Talking about Cis Men and Media Coverage of Sexual Assault
Too often, men who are sexually assaulted have their stories erased – or mocked. When, in 2013, a young man was sexually assaulted in Toronto’s entertainment district, his story became fodder for jokes.
While cisgender men are much less likely to experience sexual violence than women and trans folks, it doesn’t mean that men can’t be survivors of violence.
We sat down separately with anti-violence advocates Glen Canning and Derek Warwick to hear more about how we can ensure men who are survivors aren’t erased from the conversation.
Derek Warwick is a writer and a violence prevention educator.
Glen Canning is an advocate for victims of sexual violence.
Interviewer: What are the challenges you have seen in mainstream media reporting on sexual violence and rape enacted against cis men?
Glen: “It has come a long way. A few years ago men never felt safe reporting and that seems to have changed… Myself, it took the assault of my daughter to face my own past. I hid it inside for 40 years. A stigma is there. The idea that it’s not manly to be abused by another man is something predators use against boys to keep them quiet. I never asked for help. Thought I was tough. Inside I was broken.”
“Ending the cycle is so important.The more men come forward and get help the more men will understand what happened to them. That it wasn’t their fault.”
Derek: “[They include] details that lend themselves to victim blaming, questioning the victim’s actions… these things aren’t unique to just men. But certain questions might be different. [Men might be asked,] ‘Why didn’t you fight your perpetrator off?’ Rather than, ‘Why were you wearing these clothes?’ The mechanism is the same. It just takes a different form.”
Interviewer: How would you like to see cis men creating consent culture?
Glen: “[We need to] redefine what it is to be a man – include empathy, love, kindness, understanding, tolerance, forgiveness… Media should be creating more of a space for these men… to be role models for others. More and more stories come out. It’s an opportunity to engage communities.”
Derek: “I would really love to see more… grassroots efforts from men. There are some out there… [But] something that does concern me is when a lot of cis men get involved, I hear them talking about concerns for their wife or their daughters. That’s all well and good but I feel like the concern should be broader than their immediate family.”
“I would like to see more men doing the work instead of just talking about doing the work. I think a lot of men are grappling with… wanting to do something. I don’t see a lot of action… I think men really need to take more support roles.”
Interviewer: The media often portrays survivors as white, straight, cisgender, able-bodied women. How can the media avoid minimizing stories about sexual violence against survivors that do not fit this narrative?
Glen: “It’s the reporting that goes further than sexual violence. Reporting in general is too white… The media has moved too far away from informing communities and simply go with ‘it bleeds, it leads’ stories with lots of sensationalism, but little value.
“They had such a powerful opportunity here in Halifax to engage consent issues but they blew it [with] Rehtaeh’s story. Definitely dropped the ball on consent as well as victim-blaming. There was and continues to be a big problem with it. They could have used her story to educate. This is a very misinformed community when it comes to rape. The media plays a role in fixing that. Or rather they should.”
Derek: “Mainstream media doesn’t do a good job generally reporting on sexual violence, but it does a terrible job when yet the survivors are not white, cisgender, able-bodied women… The standard needs to be upped generally, but also there needs to be greater work done for more marginalized women, because the standard there is so low.”
Interviewer: Statistics show most survivors don’t report. Why is it important to have diverse representations of survivorship in media reporting?
Glen: “It’s important so everyone feels they are not alone. That they are safe to report and will be believed. With men it would be nice to include more stories of how they dealt with the trauma. I think we can learn a lot from First Nations communities about healing. They’ve done some wonderful things for me.”
Derek: “Acknowledge that people deserve help and that there isn’t a single way to respond… Emphasize that… no one deserves this… [Write] stories that reaffirm that this is something that happens to everyone, but also that when it happens to you, you are not to blame, that it’s actually entirely on the perpetrator, that they shouldn’t have done that.”
Interviewer: There has been a swell in media coverage of rape culture in recent months. What conversations are you glad to see happening, and what do we still need to address?
Glen: “Believing is so powerful. I’ve noticed a swell of people speaking up and challenging rape culture when it happens. When stories break there has always been the victim blamers. They need to be called out more. Men need to lead other men. Stop being indifferent. Stop taking part (i.e. those FHRITP chants). Young men need better examples.”
Derek: “I agree there’s been a lot of media coverage, which is great. I don’t think that actually holds true for sexual violence against cis men… Personally, I have been having some local conversations about how we protect people from perpetrators because, of course, perpetrators largely commit more than one sexual assault. Again, locally, we’ve been thinking about forms of accountability that we can have.”
This blog is part of a series of interviews femifesto is publishing on media reporting and sexual violence in diverse communities across Canada.