The Code of Silence

Originally posed on May 21, 2013

Over the last week, sexual violence in the military received much media attention. This partly came out of two people in charge of handling sexual assault investigations facing their own charges of sexual assault. It also came from President Obama speaking about the issue during a press conference.

Yet one aspect of this scandal remains unspoken: men make up the majority of the victims. Look at the coverage of this topic, and one sees numerous discussions about protecting women, but little mention of protecting men. One hears from women who survived assaults, but not from men. Yes, occasionally someone will remember that “men can be victims too.” Yet that afterthought does not linger long, and soon the conversation goes back to women.

This is not to say that women do not face legitimate risks. It is absurd to think that servicewomen in the field will refrain from eating and drinking at night so they will not need to use the latrine and risk assault. Yet it is equally absurd to think that the majority of the victims of these assaults would go unmentioned because they are male.


More military men than women are sexually abused in the ranks each year, a Pentagon survey shows, highlighting the underreporting of male-on-male assaults.

When the Defense Department released the results of its anonymous sexual abuse survey this month and concluded that 26,000 service members were victims in fiscal 2012, which ended Sept. 30, an automatic assumption was that most were women. But roughly 14,000 of the victims were male and 12,000 female, according to a scientific survey sample produced by the Pentagon.

The statistics show that, as Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel begins a campaign to stamp out “unwanted sexual contact,” there are two sets of victims that must be addressed.

“It appears that the DOD has serious problems with male-on-male sexual assaults that men are not reporting and the Pentagon doesn’t want to talk about,” Elaine Donnelly, who heads the Center for Military Readiness.

There is a basic problem at play: male survivors do not come forward. There are many reasons for this, some of which Brian Lewis explained:

“As a culture, we’ve somewhat moved past the idea that a female wanted this trauma to occur, but we haven’t moved past that for male survivors,” said Brian Lewis, a rape survivor who served in the Navy. “In a lot of areas of the military, men are still viewed as having wanted it or of being homosexual. That’s not correct at all. It’s a crime of power and control.

“But also, you’re instantly viewed as a liar and a troublemaker (when a man reports a sex crime), and there’s the notion that you have abandoned your shipmates, that you took a crap all over your shipmates, that you misconstrued their horseplay,” he added.

Lewis, who was raped by a male superior officer aboard a Navy ship in 2000, spoke Thursday at a press conference introducing a bill that seeks to strip serious sex assaults from the military’s chain of command. At that event, he said: “Too often male survivors are ignored and marginalized.”

“The biggest reasons men don’t come forward (with sex assault reports) are the fear of retaliation (from fellow troops), the fear of being viewed in a weaker light, and the fact there are very few, if any, services for male survivors,” Lewis told NBC News.

That culture may not only result in men failing to report their abuse to authorities, but also on self-report surveys. It is possible that more than 1.2% of service member experience sexual assault. We simply do not know because many of those in charge of handling these cases are the officers in charge of the people reporting the crime. Many men and women would rather keep silent than risk reporting it to their superior only to have that person use it against them.

According to the MSNBC article, the Defense Department has partnered with other organizations to address male survivor’s concerns. However, it is unclear whether those organizations have any experience in treating male survivors:

“A focus of our prevention efforts over the next several months is specifically geared towards male survivors and will include (learning) why male survivors report at much lower rates than female survivors, and determining the unique support and assistance male survivors need,” [Cynthia O. Smith, a Pentagon spokeswoman] said.

The Pentagon “has reached out to organizations supporting male survivors for assistance and information to help inform our way ahead,” she added.

“I applaud that stand on behalf of male survivors,” Lewis said. “However, I would be interested in hearing what organizations they are partnering with considering there are none especially geared for male survivors of military sexual trauma.”

According to the same article, Justice Denied, a documentary about male survivors of military sexual assault, will be released next month. This documentary spawned out the fallout from The Invisible War. The filmmaker’s of the latter documentary interviewed Brian Lewis and Michael Matthews, but only used about five minutes of those interviews combined. The film presented sexual violence as a women’s issue, much to Lewis and Matthews’ disappointment.

We will see if Justice Denied will garner as much attention as The Invisible War did. There are two trailers available for it. The film may have a limited release, however, Lewis and Matthews have done an excellent job of bring this issue to public attention. Perhaps male survivors will get more acknowledgement once the film is out.

17 thoughts on “The Code of Silence

  1. I find it interesting that Brian can say the pro-male survivor things he does publicly and avoid the immediately attacks that silence other male survivors. Perhaps I don’t know of them. My theory is how it is rather tabou to disrespect our military and so it seems he is doing what no one else can or has. And certainly he is just remarkably courageous doing so.

    Has Obama **ever** recognized specifically male survivors in any significant way?

  2. I find it interesting that Brian can say the pro-male survivor things he does publicly and avoid the immediately attacks that silence other male survivors.

    Chances are the general public is unaware of his statements, although I do agree that his status as a serviceman makes it difficult for people to attack him.

    Has Obama **ever** recognized specifically male survivors in any significant way?

    To my knowledge, no. However, he has been rather careful about not being gender-specific in some of his statements.

  3. “However, he has been rather careful about not being gender-specific in some of his statements.”

    I’ve noticed that too, and my sense is, he’s just making use of others to keep all the focus on female victims. No leadership there at all.

  4. Expecting Obama to lend a not much less an actual helping hand to men is probably a lost cause. Let’s just do it ourselves then wait for others to jump on the bandwagon later and pose like they were down with it all along.

  5. Typhon, they were mentioned in one of the articles, however, the people interviewed made sure to note that women only made up 2% of those accused of sexual assault.

  6. Cicero, those numbers are hard to come by. I know of no research addressing adult sexual abuse, however, there is at least one study that dealt with child abuse. It found that 6% of girls experienced sexual abuse committed by women.

  7. Female victims are a bigger percentage (12,000 out of 200,000 service women > 14,000 out of 1.2 Million). However, over-representation is a phrase I tend to dislike as it makes it sound like they have a greater need based on a larger percentage of their overall population. I prefer to look at it in terms of the numbers of those victimized.

    Example: 100 people on a subway platform. 99 men and one woman (it’s a misogynistic/sexist station in this scenario). As the subway is pulling in to the station, 9 men and the 1 woman fall on the tracks. The 9 men are only about 10% of the men, while the woman is 100% of the women. Clearly the woman is in greater need of saving!

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  9. Once again they render male victims of female rapists invisible. I finally tracked down the actual study and 60% of the male victims cited a female rapist.

    How is it possible that anyone who read that study could report that only 2% of the rapists were women?

    So… they’re just flat out lying now?

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  12. If the veterans administration would eliminate incentives for victims people would fight more for themselves.

  13. I have tried to find the study Typhonblue refers to and came upon this:

    From the Survey Results chapter (slide 2-3):

    Of the 6.1% of women who indicated experiencing USC, the circumstances of the experience that had the greatest effect were as follows:

    94% indicated the offender(s) were male only; 1% in dicated the offender(s) were female only; and 5% indicated the offenders were both males and females (all unchanged from 2006 and 2010).

    the corresponding list of circumstances for male victims didn’t include a point about the gender of the perpetrator.

    Sp let’s look at the underlying data from which the findings in the “Survey Results” chapter draws upon:

    Slide 32 has the data fro female victims, but states that “Results for men are not reportable”.

    But when we read on to see if there is anything we get graphs showing tends and there we see that data for men at least was reportable in 2006 and 2010 (slide 34) which shows that in 2006 44% of male victims reported only male perpetrators and in 2010 35% of male victims reported only male perpetrators.

    Slide 34 tells us that in 2006 46% of male victims reported only female perpetrators while in 2010 40% of male victims reported only female perpetrators.

    Slide 35 tells us that in 2006 10% of male victims reported both male and female perpetrators while in 2010 24% of male victims reported both male and female perpetrators.

    This gives us the following:
    2006: 46%+10% = 56% of male victims of unwanted sexual contact reported female rapists
    2010: 40%+24% = 64% of male victims of unwanted sexual contact reported female rapists.
    Which is pretty close to Typhonsblue’s assertion of 60%, but not exactly the same which leads me to wonder whether her numbers are from the same source or some other source?

    Given such high numbers of female perpetrators in 2006 and 2010 I wonder why the 2012 numbers weren’t reportable. The report states that some results are not reportable for men because of a small number of respondents. I wonder why that wasn’t a problem in 2006 and 2010 – especially since 2010 had a lower number of male victims than 2012. The only explanation seems to be that fewer male victims were willing to answer questions on gender of perpetrator in the 2012 survey.

    Slide 37 and 28 are also interesting. Among other things it shows that almost twice as many male military personnel experience unwanted sexual contact from their spouses than female military personnel.

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