Some of you may recall that back at the beginning of August The Observer did an interview with me on a passage on my book about an attempted rape I had experience in my twenties. On the back of that, a national newspaper commissioned me to write an 1800 word feature on the subject. Unfortunately, having commissioned it, they then didn't publish it. They assured me they loved it, but the day never seemed right, and there was too much other news around. I let it drag on for a couple of weeks but in the end nothing happened, so I thought, sod it, I'll put it up myself. It's not just about what happened to me, it's about the sexual violence and assaults that men undergo, and not just from other men. This is an important subject and one of the last taboos. It needs talking about.
If I’m being honest, I’m not sure writing about male rape is the best way to market my new book Why Can’t We All Just Get Along: Shout Less, Listen More, but there is a story in it which seems to have captured people’s attention, so here goes. Deep breath.
Some years ago on my LBC Radio show I hosted a phone-in on male rape, by which I mean male on male rape. I wasn’t sure any man would phone me and talk about it, for obvious reasons. I shouldn’t have worried. Within minutes the phone lines were ringing off the hook. It was an hour in which I should have been honest and made an admission myself.
I could have revealed that I too was once the victim of a sexual assault, which could have turned into something far worse. It’s not something I have spoken about in public before, but perhaps I should have done. I thought about doing it when the David Platt male rape story dominated Coronation Street for several weeks. But I didn’t.
It wasn’t that I was ashamed of what had happened, I suppose I just wimped out. Until in early 2019 I was on CNNtalk with Bonnie Greer discussing the sexual assault allegations made against US Supreme Court nominee Brett Kavanaugh by Christine Blasey Ford. Bonnie had written about a date rape she suffered 40 years ago in the New European newspaper. She then said that it should be remembered that sexual assault also happens to men too and it was important men talked about it. So I did. Gingerly.
I think it is often very difficult for victims of sexual crimes to come forward be they at the less serious end of the scale, or the other end. This is especially true when people think that there is no prospect of a conviction. They also blame themselves. There’s a feeling of shame involved. Embarrassment. ‘What will people think?’
Back in the early 1990s I lived in Walthamstow. One night I met a guy and went back to his flat. His room was disgusting. Clothes all over the place and a mattress on the floor. Still, I wasn’t there to live in judgment of his tidiness habits.
It soon became evident to me that he was blind drunk. Almost paralytic. I rapidly decided I wanted out of there, but couldn’t work out how I could escape without it all being a bit embarrassing. He kept trying to kiss me. I kept pulling away. He made clear he intended to have anal sex with me and wasn’t going to take no for an answer. I made very clear to it that it wasn’t going to happen. Repeatedly.
He’d stop trying for a few minutes and would then start again. Luckily I was just as strong as him and could fend him off. Someone else might not have been able to do so.
And then he leaned over the side of the mattress and was sick. Over my car keys.
My only hope was that the drink would kick in even further and he would go to sleep. And that’s what eventually happened. While he was on top of me.
I left it for about 20 minutes and then carefully manoeuvred myself away from him. I rapidly got dressed, cleaned the sick off my car keys and went to the door. Problem. The door was locked and I couldn’t see a key. Eventually I found it and ran out of the building as fast as I could and made a ‘Starsky and Hutch’ getaway in my car. Five minutes later I was back in my own flat. I immediately threw up.
Reflecting on this incident nearly thirty years on, I question how could I have been so stupid as to put myself in that situation? Why didn’t I realise how drunk he was? But isn’t that akin to saying that a woman wearing in a short skirt was asking for it? Or that the man could be excused because he was drunk.
It’s not something I think about very often and it only came back to me because of what Bonnie Greer said. But I suspect I am very much the exception and that most men would feel somehow emasculated by going through something like that.
I just kicked myself for putting myself in that situation. But in reality, it was the other guy who I should be blaming, not myself. I doubt whether he even remembers it.
I don’t think I even regarded it as sexual assault at the time, even though it clearly was. OK, some people say, you weren’t going back to his flat to play tiddlywinks, but what people who hold this view don’t understand is the issue of ‘consent’. Anyone can withdraw their consent for a sexual act at any time – even while it is going on. If the other person doesn’t stop, it’s rape. It really is that simple.
People ask, well if was assault, why didn’t you go to the Police? I have to admit that it never occurred to me. I doubt whether in 1991 the Police would have been entirely sympathetic. I’d hope that the rather anti-diluvian attitudes of those times might have changed by now, but I suspect there is still a long way to go in some police forces.
Three weeks ago, after I first talked about what had happened to me, I hosted a two-hour long phone-in on male on male sexual violence. Many of the calls were heart-breaking. Two themes stood out. Several men had been raped or assaulted after someone had spiked their drinks or they had been drugged. It reduced them to zombies who were vaguely aware of what was happening to them but were verbally and physical incapacitated – unable to provide resistance.
Secondly, several were victims of domestic violence by their male partners. Their coercive behaviour led to repeated rapes. Believe it or not domestic violence occurs just as much in gay or lesbian relationships as it does in straight ones. And it’s not just men who are the perpetrators. Female on male domestic violence is a phenomenon which many feminists don’t care to acknowledge. They used to deny it was even possible, but domestic violence comes in many forms – not just physical. Women are just as capable of coercive behaviour as men, and it is now an acknowledged fact that one in four cases of domestic violence are female on male. Whenever I cover the subject on my radio show I usually get just as many male victims phoning in as female.
Society sees a sexual assault on a woman as less serious than on a man. This needs to change. Men have just as much right not to be violated as women. I do not pretend that there are many assaults where men are the victim, but it does need to be acknowledged that it is possible for a woman not just to sexually assault a man, but to rape a man too.
Many years ago, I was at a Labour Party conference running the bookshop. Mo Mowlam, then a cabinet minister, came round on a ministerial tour of the commercial exhibition. She beckoned me and my partner John over to have our photo taken with her. She stood in the middle with her arms around us both. I then felt her hand move downward and she started caressing and kneading my buttocks. John told me afterwards she was doing the same to him. At the time we both found it vaguely amusing and certainly didn’t feel violated, but by the standards of 2020, that was a sexual assault, albeit a very minor one. And to those of you who think it was nothing of the sort, imagine if one of today's male cabinet ministers did something similar to two women at a party event. He'd lose his job before the day was out.
Some years earlier, I was at a political reception and a female lobbyist, with a glass of wine in one hand, started fondling my groin area. I protested and back came the response: “Oh lighten up, it’s only a bit of fun”. I told her that if it had been the other way around, she might have thought differently.
Any sexual account can lead to serious mental health issues later on – PTSD, depression or anxiety. In some cases it can even lead to suicide. Suicide is the main killer of men under 45, and sexual assault is often the trigger.
It also affects future relationships. Even the most mild form of sexual assault can have traumatic psychological consequences for the victim and lead them to doubt whether they can form a proper emotional and sexual relationship with someone else. Just the thought of having to tell a partner is enough to trigger a form of depression.
For many men, they feel they’ve undergone a form of emasculation. Their sense of their own manliness has been taken away, never to be retrieved – or so they think. In many cases, even the thought of relating the experience to a professionally trained counsellor is too much to contemplate.
Interestingly, I have found over the years that victims of sexual abuse and rape will phone me and are willing to discuss their experiences on national radio, but they then tell me they’ve never told another living soul about what happened to them.
I will never forget the call from Anne in Enfield, a lady of advancing years, who told me about being raped at a wedding by a family member. She hadn’t ever told her husband. The next evening she rang in again and when she came on the line said: “Iain, after talking to you, I’ve told my husband.” Oh no, I thought, what have I done? “Iain, it’s as if I can see blue sky again.” To say I was relieved was an understatement, but it just goes to prove that talking about a traumatic incident can be of enormous help. You feel unburdened. The other person doesn’t even need to say anything – just listen. The male rape charity SurvivorsUK say it takes an average of 26 years for a male victim to speak out. One in six males have experienced sexual abuse by the age of 18.
Each year in Britain it is estimated that 85,000 women and 12,000 men experience rape each year. Only 15% of those report it to the police. Ninety per cent of rape victims know the perpetrator. A further 70,000 men are abused or sexually assaulted every year.
Perhaps the most horrifying statistic was revealed this month. Rape convictions have plummeted over the last three years with only 2.5% of reported rapes ever making it to a conviction. Ninety-five per cent never even make it to court. It should also be noted that only 4% of reported rapes turn out to be from fantasists or people seeking revenge on someone.
I never became a statistic. But it was more by luck than judgement. All I hope is that any man reading this will now know that if they’ve been raped or sexually assaulted by another man, they are not alone. That knowledge may of itself not make a difference, but I hope it encourages more people to talk about the issue, and if necessary seek professional help.
SurvivorsUK helpline number 0203 598 3898
Why Can’t We All Just Get Along: Shout Less, Listen More by Iain Dale is out now in hardback at £12.99. Signed copies from www.politicos.co.uk.