Like most men, Gabe never thought of rape as something that could happen to him. He didn’t think much about rape at all. He was 22 years old when that changed. “My then-wife and I got into an argument one night, and I left the house and drove to my favorite fishing hole to clear my head and think things over.” Once there, three men approached Gabe. “We struck up a typical ‘guy-type’ conversation. These were just guys on a fishing trip, like me, and I didn’t think anything was unusual about them until one of them pointed a gun at me. They beat me and raped me, and after that my whole life was different.”
Despite our stereotypical ideas of who is likely to be a rape victim, advocates estimate that one out of every six men will endure some form of sexual assault. But Gabe, who is partially deaf, may have been especially at risk. Rapists prey on vulnerability: a trusting child, someone walking alone, a college student who has been drinking, and the elderly.
Disabled persons are particularly vulnerable, and advocates estimate that up to 85% of the physically, emotionally or developmentally challenged have been victims. It is a staggering number, made all the more troubling when we consider the barriers to healing that exist for those who might find it difficult (literally) to speak up and get the help that they need.
After his rape, Gabe was left with bruises and broken ribs – but his greatest burden was his memory of the rape, which he carried in silence. “I just never talked about it. For six years I did not tell anyone what had happened to me. No one. I struggled mentally for a long time and I let my friends and family think that I was ‘just a messed up guy’,” says Gabe. “I had never heard a man talk about rape, and I just felt I was completely alone. But since I have come out with it, everyone understands what was ‘wrong’ with me all these years. I finally feel understood.”
Speaking out to those he trusted gave Gabe a sense of hope, and new purpose. At Northern Illinois University he started a group called MASIV – Men Against Sexual Interpersonal Violence. The group involves men in education, advocacy, and community outreach. “We are talking about the issue of rape and what it means for men and women,” says Gabe, “Supporting both male and female victims is important. Finding a place like The Voices and Faces Project, where my story as a man mattered, made a difference for me, too. I have a way to share my story that will help others. Now I feel like things are changing, and that I am changing things.”