Another discussion point is the culture of male victims of rape in prison.
“Sexual assault is not a crime of passion, it is about the abuse of power,” a quote from congress representative, Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez in response to Brett Kavanaugh’s election to the Supreme Court. This quote epitomizes the reality of what sexual violence is, it is not about sexual desire, but a tool for the abuse of power in which someone is violates another’s autonomy in the most degrading and dehumanising way.
The dismissive attitudes surrounding male sexual violence are strongly related to historical beliefs surrounding gender, gender roles and sexuality. These beliefs create a constructed platform so that there are toxic attitudes surrounding sex and also sexual violence in terms of masculinity and heterosexuality.
There are many misconceptions of male rape which include the idea that it is impossible for men to be raped because of constructed ideas about masculinity that men should always be able to defend themselves, that male rape only occurs in prison, male rape is only committed by gay men, yet because sexual violence is about power and control not sexual desire many male rapes are committed by straight men and another misconception is that men who are victims of sexual assault by other men must be closeted gay.
The toxic constructions surrounding masculinity enforce homophobia when it comes to male rapes both from those involved in the assault and from the wider society. The ideals surrounding masculinity create a stigma about male rape. Whether the assault was committed by a male or a female. If a male is sexually assaulted by a female, homophobia is often present as to beliefs that he must be gay if he didn’t enjoy it because women are not seen as legitimate perpetrators.
Homophobia is also present when males assault other males due to ideas that they should be able to defend themselves and if they weren’t, they must have enjoyed the attack. These attitudes are also reflected upon the victim themselves. As a form of PTSD for being assaulted men will blame themselves which can then lead to homophobia, by believing that queer men are a threat to straight men.
Rape is sometimes used as a homophobic attack against gay males by straight men as a form of violence. This is a similar concept to ‘corrective rape’ committed against lesbian and queer women, involving them being raped by a man in an attempt to make them straight. Sexual violence committed as a homophobic attack is performed in order to dehumanise, humiliate and harm someone because of their sexual orientation. Regarding those who identify as gay or bisexual as lesser and therefore it is okay to use rape as a punishment for their sexuality.
An example of sexual violence used as a tool against male victims, which often is dismissed and not considered ‘real sexual assault’ is the use of sexual violence as bullying, often predominant in single-sex boys schools. Often referred to as ‘sexual bullying’. This is when sexual violence is used against the victim as a way to cause physical and emotional harm in a bullying manner.
There have been several cases of this happening at many different schools, including New Zealand, where students have sexually assaulted other students, often using objects to assault a student. Regarding these attacks as bullying rather than a violent sexual assault or rape, creates the sense that the perpetrator(s) is justified in their behaviour. It is often used to protect the perpetrator and the school’s reputation, as bullying is considered ‘normal’ but addressing it for what it actually is, would cause for a very different response.
Attitudes surrounding male sexual violence victims are overlooked, minimised, discredited and often dismissed entirely as being a legitimate problem. The only recognition that male sexual violence has gained is the notion that sexual violence exists but exclusively in a prison setting. There are two primary issues with this rape myth. The first is that men can be victimised by sexual violence, coercion and harassment in any context. The second primary issue with this myth is that although there is an acknowledgement of sexual assault taking place in prison, it has highly dismissive and not recognised an issue.
The jokes, expectations, trivialisation has led to the normalisation of sexual assault in male prisons. Sexual assault in prison has become so normalised that is associated as a part of the punishment for offenders. Those who spend time in prison are completely ostracised from the rest of society. The prison institution is designed so that the most vulnerable and excluded members of society remain this way and are excluded from the mainstream political and social sphere.
This attitude was exemplified in 2017 when at the time deputy prime minister, Paula Bennett stated that gang members have fewer human rights than others. Prisoners are seen and treated as ‘subhuman’ who deserve the treatment that is inflicted on them. The sexual violence inflicted on inmates in prison is regarded as an appropriate part of the punishment because violence inflicted on subhumans isn’t ‘that bad’.
A primary example in New Zealand of the attitudes surrounding victims of sexual assault and in particular victims who are prisoners was in 2016. The then prime minister, John Key, publicly made a joke about prisoners being raped in the shower. John Key appeared on a radio station, The Rock, where he performed a stunt which referenced prison rape. Key and a radio host were locked in a cage and Key was asked to pick up a bar of a soap which was dropped on the ground.
After the skit aired, the Broadcasting Standards Authority ruled that skit was inappropriate and was in poor taste. However, after the backlash towards the then prime minister and the radio station, Key refused to apologise for his involvement in the skit. He claimed that he was not aware of the reference. Even after being asked to apologise and after advocates created a petition for Key to be removed as an ambassador for White Ribbon, he still refused and remained an ambassador. The blatant ignorance demonstrated by the prime minister proved the attitudes of what many believe surround sexual violence and in particular sexual violence against males.
The fact that in modern day we still believe that sexual assault in prison is justified is barbaric. Rape and sexual assault are one of the most dehumanising and invasive harms that a person can do to another. Sexual harm causes severe physical and emotional trauma which can last for people’s entire lives. Regardless of this, there are still attitudes that this is not serious enough for it not to be trivialised and made out like those who are victimised by sexual violence either were not harmed that badly or that they were deserving of what happened to them.
The public attitudes are not solely created by the media and politicians who believe they are comedic geniuses but are justified in legislation. The belief that prisoners are sub-human and not deserve to be treated with the same rights and dignity as those who are not in prison is enforced in our laws surrounding double bunking in prison cells.
The justification for our laws surrounding double bunking is in relation to New Zealand’s mass incarceration rates. New Zealand’s justice system strongly mimics that of the U.S, with having vastly punitive practices and having one of the largest incarceration rates in relation to our population. The incarceration rates also reflect how New Zealand is still being heavily impacted by colonisation, with Maori representing 51% of the prison population, despite only representing 15% of the general population.
There have many legislative and attitudinal changes over the past decades which have caused New Zealand’s mass incarceration rates to increase drastically. The ‘tough on crime’ ideology which has been popularised the justice system has become vastly more punitive, meaning harsher penalties, harsher sentences and more people behind bars. The current justice system does not recognise how victims and offenders are not mutually exclusive. Many of those in prison have been victimised throughout their lives, but the laws reflect the ‘ideal victim’ and stereotyped offender.
This doctrine resulted in the Bail Amendment Act 2013 being put in place by pressure from the organisation, The Sensible Sentencing Trust run by Garth McVicar. SST is a regressive organisation and McVicar has no background in criminal justice and policies are not based on evidence. The bill aimed to strengthen bail laws for offenders of violent crimes, making it increasingly difficult for individuals to seek bail.
However, when this bill became effective, the number of individuals who were on remand doubled. The Ministry of Justice stated that now people’s housing situations had been taken into account for decisions about being placed on remand. Resulting in people being placed on remand who had not committed a violent offence. This resulted in thousands of people serving time in prison on remand despite not being convicted of any crime. 30% of the prisoner population are those serving on remand.
In order to make more room for those serving time in prison, people were no longer allocated individual spaces, prisoners were now required to double bunk. Once this policy was enforced, there were not regulation surrounding the individuals who were being placed together.
This meant that age and offences were not taken into account when placing two people in the same cell. In October 2018, the Department of Corrections revealed that 674 inmates who were double-bunked had previous or current sex offences.
These inmates were bunked with other inmates of any age or offence, some of who were young and had not been charged with a violent offence. In November 2017 Corrections staff allowed two repeat sex offenders to double bunk with younger inmates. William Katipa was sentenced for the rape of a 13-year-old girl and another rape of a young woman in front of the woman’s two-year-old child.
Once placed in double bunks, Katipa raped three of his cellmates. Another case was sex offender, Stephen Gotty who had 140 previous convictions was allowed to double bunk and sexually abused his young cellmate.
Socially and politically as an entire society, we have a long way to go with how we can legitimise sexual violence against males. Acknowledging, recognising and understanding the reality that 1 in 6 men have experienced sexual abuse at some point in their lives. No one deserves to be degraded by sexual harm, regardless of the context. Rape culture is real.
Ailish Leydon-Lyons is a researcher and writer for Mosaic-Tiaki Tangata. She has recently completed a