A discussion we had recently about the reluctance of the media to portray men as being the victims of rape reminded me of an All Saints storyline from a few years ago (season 11 – 2007). One of the doctors, Jack (Wil Traval) is revealed to have been sexually abused as a teenager. The storyline arcs over most of the season, from Jack initially coming across his abuser Patrick by sheer bad luck, to his alliance with another of Patrick’s victims, Travis, through to Patrick and then Travis’s deaths and Jack’s emotional breakdown. For the most part I thought Traval did well with the material he was given, but an ongoing omission infuriated me.
At no point in the arc do they say Jack was raped. They use ‘sexually abused’ and ‘molested’ a few times, but never ‘rape’. As I watched it for the first time, I thought the omission was a bit odd, but it was only until he meets up with Travis that it gets established that Jack was raped. Not because they actually say that, but because Travis says he’s HIV positive. It turns out to be another terminal illness, but it scares Jack enough to get himself tested. ‘Cos apparently you can get through several years of medical school, internship and surgical residency without needing any blood tests. But beyond that stupidity, it infuriated me as a roundabout way of say he was raped without actually saying it.
It made me think: if it had been a woman who had been raped as a teenager by a paedophile, would they have shied away from using the word, or would it all have been ‘poor victim’ (now let’s bring in a man to rescue her)? It’s hard to say, because the last three seasons of AS were so full of sloppy writing that it wouldn’t surprise me that they were just being lazy (their other great faux pas include linking Downs Syndrome to incest, and having a lesbian falsely accuse a female co-worker of sexual misconduct after being rejected, ‘cos lesbians are lying deviants, see). But I’m also inclined to say that no, they wouldn’t have. I think we live in a world where it’s OK to have a woman be raped, but not a man (or boy).
But the thing is – if you don’t have the guts to do it honestly, then don’t bother at all. And OK, I get that some people just don’t know how to; I’ll grant some leeway on that. But sometimes you can tell when they’re trying, and when they simply didn’t give it a thought beyond what they, personally were comfortable with, and I didn’t get the feeling that was the AS writers’ intentions to write honestly about a male child being sexually abused.
The sad thing is, AS has covered rape/sexual abuse storylines with honesty and class three times before, including one storyline with a main male character, Jarad. That particular storyline, without being graphic, was honest and intense. So, dear AS writers; I know you could have done it, you just didn’t try.
I would like to see writers and producers willing to call men and boys raped when they are. Rape is not about sex; it’s about power, a stronger person exerting power over a weaker one. That includes men and boys when the perpetrator is bigger/stronger/able to intimidate them, as it is with women and girls. The idea that only females can be raped is a fallacy, and one that ultimately harms all of us as a society.