Why is it ‘sodomized’ instead of ‘raped’ when it happens to men?

Why is it ‘sodomized’ instead of ‘raped’ when it happens to men?
I have been waxing confused lately about the use of the term “sodomized” when referring to men who have been raped. It is on my mind because of the recent news that David Ritcheson, a young Mexican-American who was violently raped in 2006, jumped to his death on July 1st from the deck of a cruise ship. Ritcheson was raped with a plastic pole. He required two dozen surgeries to correct the damage done to his body from the violent episode.

Without minimizing the gravity of the loss of this young man, I constantly worry about the use of the term “sodomize” instead of “rape” when men are the victim of sexual assault.

Rape is a horrible thing. Of course it is not about sex, it is about power and control and exerting dominance over someone. It is also about humiliation. The universal way for men to humiliate other men is to call them a queer or treat them like one. Rape is a tool of choice for men in many settings, including prison, to solidify their masculinity and dominance in the pecking order of any social group.

What would possess someone, or a group of people, to rape someone with a pole? It boggles the mind. The violence and savagery in rape is very, very different from sodomy. Sodomy has many definitions but most people understand it to be anal sex. Anal sex is not rape. By two men making love and engaging in anal sex, they are not raping or hurting each other. That is my problem with the double standard for the term “sodomize.”

Every time the media or law enforcement uses the term “sodomize” they are really talking about rape. The more we allow that term to be used and seen as a violent act of aggression the more we allow society to define consensual anal sex as some kind of horrible thing that happens to you. Here is my point. Being sodomized can be consensual. Being raped cannot.

Rape can occur orally, anally, vaginally and in many other ways. I think the ambivalence about the use of the term “sodomize” comes from the fact that most people actually believe that being on the receiving end of sodomy must be an unpleasant thing, so folks have acquiesced to the term and they just don’t want to talk about it anymore.

I propose that when we talk about sexual assault, we talk about what really happened, and why that behavior is bad. I am not an expert in sexual assault or rape, but I have dealt with enough clients over the years to have some competency on this issue. Rape is a term people understand. Rape has a definition. Rape survivors have a network of therapists, shelters and non-profit agencies to rely on. There is more data, research, evidence and resources for survivors of rape. But my hunch is there is very little in the field of “sodomized.”

I also believe there is a double standard based on sex. I believe that when a woman is raped, it is classified as rape — even if she was anally raped. But if a man was anally raped, he was sodomized. What if these survivors and their families don’t see being “sodomized” the same as they see rape?

If they don’t see themselves as the victims of rape, because we are not calling it rape, won’t it interfere with the healing process and the effective delivery of competent counseling services? Are we averse to admitting that men get raped, leading us to use a completely different term for what it really is?

In my mind there is little difference between being raped with an object or by a person — in terms of what word we use. But I do fear that the sole use of the term “sodomize” when referring to anal rape is misleading, harmful and further marginalizes consensual anal sex and gay people as a whole.

(This post originally ran on The Bilerico Project in 2007.)

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