A hospital in Stockholm captured global attention Thursday with an unprecedented health-care announcement: A new emergency department just opened specifically for male victims of sexual assault.
A team of dedicated staffers runs the modest clinic, which was modeled after the city’s half-century-old program for women. Counseling and legal services are wrapped into the medical treatment, funded entirely by taxpayers.
Start-up costs have so far reached the U.S. equivalent of roughly $200,000, said Rasmus Jonlund, a spokesperson for the Liberal Party, which masterminded the program.
“We saw the need because men are also victims of rape,” he said, “and they often are afraid to come forward because of the stigma.”
Such investments are increasingly expected in Sweden, where recent government campaigns have sought to quash stereotypical assumptions about the sexes. Five years ago, the World Economic Forum deemed Sweden the most gender-equal country in the world. This spring, the official dictionary of the Swedish language added a new pronoun, “hen,” to express gender neutrality.
Swedish officials said the new clinic fosters a culture of equal care. A small survey from a Swedish advocacy group last year found men weren't sure where to go after enduring sexual violence.
Last year, about 370 cases of sexual assault on men or boys were reported across Sweden, according to the Swedish National Council for Crime Prevention. The number of “hidden victims,” or those ashamed to seek help, Jonlund said, is probably much higher.
“The news seems to be much more interesting abroad,” he said.
A radio producer called from Ireland. An editor in Stockholm told him the local story climbed to the top of Reddit, drawing millions of readers from around the world. By mid-afternoon, the post displayed more than 4,000 comments. Some reflected confusion: Can men be raped? Others showed gratitude about the heightened awareness around a sensitive issue.
Wrote one user: “Good. I have a male friend who is the victim of female rape. It's absolutely disgusting that there is nowhere for him to go for help.”
Added another: “Yep, hopefully the rest of the West catches on soon.”
The share of men who report incidents in the United States has recently surged.
In 2013, the Bureau of Justice Statistics surveyed 40,000 American households about rape and sexual violence and found that men reported 38 percent of such crimes — a dramatic leap from 14 percent in the recent past.
Experts wondered if the Jerry Sandusky trial, which coincided with the reporting spike, prompted more men to speak up. Or a simple change to the definition of rape might have given some respondents their first opportunity to report a sexual crime.
In 2012, the FBI redefined rape more broadly in ways that included violations "without the consent of the victim." The previous definition ("the carnal knowledge of a female, forcibly and against her will") hadn't been modified in nearly nine decades. Advocates say that alienated many male victims and left them without vocabulary to describe their trauma.
An estimated 19 percent of women and 1.7 percent of men say they've been raped, according the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. This definition, however, excludes female attackers.
When the CDC broadened the meaning of sexual assault, a different picture emerged: Forty-four percent of women and 23.4 percent of men said they'd experienced other forms of sexual violence in their lifetimes, including unwanted contact.
And 7 percent of men reported that they had been “made to penetrate” another person. That could mean vaginal intercourse or receiving oral sex against their will.
Nearly half of men who reported a sexual assault said their assailant was a woman.
“Gender and heterosexist stereotypes, such as the idea that all men are sexually insatiable or that gay male victims ‘asked for it,’ can perpetuate dismissive attitudes toward male victims,” Lara Stemple, a law professor at UCLA, wrote last year. “Yet such dismissal runs counter to evidence that men who experience sexual victimization report depression, suicidal ideation, anxiety, sexual dysfunction, and more.”