It’s time we talk about same-sex sexual assault

This article is the last of a three-part series by Master of Journalism student Mike Ott on LGBTQ issues on campus and in the city. Read the first and second ones.


Do you think a teenage man would like to be gang-raped by a bunch of strangers?

The Internet seems to think so. When a 19-year-old was sexually assaulted by four women in Toronto back in 2013, people laughed. Statements like, “He should have enjoyed it,” “Every man’s fantasy come true,” or “Group sex for free? Lucky guy!” flooded social media.

Toronto Star columnist Rosie DiManno even had the nerve to pen a piece poking fun at this victim and suggesting he should calm down and enjoy the gracious blessing that has been handed to him.

For some reason, men are not considered worthy victims.

But we’re not here to talk about female-on-male rape, which is underreported, under-researched, and underestimated. We’re here to talk about male-on-male rape, which is such a taboo topic that the only time we see it discussed is when it’s being made fun of on television.

How many times have you seen a joke about prison rape? How many times has Family Guy recycled the jokes about old guys molesting young men? How many different times do fraternities need to haze new members through sexual violence before we start to learn the effects?

Male-on-male rape is a thing no one wants to talk about — and when someone does bring it up, it’s typically in an offensive or derogatory manner. People don’t like to see men as victims, especially when the perpetrator is also a man.

Farrah Khan is the sexual violence support and education co-ordinator at Ryerson. Her job includes raising awareness, providing resources, teaching self-care, and supporting and helping those involved in sexual violence.

She says society has “yet to have a wholesome conversation” about same-sex domestic violence.

She’s right. With the Ghomeshi scandal, Steubenville, #freekesha, Bill Cosby, SlutWalks, Emma Sulkowicz, and many other media events, rape and sexual violence have come to the forefront of national conversations in recent years. But what do most, if not all, of these events have in common? Heterosexuality.

Why are male-on-male rapes absent from the conversation? Is it because they don’t happen? Obviously not. The same could be said for female-on-female rape, but that’s an entirely different conversation.

Fifteen per cent of Canadian rape survivors are boys under the age of 16. One in every six men will be victimized by sexual assault in this country. That amounts to around three million men and boys in Canada. Statistics for the sex of the perpetrator is not known, but the fact remains that males are not immune to this horrific crime.

Khan points to several reasons why we’re uncomfortable talking about same-sex violence. “Men often don’t get to have the same type of conversations about consent as women because of the heavy stigma attached to being a male survivor,” she explains. “There’s police bias, so the assaults don’t get reported. There’s marginalization and stigma. It’s tough.”

She says Ryerson is leading the charge by rewriting the sexual assault policies at the university in gender-neutral language that is inclusive and free of stigma. The school’s sexual assault policy, approved last June and set for review this fall, states:

“Ryerson University is an extremely diverse community and every effort to address issues of sexual violence needs to be grounded in an understanding that each person’s experience will be affected by many factors such as their sex, ancestry, race, ethnicity, language, ability, faith, age, socioeconomic status, sexual orientation, and gender identity. We must acknowledge that some acts of sexual violence are also acts of sexism, racism, ableism, homophobia, or transphobia.”

However, this doesn’t mean Ryerson is a field of rainbows and positivity. Current national statistics suggest men are the least likely to report their assaults to the police.

This conversation needs to start happening.

Far too often, academics spend their time comparing same-sex violence to opposite-sex violence. This just positions survivors of same-sex violence as “the other” and not worthy of their own research.

Some crisis centres around the country are dedicated either mostly or entirely to female-identified survivors. This is for the most part a good thing, as sexual-assault survivors are overwhelmingly women who were targeted by men. However, those services often forget male victims in general, let alone male victims who were targeted by other men.

Furthermore, there are specific issues associated with male-on-male rape that opposite-sex sexual violence does not face. Resources and services are often not equipped for these specific problems. HIV stigma, masculinity complexes, homophobia, heteronormative language from providers, lack of training from professionals, lack of services: these are the problems that male survivors of violence often face when seeking help.

While it would be ideal to end this piece with “let’s all hold hands and work together to fix this,” that type of sentiment is lazy and inadequate. We don’t live in a perfect world, and we don’t live in a world where men don’t get raped.

Instead, let’s take the small steps to do what we can. Let’s avoid writing columns in the Star asking why a man would be upset that he was gang-raped. Let’s remember that the legalization of same-sex marriage didn’t solve all the issues in the queer community. Let’s stop telling men they aren’t allowed to be weak or vulnerable.

And most of importantly, let’s talk.


If you identify as male and require immediate crisis support, please call Support Services for Male Survivors of Sexual Abuse at 1-866-887-0015. This hotline is the first of its kind in Canada. It’s a toll-free, multilingual, 24-hour service committed to being judgment and stigma-free.

At Ryerson, if you face violence on campus, please call security at 416-979-5040 or call Farrah Khan’s office at 416-979-5000 ext. 3596.


Featured image by Augustine Ng