Drugged, kidnapped, and raped by two men. The threats and the violence. Then, kicked out of the apartment, still bleeding. It happened in Rome, in the fall of 2020. The victim? A young man. Indeed, two men raped and abused another man.
Because men can be victims of abuse too. Their painful stories exist, but they are shrouded in stigma. It’s more than the shame of the victim. It’s the skepticism from society. People already doubt women who speak up against their abusers. But men? They can’t be victims, can they?
The researches and studies about violence on women are sadly known and widespread. Even in Italy, where women are too often victims. The same doesn’t apply to men.
In fact, the first Italian research on sexual harassment and violence on men dates back to 2018.
The stigma of violence against men
While talking to the police or to the family is difficult for both women and men, the latter have a harder time admitting the abuse. Especially if a woman is the culprit. How can a woman take over a man? If she did it, it’s because he wasn’t manly enough.
It’s easy to forget that violence comes in many forms, not. For example, a 2012 research from the University of Siena revealed that half of the men in the study were victims of bites, scratches, and even electric shocks. Abuse takes many forms and one of them is the Battered Husband Syndrome.
Another stigma that men have to face is the misconception on ejaculation. During rape, the victim can have an erection. Often, that’s seen as a sign of pleasure, both by the rapist and by society. Hence, it was consensual. Except it wasn’t.
In fact, these are two physical reactions that can also happen in stressful situations, physiological reactions unrelated to pleasure. Men have many taboos to overcome because society tells them they can’t be victims. Rape by men on men only happens in prisons and during wars, not in everyday life. Except, it doesn’t.
The Italian research
The ISTAT institute looked into the whole spectrum of abuse, from stalking to rape. The study found that over 3,5 million Italians have been victims of abuse during their life. That’s 18,8% of the population.
This is what the research found:
- 8,2% were victims of verbal harassment
- 6,8% of stalking
- 3,6% were victims of physical, unwanted attentions, such as hugging or kissing
- Almost 2% of Italian men were victims of verbal harassment via social media
- 2,2% of men were victims of abuse when they were kids
- The most common places of harassment are pubs and clubs, at 29,2%
- Another common place is public transport, at 12,7%
So, stalking and verbal harassment seem to be the main crimes against men. But the statistics on rape and physical abuse are still uncharted territory. However, there is one number that says it all. In fact, the 62% of men who are victims of sexual abuse don’t talk about it. This compared to 43% of women.
Men are more reluctant to share their experience. And the reasons go beyond personal shame and emotional and physical pain.
The situation in Italy
Men can be in an abusive relationship, but they are scared to leave, just like women. For men, the situation is even worse because there are no support centers for them. Instead, they have to turn to one of the 554 Italian centers for women.
One of the few that helps both genders is Ankyra in Milan. According to their research, men also had negative experiences with the police. Officers didn’t take them seriously and they even humiliated them. Hence, they felt even more helpless and frustrated. And they knew that a female victim would get a different treatment.
Often, their stories don’t make the news. And, if they do, there is a subtle hint of skepticism and shame. Recently, the president of the region Calabria, Nino Spirlì, spoke out. He did it on the TV show Quarta Repubblica, during a show in May 2021.
“When I was 25, I was raped and I spent three days in a coma. It took me almost 15 years to get the pieces together, so I know what violence means. I lived it daily. Sure, certain words hurt, but the beatings hurt more. That doesn’t depend on words, but on the education that people receive.”
Indeed, education is key to improve the situation. And to stop making violence against men a taboo. In Italy, where the man is supposed to be manly and macho, the victims feel less. Less of a man, of a person, less worthy. And that can’t ever be fair. Just like conversion therapy isn’t.