The numbers are staggering: About 10 rapes are reported for every hour of every day, 365 days a year, according to FBI statistics. Some law enforcement and health professionals estimate that as many as 9 of 10 rapes go unreported.
"As public awareness of the seriousness of rape has increased," says Alan McEvoy, coauthor of If She Is Raped: A Book for Husbands, Fathers and Male Friends (1984, Learning Publications Inc., $9.95), "hundreds of rape crisis centers have been established to help women victimized by sexual assault. Right now, there are 800 such centers across the U.S."
And while the primary function of the centers is to help the female victims, increasingly, many are providing support to the so-called secondary victims -- fathers, husbands, boyfriends or others.
"Because of the violent sexual nature of rape," explains McEvoy, "these men usually have a particularly difficult time coming to terms with her victimization and providing her with the necessary emotional support."
By learning to separate the truths and myths about rape, men can play a vital role in helping victims deal with the short- and long-term effects of their trauma. It is toward that end, says McEvoy, that he and Jeff Brookings, a fellow teacher at Wittenberg University (Springfield, Ohio), wrote the book.
Their intentions were twofold -- to help men understand what a woman goes through in the aftermath of a sexual assault, and to provide specific guidelines as to what they should and should not do in helping her to recover.
They asked rape victims what male relatives and friends did that helped them and what they did that hurt. They talked to crisis center staffers, physicians, law enforcement people, anyone they thought could offer insightful assistance.
McEvoy, 36, and Brookings, 34, identified several consistent themes in the way men tended to interact with sexual assault victims. Among their findings and recommendations:
Men tend to become very angry when they learn of a rape and they often want to seek revenge against the rapist. "There's nothing wrong with that feeling, but threatening revenge in front of the victim is likely to intensify her fear and anxiety. It puts the woman where she has to assume the added emotional burden of worrying about your safety if you take the law into your own hands."
Some men actually explode into a violent rage when they learn of the rape of a loved one. "They'll tear up the furniture in the room, so the victim is traumatized by another violent incident."
Voicing or expressing extreme anger also shifts the focus away from the victim's needs to the man's needs. "At a time when she needs nurturance and understanding and support, she feels she has to be nurturing and understanding of him. She may even feel guilty for making him feel so emotionally distraught."
The victim should not be pressed to discuss the incident but rather allowed to talk about it in her own time. When she does bring it up, she should in no way be made to feel responsible. "Anything the victim does to survive the assault is the correct thing. To suggest otherwise really undermines her ability to deal with it."
Men and women operate under very different assumptions about what rape is. From the victim's point of view, the violence of the rape is the central concern. The male often tends to zero in on the sexual aspects of the assault. "Not only should you avoid implying cooperation on her part," the coauthors advise male readers, "but you should avoid suggesting that she may have secretly enjoyed the experience. The ability to feel and communicate unconditional love and acceptance toward the woman is an important first step in reducing the deep sense of anxiety she may feel."
It is essential that the man communicate to the victim that he is going to stand by her, no matter what. "Let her know that this is a crisis in both your lives and that you are going to endure it together."
It is common for men to want to take charge of the situation, to take over the victim's recovery. Rape robs a woman of her sense of freedom and control over her life, and in a sense, the violence and degradation of the act make her feel powerless. "She must regain this sense of control, therefore it is important she be encouraged to make the decisions about any and all events that affect her life: whether to report the crime, go to trial, tell family and friends, seek counseling."
On the other hand, says McEvoy, it is equally important the victim be made to seek immediate medical assistance, for three reasons. The first: Rape, whether by a stranger or acquaintance (as many as half of all rapes are committed by acquaintances), frequently causes physical injury as well as the risk of venereal disease or pregnancy. Second, even if she decides not to report the crime now, medical evidence will be crucial should she change her mind later on.
Third, by seeking immediate medical attention, the victim is making a statement to others that she treats the assault as a very serious life event. "If she treats it as such, other people also should treat it that way. They shouldn't dismiss it lightly.
"Some men," says McEvoy, "don't know how to deal with it so they try to sweep it under the carpet. They engage in what amounts to a conspiracy of silence. They pretend it never happened."
In other instances, men who initially have been very supportive of the victim may become impatient. "A lot of times that initial anger they feel toward the rapist is redirected toward the woman."
In the months that follow the assault, communication between the man and woman may break down and their relationship may suffer. Figures in a 1978 study indicate that anywhere from 50 to 80 percent of all marriages where rape has occurred end in divorce within a year of the assault. As many as 20 percent of all rape victims attempt suicide. Too many succeed.
"We absolutely see that sort of thing happening," says Marlene Young, executive director of the National Organization for Victim Assistance. "It's a real problem. If men were to get help sooner, or act at all in dealing with rape, and help the spouse deal with it, this figure would go down."
Young, McEvoy and others agree that many rape crisis centers now are providing much-needed assistance to rape's secondary victims. Husbands, fathers, boyfriends, brothers, and even brothers-in-law, are starting to come in to those and other facilities. "In some places," says Young, "they have generalized male support groups, and in others they have more specific help in terms of role relationships, and they have seen more and more people take advantage of those services when they are available."
Anne Van Ryzin, who with Lee Wick runs a men's counseling program for the Victim Assistance Network, Mount Vernon Center for Community Mental Health, says most of their male clients are referred by women in a related support group for sexual assault victims. It isn't all that easy, she says, to come by male clients:
"At least half the women in any group will say, 'Oh, yes. My [husband, boyfriend . . .] really needs that.' It's getting the men to realize that they, indeed, would find it profitable that is sometimes difficult."
Van Ryzin says the men who come to the sessions often see themselves primarily as helpers to the female victims "and often don't recognize that their lives have been dramatically affected and that they have very strong feelings they need to ventilate, just for themselves."
Fathers, especially, often have difficulty dealing with rape. Not only do they feel hurt, says Young, but, "In some cases they actually may be punitive toward the daughter, feeling as it commonly is felt, that it may be her fault." In cases where an adolescent daughter is assaulted, McEvoy notes that fathers "may err in terms of overprotection. They may insist that she come home immediately after school, regulate her dating behavior, even regulate friends that she can see."
McEvoy says that can be perceived by the adolescent as intrusive. "At a time when there is conflict in communication with the parents anyway, she may see it as a punishment or implication that she used poor judgment." It's important that the young victim have the opportunity to talk to someone outside the family, such as a support group, with whom she can discuss her problems and who can help her come to terms with them.
As Van Ryzin points out, one of the most important things the women's and men's support groups do is give each person a place where they "separately can ventilate their fear, frustration and anger so they can communicate with one another in a safer kind of environment."
One of the problems the groups face in getting the men to come in is spreading awareness of their existence out to the community. Women victims are referred directly by hospital, police and other justice agencies. "Men aren't always seen by the authorities who make the referrals," says Van Ryzin, "so we have to depend on public service announcements, as well as making our female clients aware that help is available for the men in their lives, too."
Indications are that the men who come for counseling are profiting from it. Van Ryzin says there is direct feedback: "They show it by coming back from one session to another. Frequently they'll come in and they're a little leery -- 'What am I getting myself into?' 'I'm here because it's important to her.' It's exciting to watch them open up as they find it's a safe place for them to talk about their feelings. The benefits are tangible and we can watch the process at work."
Their women's groups always are full, with 8 to 12 clients every time. An eight-week session scheduled for July already is half full. The men's groups? "Lee and I are looking for men right now, waiting to have some call us. It's important to get these men help. Personally, I feel that our society is just sort of catching up with providing men services as a group of individuals. It's something I feel very committed to."