The culture we have in this country seems to perpetuate this archaic and violent idea of manhood: One where sexual violence is accepted as if it were a dog lifting his leg on the sofa to mark his territory. I heard someone say about the incident that she didn’t understand how the kids would think it was “normal hazing”. I can. Just watch the news. Listen to the things your kids talk about. Listen to what WE talk about. We make excuses for everything leading up to this. “Boys will be boys.” There are still ignorant people making statements to justify rape based on the victims clothing/demeanor/inebriation status. And then when it keeps escalating until something like this… Well, we really have no right to be surprised. We tell kids not to bully, but the masculine culture is still that juvenile machismo bullshit that has been around since the beginning of time. We tell kids to not buy into it, but just like everyone at that age, they want to be accepted, so they take it. And by virtue of constant exposure, they become it. Or the opposite, we tell them to avoid violence and just walk away. Ignore it and the bullies will give up. And they get their asses kicked (or violated) as a result. How about we just find a way to stop the cycle? How about we fix the problem?
I admit, it would have been unfair to the rest of the team to cut the tournament short and leave when the violence came to light. But certainly no more unfair than to the player who had to have surgery as a result. It seems highly doubtful that the rest of the team had no idea what was going on. I am stunned that the coach didn’t see a need to report the incident and head back immediately. Yet another example to the kids that “It isn’t really that big a deal. The ‘fun’ just got a bit out of hand.” What the hell, coach?!?!?! You KNOW you are the main example of what it means to “be a man” to a lot of these kids, and THAT is the message you give? You need to be relieved from your position for that alone, never mind for being totally unaware of what your team was doing in that cabin. Never mind that you closed your eyes and ears while it was being planned. Never mind that you have socialized a team to believe that violent hazing is acceptable practice.
The school board: There have been a few comments by the superintendent that sound suspiciously like he just wants it to go away, tho he hasn’t said anything that could be considered condoning it. He has taken a stance to investigate and punish accordingly. One female member of the school board, tho, has been very vocal about her outrage. To quote Rhonda Thurman, “I wasn’t elected to guard the cat litter box, to cover up crap, that is not why I’m here.” Amen, Rhonda! I don’t think it’s coincidence that the most outrage is coming from a female. We know what it’s like to be a victim of such violence. We know what it’s like to have it passed off and our perpetrators be made out to be victims as much as we were. We know what it’s like to have everyone act like it isn’t a big deal. If it didn’t happen to us personally, we have someone very close to whom it has.
Men have less experience in the publicity of sexual violence. Men aren’t generally allowed to acknowledge when they have been victimized in this way. The public has a much more visceral and disbelieving reaction to their plight. After all, males aren’t weak, so why didn’t they just fight back? Just like lesbian culture vs. gay male culture, the public has a much harder time accepting men being anything but Ward Cleaver or George Clooney. They can’t stomach the thought of anything else. I never have understood why that is. Granted, i grew up in a house full of women where effort was made to accept us all as we were, so i am lacking in a lot of the typical American socialization. But the fact of the matter is, in any major city here in the U.S., you will see billboards, PSAs, and pamphlets making the public aware of rape crisis centers and counseling available… And you can bet the bank, the picture accompanying it is of a female. It’s as if male rape doesn’t exist. We need to face the fact that being raped is not dependent on the victim’s sex. Nor is it about sex. As much as we hate to think about it, we are a violent people. This situation is the result. And we have no solution available for it because we don’t talk about it.
So this poor 14 year old kid, who is at home trying to walk again after the surgery to repair his destroyed guts, has very few places to turn to get help healing the emotional scars that accompany his physical ones. And any woman will tell you that the emotional scars are far deeper and worse than the physical ones. There might be a therapy group in this city for sexually abused males, but i’ve never heard of one, and i make it a point to be aware of the mental health services available here. He isn’t the only young man who has been raped in this city, but you’d never know it if you were looking for support services. That is a shame and totally unacceptable.
You can say that rape is rape, and gender doesn’t matter, but i don’t believe you. We’ve spent the last 40 or 50 years working hard to strengthen our women in this country. Teaching us how to be strong in ourselves. What we deserve and what we don’t. What we are to blame for and what we are not. To blaze our own trail. And to turn to our sisters for help when we need it. However, in this same amount of time, we have done very little to change the way our men think. There aren’t many groups out there to teach young men what a man really is. (Shout out to my coworkers and friends and their ilk who work, mostly, thru their churches with these young men. I salute you making the effort, and i promise you, you are making a difference!) There aren’t advertisements for places to turn when a man is violated. Or when he sees a violent trait within himself. And far too many of our typical socialization groups, like team sports, still perpetuate the caveman as the model for masculinity. No wonder so many young men are so screwed up.
I am not, in any way, saying that rape of men is worse than women. Only that there is far less available to help a man heal from rape. Because we don’t talk about it. We don’t want to think about it. We can’t imagine it. And we don’t know how to reconcile “man” as “victim”.
In a small step towards supporting our young men, more and more adult men are starting to speak out on surviving rape. Manly men, by American standards, who no one could think of as weak. Ice-T, for example… When his badass self appears in a PSA against rape, it makes a small nick in the rock of machismo.
Enough of these nicks, and maybe we can chip away at the rock that is the distorted view of men in this country. A nick for every school assembly on violence that includes where boys can go for help if they are victim or horrified perpetrator. A nick for every man who speaks out against ignorant comments made by a peer. A nick for every billboard for rape crisis centers that shows a male as well as a female. Pretty soon, a small movement will take hold and we can make bigger nicks. A nick for every coach who talks to his team about the issue of hazing, and personally confronts violent players. A nick for every student who stands up and says, “Not on my team!” A nick for every woman who stops talking like rape is only a woman’s issue and remembers that it is a HUMAN issue and not about sex at all. And a nick for every generation to come that tolerates the bullshit less and less.
I have a 13 year old son. I have never spoken with him about sexual violence, except to note, when it appears in the news, that it is vile and unacceptable. And i have no excuse. I know the devastation it can cause. I have lived with it. And, i know others, both men and women, who have been violated and suffered lifelong for it. And still i haven’t mentioned it. But you can bet your life on the fact that i will be having that discussion now.
The first step in becoming part of the solution is realizing that you are part of the problem.
I won’t be part of the problem anymore.
For more information on help available for ALL victims of sexual assault, this is a great website with a lot of links available to other sites and services as well: http://nomore.org/about/ You can also check with any local outpatient mental health facility or your local hospital to find qualified help.