The idea for this article came to me, as all great ideas do, while sitting on the toilet in an Australian beach bar. On the back of the cubicle door there was a poster advertising the use of safe words in the bar. For those not familiar with the concept, safe words are phrases or words customers can say to staff if they are feeling unsafe or uncomfortable. Examples of this would be to “ask for Angela” or to ask for an “angel shot”. The staff will then be alerted that you are in need of help and will call you a taxi and get you safely out of the bar. The concept is a great one, and especially necessary considering the popularity of online dating apps. However I couldn’t help but wonder whether such services were also accessible for men. I got my poor father to have a look for posters in the mens, and the answer was no. I can understand why having the exact same posters in both the men’s and women’s bathrooms might not be a good idea, as the secrecy of the help would be blown. But I couldn’t see why a separate set of terms couldn’t have been offered to men. Of course there is the issue of the individual you are trying to escape being the same gender as you, but that would apply for both men and women. So why are men not being offered protection in the same way that women are?
There is no denying that, statistically speaking, sexual assault is most likely to occur between a man and a woman, with the man as perpetrator and the woman the victim. However, men too are sexually assaulted both by men and women, and though the likelihood is less, it is still very much there, and we as a society should do all that is in our power to prevent all forms of sexual assault.
I remember being in a club with my friends only a few months ago when a frightened looking man approached me at the bar. At first I was hesitant to speak with him as I worried he was trying to make a move. But, sensing his distress, I leant in so that he could whisper to me without alerting the attention of those around us. He informed me that the man just beside us at the bar kept coming up to him and touching him without his consent and that he didn’t know how to leave without the man following him. I immediately alerted my friends who proceeded to rush over to security while the others and myself stood in between the two men. Security swiftly removed the perpetrator from the club and my friends and I remained with the man until his taxi arrived to bring him home.
Looking back on that situation, I can’t help but wonder if there had been any safe word guidelines in the male bathroom as there had been in the women’s, and whether having such words would have made the situation easier for the victim. I would imagine that asking a stranger at the bar, who could have been drunk and brushed them off, or might have spoken too loudly and alerted the perpetrator would have been a frightening decision, compared to seeking out trained staff members. In this particular case, even communicating with staff members without the use of safe words would have been a difficult task due to the positioning of the other man.
In 2022 the number of users on dating apps worldwide grew to 366 million and I think we can safely assume that this number has only increased in the last year. With online dating comes greater risks compared to that of traditional ‘organic’ dating. When you meet up in person for the first date a string of nerves usually follows in relation to how truthful they have been on the app. Individuals often tweak the truth in terms of appearance, height and personality. There are also those on such apps who have no intention of dating but instead wish to take advantage of others and commit heinous crimes. Because of such dangers myself and my female friends take precautions when going on dates, especially with people we have only spoken to via dating apps. We share our locations, send on details and photographs of the person we are meeting up with and explain what the plan for the date is so that others will know which locations to expect to see us in.
In the past this has led to some overreactions, such as one of my friends alerting others in a panic as my phone had shown I had spent over 20 minutes in a car park (we were eating takeaway in his car). But such blips are more than worth risking being abducted. I contacted some of my male friends, curious about if they too take precautions like these and whether the same level of fear is present in such situations. The overall answer was no, or if they were to share their location it would only be in the situation of meeting at the other person’s residence rather than a public space. There was awareness of the risks, however the overall attitude was much more relaxed than that of my female friends. My male friends felt secure due to their builds and felt confident that they could keep themselves safe. When it comes to men and women dating it’s understandable why a man might feel more secure, as generally speaking men often have the upper hand in relation to overpowering their partner. Yet this does not always protect men from being mistreated or abused.
I discussed with one male friend the topic of sexual assault against men, and the way in which men react to such happenings. He revealed that he had been harassed by a woman in the past, and how his friend was sexually assaulted by a female friend. He revealed that his friend hadn’t realised how wrongful the actions made against him were, and how he had felt almost like he owed it to his female friend to let her proceed. Sexual assault against men is often downplayed and it is most definitely not spoken about enough. It is not as openly discussed among men as it is among women so there can be a lack of awareness in relation to what is or isn’t acceptable. My friend discussed with me how men are encouraged “to be sexually aggressive” and to “appreciate all sexual advances”. In particular, he felt that assault by older women towards young men was a more common occurrence due to this misconception that younger men have a desire to be constantly sexually active.
The Rape, Abuse and Incest National Network (RAINN) is an anti-sexual violence organisation. Their website discusses the sexual assault of men and boys and reactions to it. They discuss how there is often a sense of shame felt by the victims for not being “‘strong enough’ to fight off the perpetrator”, and/or a sense of doubt in relation to being a victim of sexual violence, in particular if perpetrated by a woman. In an article entitled “Male Victims of Sexual Assault: A Review of Literature”, by John C. Thomas and Jonathan Kopel, the lack of support for male sexual assault victims is heavily discussed. They state how it is “estimated that the help and support for male victims is over 20 years behind that of female sexual assault victims,” and that “prior to 1994, the United Kingdom’s legal definition of rape was restricted to instances of forceful or nonconsensual vaginal penetration, thus excluding male victims.” Nonconsensual anal penetration fell under the term “buggery”, which had a “significantly lighter fine”.
In 2017, actor and former football player Terry Crews spoke out about being sexually assaulted by a Hollywood executive. He stated that he did not retaliate at the time due to fears of being “ostracised or sent to jail”. Crews said he had been worried about how the incident would be reported and feared seeing headlines such as “‘240 lbs. Black man stomps out Hollywood Honcho”. His concerns of being ostracised and not taken seriously became a reality when he found himself becoming the punchline for many a celebrity, including that of comedian D.L. Hughley and rapper 50 Cent. Hughley stated on VLAD TV that he couldn’t believe that Crews, “with all those muscles,” couldn’t tell his abuser “no”. Crews responded to Hughley asking if he was “implying that I ‘wanted’ to be sexually assaulted?” The reaction to Terry Crews opening up about his abuse is vile and acts as an example of why so many male victims feel uncomfortable speaking up.
Not only does sexual assault against men, as well as sexual assaunt in general, needs to be taken more seriously. The response victims receive should not differ depending on one’s gender or one’s build. Abuse is abuse, and it should never be taken lightly.