Interview: Daria Suharchuk
Sexual abuse of men is rarely discussed: When it comes to sexual abuse, most of us automatically imagine a woman as a victim and a man as an abuser. This approach is dictated by the statistics itself: for example, according to the American organization RAINN, more than 80% of victims of sexual violence are women, but in other countries the situation is similar. The remaining 20% are men - and most often the victims are children, not adults. At the same time, there is still no sufficiently accurate data on sexual crimes in the world due to the fact that victims rarely report them to the police.
According to feminist and sociologist Anastasia Khodyreva, helping male survivors of sexual violence in Russia is complicated by the way Russian law treats sexual violence. In the Criminal Code, rape refers only to the violence of a man against a woman, and violence against men falls under the article “Violent acts of a sexual nature” - while sexual violence is understood only as a situation when physical resistance was shown. In addition, the political situation in recent years does not allow openly discussing violence without blaming the victims.
There are no separate crisis centers for men in Russia, but men and boys who have experienced sexual violence can seek help from INGO Crisis Center for Women in person, by phone or via the Internet. Help can be obtained at the Sisters center, as well as through the LGBT community (for example, a group or website "Children-404"). Nevertheless, in recent decades, the first centers of assistance for male survivors of violence began to appear in Europe and America, although there are significantly fewer of them than crisis centers for women. One such specialized organization is Berlin's Tauwetter, a center for male survivors of sexual assault. It started in 1995 as a self-help group at the Wildwasser Women's Crisis Center. Gradually, the organization has grown and now provides counseling for victims of violence and conducts educational talks in schools. We spoke with the center's consultant Jörg Schu.
You have been working since the 90s and your idea was borrowed from similar crisis centers for women. How is helping men different from helping women?
Speaking of sexual violence, as a rule, implies actions against women - also because the culture itself presupposes an aggressive role for men and a passive role for women. Indeed, 90% of sex crimes are committed by men. But men can be victims, but they started talking about it quite recently - in the 90s or even zero. For a long time, this topic was taboo.
It is much more difficult for men to talk about sexual abuse and even more difficult about the abuse they experienced in childhood, for example, by their father or mother (women also act as rapists, but less often). As a rule, it takes them a very long time to realize that what happened to them was sexual abuse, that they now need help. In addition, many take time just to realize that sexual violence against men does exist.
Have they started talking about this in Germany quite recently?
Definitely not earlier than in the 90s, if not later. But they seriously thought about it and started talking not so long ago - after a story that happened in 2010 at the elite college of Kanizia, when several men from among former students said that they were raped by the then teachers and they are still suffering the agonizing consequences. It was important not only the very recognition of the victims that they had been raped, but also that they told about the suffering that it caused them.It is important for men to realize that they have experienced violence and that they are still unhappy about it.
According to the founder of the center, your clients are usually older than the women seeking help - usually over 30
I would say even older - more than 40. On average, they are 40–45; there are also younger ones, but they are in the minority. Boys tend to experience abuse at a very early age - between the ages of eight and 12, and it takes time for them to realize it. Very often they do not tell anyone about this and, of course, do not receive any help. Asking for help is "unmanly". Therefore, they find ways to get away from the problem: many are completely immersed in work and thus suppress or suppress these experiences.
They tell themselves that they are too busy to think about their pain, that they have to work and feed their families. Then they burn out or they have a midlife crisis and the memories surface again. Others choose drugs - this is a way to escape from reality, where everything is really bad. Many victims of violence forget what happened to them - and remember only after many years. For example, we once had a client whose memories came back when he was hit with a baton by a policeman at a demonstration.
It is important for men to realize that they have experienced violence and that they are still unhappy because of it
It seems to me that this is quite typical for men raised in European culture - both in eastern and western Europe. Often they have depression behind their alcohol or other addiction
Many men who are being treated for addictions often come to us. It can be people with alcohol addiction, workaholics, and extreme athletes. Of course, I would never draw direct conclusions and suspect that every drinker is a survivor. But alcohol addiction may actually be an attempt to numb the pain. Athletes who are trying to push themselves to their limits are trying to spur themselves on, to force them to live on.
It is very difficult for raped men to talk about their experiences, also because in response you can hear the dismissive: "Are you gay?" or "Well, you probably liked it." The latter is a common trick of rapists. If they see that a boy has an erection, they say that he wants sex himself, that he likes it. Although, in fact, this bodily reaction may not have anything to do with real arousal. Of course, this only complicates the subsequent recovery, because shame is added to all painful experiences. Sexuality itself is often experienced as something shameful, and sexual abuse is doubly experienced.
You talk about boys all the time. Grown men are not victims of violence?
They are becoming, albeit much less frequently. If this happens, it is more likely with homosexual men: it can also be partner violence in a same-sex couple. In addition, sexual violence can be part of homophobic actions. In addition, this can happen to patients of doctors who abuse their position. But most of our clients have experienced abuse during childhood or adolescence. Many victims of violence are repeatedly exposed to it - for example, the first time in childhood, then in adolescence, and so on.
Do you work in schools?
Yes, since 2010 we have been working in two schools - Kanizia College and another school in the Schöneberg district. At Kanizia College, we started working under their new student protection system.
You said that in 2010 a scandal erupted there: several graduates said they had been raped. Were you invited there after him?
Yes, because they don't want history to repeat itself. When it first became known about the violence, many teachers tried to leave everything as it is, saying that everything was in the past. We proceed from the assumption that this can happen now, and this must be prevented.We need to explain to children what sexual abuse is so that they can talk to their school psychologist or even the headmaster about it. Children need to know where they can be helped.
Isn't it more natural for a child to tell a relative about the abuse?
On the one hand, yes, relatives are the closest people. On the other hand, about a third of all sexual violence occurs in the home. And in this case, it is important for the child to be able to tell about it to someone outside of her - at school, or a friend, or the parents of a friend.
In your trainings, do you tell children what to do if their friend is abused?
Of course, we tell children what to do if their friend complains about sexual abuse in the family or, for example, in the sports section. We say that it is important just to support, in no case to express doubts, and at the same time a friend is not obliged to go with a story to the police. It's important to just be around - play football, eat ice cream together.
In other countries, victims of pedophiles may not be able to report to the police because the crime has expired years ago. How is it doing in Germany?
According to German law, a person who was raped as a minor has time before he turns 30, and in some cases even 20 years after reaching this age, to report to the police. However, I want to point out that for many of our clients, the application is not the most important thing. Some find the strength to tell the police: they do not want other people to suffer, they want the rapist to understand what he did. Many rapists may not understand this - while their victim continues to suffer.
In Britain, a study was recently published, according to which a very large percentage of school-age children were victims of various forms of sexual violence. it's not just about physical abuse, but also about things like name-calling like "whore" or "fagot". However, many children may not understand what they are dealing with. Do you explain this in your class?
Yes, we are discussing what constitutes sexual assault. And that it is not at all necessary a stranger who will put you in the car and take you to the basement. It all starts with border violations - with such insults. This could also include showing porn videos to a child under 14 years old - in Germany it is a criminal offense: adults are not allowed to show pornography to children. And here, too, is a difficult situation, because, for example, today a child can easily open his father's laptop and go to a porn site, and the father will then be punished.
By the way, in our classes we also discuss what pornography is. She teases the imagination, and teens who see her may decide to show the video to others in order to provoke them. This also includes name-calling or petty harassment, for example, pulling off the elastic of the bra from the girl in front and the like. Provocateurs thus check the boundaries of the people around them: what will be the reaction? What can you get away with and what can't?
Do you explain these things to elders, such as teachers or parents? Older people may not understand this
Yes, we work with teachers and trainers of the same section in Berlin. We tell, for example, that the coach should not be in the shower with the children - unless, of course, they threaten to smash everything there. The coach has nothing to do in the shower with the children, and even more so he should not wash with them, because this will already be a violation of their personal boundaries. We explain to parents that the child has the right to refuse their hugs and kisses. That they should be proud if their child can refuse them, because it is much more difficult than saying no to a stranger. This means that he knows how to defend his boundaries.
In a patriarchal family, children are taught from childhood that adults are allowed everything
This is a very interesting cultural change, because a patriarchal family does not give a child any opportunity to deny anything to an adult
Exactly. In a patriarchal family, children are taught from childhood that adults are allowed everything. All this rests on the topic of children's rights. Nonviolent upbringing is very difficult for some parents - and this despite the fact that in Germany any violence against children was completely prohibited by federal law back in 2000.
You work in Berlin, a very cosmopolitan city - have you noticed cultural differences between people from different backgrounds? For example, German and Eastern European
Back in the 90s, many Russian Germans arrived in Germany, bearers of a different culture. And in our practice, there have been cases when we were called by men from this diaspora who were subjected to domestic violence, but at the same time afraid to talk about what happened to them, for fear of losing contact with their family. I would say that in this environment - as well as among immigrants from the Middle East - internal ties are very strong, which put pressure on individual members and make it impossible to wash dirty linen in public. The same behavior is typical of the elite schools we talked about: members of these communities are often afraid to bring the discussion of violence to the public for fear of losing the support of the collective.
How do outsiders react to complaints from abused men? Do they face accusations of provocative behavior as women?
This is not the case with men. Firstly, they are even less trusted, and the first reaction to complaints is often: "Well, no, it can't be, he's such a good person!" or "But he's not gay, he has a family", "Don't be silly!" Then they are accused of not defending themselves, that they are not courageous enough. And, finally, they can deny the very fact of the trauma - and the person who has survived the violence will hear that "nothing like that happened" and "everything is not so scary."
Your last words remind me of a recent Moscow story: in early September, there was a scandal in one of our elite schools when it was revealed that a teacher slept with high school students. During the discussion of this scandal, many said that the girls were not really hurt because they were old enough
Of course, talking about sexual abuse in school is still largely taboo. In our center, we worked with several men, graduates of one elite British college of art. These men cannot name the teacher who harmed them, because he has worldwide fame and connections, and they are either at the beginning of their careers, or are still studying and do not want to lose their scholarship. However, there is another way out - for example, in one college in Berlin, a concept was developed to protect students from sexual violence. Upon admission, all students and teachers receive a brochure in which it is written that intimate relationships between teachers and students are unacceptable under any circumstances. If they do fall in love with each other, then the teacher cannot continue teaching that student.
In recent years, there has been more talk in Germany about trauma as a consequence of violence. Of course, not every episode of violence leads to severe trauma - and here mental trauma is not very different from physical trauma. If a fresh wound is immediately disinfected, it will not fester and heal, but if this is not done, it will hurt for a long time. The patient may need serious treatment, from medicated ointment to surgery.
When new clients come to us, the first thing we do is try to give them the opportunity to somehow streamline their lives. We tell them that they are no longer young children, victims of violence, but adults who are able to get out of this difficult situation. At the same time, it is more typical for men in our culture to express their pain through aggression, anger - it can be anger or aggressive driving on the road, it, in the end, is simply dangerous for others.We say to such clients that the most important thing is not to let life completely crumble and to find a source of positive impressions, some kind of use of their powers, for example, sports or music, which will allow them not to think about what happened to them for several hours a day. Don't let the rapist define your life.
Photos: booleen - stock.adobe.com, eugenesergeev - stock.adobe.com, TuTheLens - stock.adobe.com