top.gif - 25.77 K

Male on Male Rape:
The Hidden Toll of Stigma and Shame
By Michael Scarce

Book Review by James Bohling

Male on Male Rape: The Hidden Toll of Stigma and Shame New York, NY: Insight Books, 1997 311 pages, Notes, Index, Appendices.

1998 Abstract (Taken from Book Jacket):Men can't be raped...or can they? False assumptions and popular stereotypes help us to ignore one of society's most troubling problems- the rape of men by other men. A subject rarely discussed, let alone explored beyond tasteless jokes, same-sex sexual violence can burden survivors with an overwhelming sense of misery and confusion.

Male on Male Rape: The Hidden Toll of Stigma and Shame examines a form of violence that, despite worldwide prevalence, remains vastly underreported and unrecognized. Michael Scarce, coordinator of a rape education and prevention program and a survivor of adult male rape, investigates the substantial effects of male-on-male sexual violence on individuals and society, dispelling popular myths and questioning why most communities cannot or will not confront the problem of same-sex sexual violence. This groundbreaking book is the culmination of years of research that includes numerous interviews with straight and gay male rape survivors, an analysis of popular media, case studies, and the author's own personal and professional experience. The belief that men are not raped, or raped only behind prison walls, perpetuates the cruel stigma attached to male rape. Men who are sexually assaulted tend not to report their victimization, seek medical attention, or get counseling. While rape is undoubtedly a crime of violence, male survivors are often shamed by the taboo of same-sex sexual contact, contributing to a sense of isolation and despair. Male on Male Rape brilliantly shatters the silence surrounding this sexual violence in our society while offering concrete initiatives and strategies for addressing the rape of men by men. It is an invaluable resource for anyone interested in the prevention of rape or the healing of rape's devastating effects. Interweaving frank personal accounts and exhaustive scholarship, this is the comprehensive look at a disturbing phenomenon.

1998 REVIEW:

Ever since the 1975 publication of Susan Brownmiller's Against Our Will: Men, Women and Rape there has been much scholarly writing and discussion about sexual assault. Understandably, most of this discussion has been rooted in feminist criticism. Rape is a crime that appears to affect women far more often than men, and rapists are almost invariably, if not always, male.

However, men are also victims of rape, though not much has been said or written about male rape either in academic discourse or in popular media. In his new book Male on Male Rape, Michael Scarce treats an important subject that has been all but completely ignored until now. In it, he examines many different aspects of male-on-male sexual assault, including the legal and medical questions that male rape victims often face, as well as the psychological ramifications of having been raped.

Scarce makes it clear early on that his interest in the topic is personal. In his preface, he recounts an incident from his undergraduate days at Ohio State University (February 1990) in which he went out alone to a gay bar, flirted with a man, and then invited him back to his dorm room. They ended up on Scarce's bed, kissing, and the man tried to unzip Scarce's pants. When he resisted, he was raped. Because of anti-gay hazing he had experienced at the dorms, Scarce claims he was too afraid to cry out for help. He and his roommate Tom, who were president and vice-president of their university's Gay and Lesbian Alliance, had been subjected to name calling and death threats, both in writing and on their answering machine. Although no one ever physically assaulted them, Scarce claims that the floor of their residence hall "became so dangerous for Tom and I (sic) that the university was forced to evacuate everyone....before someone was bashed or killed." (xiv)

And in reflecting upon his rape, Scarce writes "I now blame those 30 floormates for my rape as much as I blame the man who assaulted me. They created and shaped a space, both actively and through negligence, in which I was gagged, effectively silenced and unable to resist." (xvi) Throughout this account, it seems never to have occurred to Scarce that he may have played some role in his own silencing. He was simply the helpless victim of a society that tacitly condoned his assault.

Interestingly, as he launches into his formal examination of the crime of rape, the author explains his preference for the word "survivor" rather than "victim," asserting that "survivor carries a measure of strength, perseverance, and empowerment." (12) However, in his own case, as well as with the cases of other "survivors" of sexual assault he presents, Scarce stresses victimhood and powerlessness more profoundly and often than any other quality. What we end up with is a bizarre paradox guiding us into the book: the author's complete lack of agency and subsequent inability to assert himself during a rape results in his becoming an authorized and privileged theorist on the subject.

Scarce goes on to detail a whole slew of possible after-effects that men may experience after being raped (guilt, heightened sense of vulnerability, hostility and anger, depression) with only the most sketchy facts to illustrate them. He offers snippets of male rape scenarios and statistics from around the globe that do not necessarily point at anything in particular, nor does he draw any conclusions with which to engage the reader.

While the author acknowledges that the majority of male-on-male rapes may indeed occur in men-only environments like prisons and the military, he spends only a short time analyzing the kind of sexual abuse that occurs in these settings. This is unfortunate, since Scarce's discussion of the particulars of prison rape and role-playing is one of the most interesting and well-documented sections of the book. However, Scarce's focus seems to be more on stranger and acquaintance rape in non-segregated environments.

In this area, his research can only be termed anecdotal at best. In many cases it is suspect. Of the men whose stories he presents, his methods ranged from face-to-face interviews to discussions over the internet (a forum notorious for its tendency toward embellishment and/or fabrication of all kinds of information). Since so much of the survivor testimony is anonymous, and since by and large the incidents he recounts involved no police reports or witnesses, there is no way to confirm the veracity of the accounts.

A chapter entitled "The Spectacle of Male Rape" does not exactly help Scarce's case. In it, he muses about the relative scarcity of portrayals of male rape in various media. He mentions scenes in such films as Pulp Fiction and Deliverance, and even presents an interesting anecdote about the line between fiction and reality being crossed in the filming of the latter.

But there are glaring errors of fact. At the chapter's close, he erroneously identifies "Come Back to the Five and Dime, Jimmie (sic) Dean, Jimmie (sic) Dean" as a film from the late 1960s "in which Cher plays a transsexual who describes how her male rape experience prompted her sex change operation." (124) In fact, the movie was released in 1982, the role of the transsexual was played not by Cher, but Karen Black, and no causal connection between the character's rape and her sex change is implied. While none of this radically affects Scarce's theses, it gives one pause to consider just how carefully he has researched the book's content in general.

Most of the other chapters similarly present weakly documented discussions of legal and medical insensitivity, and the gender conflict that stigmatizes male rape victims. About the most useful section of the book is its end, which consists of three separate appendices offering information about resources and summarizing legal definitions of rape and sodomy in various U.S. states. Unfortunately, in light of Scarce's other statements, one tends to question the accuracy of the facts he presents here.

In short, Male on Male Rape is a great disappointment. Michael Scarce has taken a subject rife with analytic possibilities and applied to it the most tiresome of delusional extremist cant a la Andrea Dworkin. Rape is nothing more than a symptom of a society that condones male dominance, and its victims, who are to be praised at every given opportunity, are as infinitely empowered as they are powerless. Sloppily researched, self-indulgent and inconclusive, Male on Male Rape will hopefully not be the last word on a subject that deserves far more rigorous and thoughtful inquiry.

1998 REVIEW BY: James Bohling

James Bohling is a graduate student in the Annenberg School for Communication's school of Broadcast Journalism at the University of Southern California. He holds a Master's Degree in French from the University of California at Berkeley and is an Assistant Lecturer at USC's Department of French and Italian. He is interested in media portrayals of gays and lesbians, and the origins of all kinds of sexuality.

Review from the International Gay & Lesbian Review:

© 1997-98 BEI