With second season, ‘American Crime’ starts a dialogue on male rape

“American Crime” has only started its second season, but it’s doing something few shows have ever done — open a discussion about male rape.
Jan 14, 2016

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  • "American Crime" has only started its second season, but it's doing something few shows have ever done — opening a discussion about male rape.

  • The hit ABC show's second season tells the story of a high school athlete who is sexually assaulted and bullied online by some of his teammates.

  • In the show, high school basketball star Taylor (Connor Jessup) admits to his mother, Anne Blaine (Lili Taylor), that "something" had happened to him, which comes with a reveal that dirty photos of him have circulated online, showing that he was intoxicated and sexually assaulted. His mother then reports the incident to the authorities, kicking off a new level of drama.

  • But "American Crime" — which touched on police and veteran violence in its first season — does more than just name a victim and a crime: It makes male rape and sexual assault a focal point of the entire show, which opens up a discussion about how male rape victims handle the issue, Mic's Manuel Betancourt reported.

  • The show also touches on what's often a major issue for male sexual assault and rape victims — masculinity.

  • "While the show is hinging on the rhetorical and cultural implications and definitions of rape, it is using Taylor's predicament — even his inability to articulate what happened — to openly discuss consent, sexual orientation and the stigma surrounding male-on-male sexual violence, all within a school sports environment," Betancourt wrote.

  • This isn't the first time a national crime drama has discussed male rape victims, though. Betancourt points to "Law and Order: Special Victims Unit," which has addressed the issue on various episodes, including one called "Personal Fouls" in 2011 that "mirrored the Jerry Sandusky scandal that would rock Pennsylvania State University that same year," Betancourt reported.

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  • And one of this year's Oscar-nominated dramas, "Spotlight," also examines male sexual assaults. The movie is about The Boston Globe's investigation into the Catholic Church's sexual assault cover-ups, highlighting how victims sometimes hide their attacks or feel fearful of coming forward about their assaults, Betancourt reported.

  • "Much of the human drama of the film relies on the difficulty in getting the male victims, who continue to struggle with their childhood trauma, to speak openly about their experiences," he wrote. "They've been so imprinted with shame and guilt that even speaking to reporters is a great struggle."

  • Though the majority of rape victims are women — 1 of every 6 American women has been a victim of rape in her lifetime — about 3 percent of American men have been raped, according to the Rape, Abuse and Incest National Network. From 1995 to 2010, about 9 percent of rape and sexual assault victims were men, with 2.78 million men overall being victims of sexual assault.

  • "Sexual assault can happen to anyone, no matter your age, your sexual orientation, or your gender identity," RAINN's site explained. "Men and boys who have been sexually assaulted or abused may have many of the same feelings and reactions as other survivors of sexual assault, but they may also face some additional challenges because of social attitudes and stereotypes about men and masculinity."

  • Those social attitudes and stereotypes lead to victims not reporting the crime, as the movie "Spotlight" notes. And not only do male rape and sexual assault victims suffer some of the same issues as other rape victims, but they also feel that they can't come forward about their assaults because of the risk of feeling emasculated, RAINN's website said.

  • That's why Betancourt of Mic said the "American Crime" story arc is so important. It doesn't simply point out that males get raped, too, but that assault stays with the victim, and the episodes are bringing up questions about sexual assault and the process of dealing with it.

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  • "This is not a show about pointing fingers or naming names, as if that's all it took to 'solve' the issue at hand," Betancourt wrote. "As it showed last season, 'American Crime' is more ambitious than that. It is shining a light on the systemic and institutionalized forces that let Taylor's story happen, but that also stay in place long after his own particular and increasingly complicated storyline is wrapped up."

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Herb Scribner is a writer for Deseret Digital Media.

Website: https://twitter.com/HerbScribner

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