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Yes, I Am a Sexual Assault Survivor. Yes, I Am Also Male

Yes, I Am a Sexual Assault Survivor. Yes, I Am Also Male

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Top illustration by Lam Yik Chun.

TRIGGER WARNING: This article contains graphic descriptions of sexual harassment and assault that may be triggering to survivors.

Jonathan* has very complicated feelings about his secondary school days.

On one hand, he expresses genuine love and pride for his school, speaking fondly of memories he shares with his classmates.

What he doesn’t talk about, however, is the school’s student culture: one that normalised disturbing levels of hazing and ragging—even sexual abuse. Two decades later, Jonathan still carries the trauma and pain of those formative years.

“You see, I came from an all-boys school. It’s a good school. But the problem of any single-ed environment is that a lot of things get swept under the carpet, because everyone thinks that it’s ‘safe’. Teachers think that nothing serious will happen because all of the students are the same gender. They trusted that seniors could be responsible for whatever things they came up with to deal with juniors.

My school is known for its over-the-top … games. For a lot of the activities that we engage in, in terms of our CCA, our class or even friend groups, it gets very physical. Let’s just say that there was an excessive amount of manhandling, a lot of ragging. When we entered the school, we were all told that this was the school culture; it’s the student population’s way of having fun. But I always knew it was wrong.

And I was caught up in that whole problem.

I was in the photography club. If we’re not shooting, we’re mostly indoors, which makes the situation worse. We also had a dark room where we kept all the old film equipment.

The dark room literally means just that. You can really turn off all the lights. And we needed that, because if you need to do any form of developing you will have to do it in the dark. Under the pretext that we should learn how to work in complete darkness, we played these “bonding games” whenever we had spare CCA time.”

“It was a free-for-all. My seniors would do whatever they wanted to do, to whoever they wanted. In the dark, you really don’t know who is doing what. You didn’t know who was instigating it, though I felt like everyone was responsible.

I was always physically smaller, with a pretty soft character, so I was an easy target. They would specifically pick on people like me, who were easier to grab hold of. It was very painful for me. It was very difficult to escape. I could run around and hide–but it’s a small room.

They didn’t care how much I screamed about it. The more I didn’t like it, they more that they derived pleasure from it.

The first time it happened, I was what, twelve years old? It was more of a ‘touch-and-go’. I was groped. Subsequently, I was told that this is already considered ‘gentle’. But you should understand that nothing of this sort is ever really gentle.

Once we all got to know everyone better, it got much worse. People became more adventurous, and they were always looking for different ways to have fun. When I screamed, it got more aggressive. People would grab hold of me–do you know how it feels, the feeling of being pinned down?

Because it was so repetitive, it was very traumatic. It’s so horrifying, knowing that it will happen, but not knowing when. And to my horror, it only got worse.

What started with clothes on, progressed into clothes off.

I didn’t know what to expect once it got to the point where my shorts and underpants were removed. It was just beyond dangerous. By the time it got that bad, even though it was in the dark, I could recognise voices. I knew who would be more aggressive, who would be less; which were the ones who would derive more fun from it. All the innocence of childhood was quickly discarded.

I was just thankful that certain other things were not done to me, because I heard from friends about how people would try and perform oral sex on their friends. These things would happen in broad daylight too, to other friends of mine, and some of them would even get injured because of rough handling.”

“I don’t like to put it this way, but in some sense, I felt like I was raped. Almost every possibility, bar a few, has happened to me.”

“All these incidents haunt me. My experiences have made me afraid and distrustful of people, and it has put me off physical contact. I don’t trust guys anymore, except for very old, very close friends. For example, if you were a guy sitting here and interviewing me, I wouldn’t be able to do it. This kind of setting—I would really panic.

Most guys can’t understand the feeling of being so vulnerable and helpless. But all of my female friends understand. I can’t trust my own gender because I were treated like that by guys, and guys who were supposed to be in a position of trust.

Occasionally, I have very horrific flashbacks. Sometimes when I have a near-miss situation, I could have a meltdown. It’s very exhausting when you never feel safe. Even till this day, I’m worried that someone will grab me in the toilet, or take a peek, or someone would do a recording of me.

Sometimes when I’m in the shower, I just look down at my own body and wonder: what’s so interesting? What did all these people want out of my body? After so many years, I still cannot understand why it was so sexualised.”

When I asked Jonathan why he was willing to open up about his story after all this time, he shared about how he feels like he was never really able to “get over it” and how he hopes that no one ever has to go through a similar situation.

Explaining in particular the stigma that surrounds male victims, he says, “When [sexual assault] happens to a guy, the effect becomes partly magnified, because no one really empathises with you.”

To his fellow survivors, he wishes to convey the following message: “I hope that you can find some way to get over it, though I think it’s impossible for me. I just hope that nothing bad ever happens to me again, and that nobody ever has to be put through these situations–no matter how seemingly minor they may be.”

The following portion is a reconstruction of a conversation Brandon* had with a close friend immediately following an incident of sexual assault. Some details have been added to provide a fuller picture of what happened.

Brandon: Oh fuck. Amanda*, I think I got sexually harassed by an upper study. Fuck me. I feel so fucking gross.

Amanda: What happened?! And what’s an upper study?

B: Basically a senior. In the army.

A: Fuck. What happened?

B: Basically, he put me on his lap. And not just that… in a weird way. And I felt something… fuck.

A: Crap, did he get a boner?

B: Yeah I think so. We were having dinner earlier tonight, and he was talking to me. I just thought that he wanted to get to know me. You know, asking friendly questions like what do you do, where do you come from. I just got posted to camp and didn’t know anyone so I was glad that someone was being so friendly.

But then after a while of getting to know each other, he asks me if I’m gay. I say I’m not. He’s mildly surprised because I seem a bit feminine. And he starts talking some dumb shit about dominant and submissive roles for gays, laughing.

A: That’s already so creepy and weird.

B: But then he asks if I want to watch some movies with him later. He said we could use the business room (which is kind of like a computer lab). I thought, you know, friendly guy, what’s the harm? But after getting on Netflix and watching for a bit I kinda notice how close he’s sitting next to me. You know, date vibes.

After a while longer, he starts asking me weird questions. He stalks talking about how skinny I am, and how he wants to feel how much I weigh. So I laugh and say after the film he can lift me up for a bit.

But then he starts trying to touch me. He’s beside me, and he lays his extended leg across mine–at this point I think it’s fucking weird, but I don’t want to offend him. So I let him. But after a while he puts a hand underneath me and another at my thigh, trying to lift me and sit me onto his lap. So after a bit of him trying to lift my thighs and calves… I just kind of let him.

He puts me onto his lap.

I feel super fucking uncomfortable, and I get off. I’m no longer laughing, I keep trying to concentrate on the film but he keeps trying to lift me up so eventually I relent and he puts me on his lap again. And this is when I feel some kind of… throbbing.

At this point, I am done. I say I feel tired and I want to leave. He says stay a little longer. And I said okay, but I get off his lap. He kept asking if I was okay and if I feel comfortable … and I said  yes Amanda. I kept saying yes. Oh my fucking god. What’s wrong with me??

A: Report him. Report him now!! He’s not supposed to do that!

B: At about 9.10 I said I was tired and I just left. Fuck me man.

A: You’re a fresh recruit, he’s a senior. He’s clearly taking advantage of you!

B: He even said we could stay past the timing as he took the keys from the guy on duty…he kept trying to get me to stay…

A: Report him Brandon. Please.

B: I don’t know… maybe it was a mistake…

A: He knew you felt uncomfortable and he didn’t back off.

B: But what do I do know? I feel like I fucked up. I feel fucking gross.

A: It’s not your fault. He is the asshole. You need to report him, seeing how brazen he seems he’s probably done this with other boys before.

Right after he escaped the room, Brandon went straight to shower, cried, and then contacted Amanda via Instagram DM. Brandon reflected that speaking with Amanda helped him realise that he was clearly being taken advantage of, and he wasn’t just misinterpreting things.
B: I don’t want to deal with what happens after I report him. I’ll get fucking interrogated and have to relive all of that shit. People are gonna ask me why the superiors are after me and him. What am I supposed to say to them? I don’t want to tell them I got sexually assaulted!!

And then at most he’ll get charged or something. I’ll still see him eventually. Fuck I just feel gross. I don’t know. I don’t want to cause a fuss. Maybe I misinterpreted the situation.

A: I doubt you misinterpreted. He was clearly abusing his power. Guys like him are the reasons why victims don’t speak up, because they’re scared of the repercussions.

Amanda shares her personal experience with sexual assault, describing how she finally came clean and reported her assault after the whole #MeToo movement. She urges Brandon to do the same
B: I’m seriously considering it Amanda… But I’m just too afraid. Unless they can fucking get me away from him permanently. If I report him, I never want to see him again afterwards.

A: It’s your decision, whether you want to say anything. But just know that I’m still going to be here for you, if you need anything.

B: Is this how a girl feels when someone comes on to her too strong? Or when she’s pressured into doing something she doesn’t want to do? Fuck, it feels wrong.

A: Yes. Always. It’s always this kind of feeling.

It is common for a survivor’s account to be piecemeal and repetitive, sometimes with bits of information only occurring to the survivor a while after. This is a normal response to shock.
A: Sleep on it for tonight. And tomorrow morning you’ll have a clearer mind and probably make a decision on what to do next.

B: Thanks Amanda. I just can’t get over how all this could have happened to me.

This is how the conversation ends. The next day, he decides to make a report.

Brandon is a 19-year-old currently in National Service. All this happened in March earlier this year, only three months after he was enlisted.

Describing what happened afterwards, Brandon says:

“I told my Ma’am what happened, and she told the para-counsellor who confronted the perpetrator. He confessed immediately.

Eventually I think he got charged, but to my knowledge, it was immensely light. Maximum, he was charged for 5 days. What he was charged with, I’m not entirely sure. He wasn’t demoted or anything either.

Apparently, it was paramount that I not tell anyone else in camp. I guess it was for confidentiality reasons. But because of the secretive nature of the investigation, they didn’t inform enough of my superiors about what was going on, so I was constantly being put in certain situations with him … I was even forced to play sports with him. It was immensely upsetting, but there was nothing I could do about it.”

National service.
“I basically continued to see him on a daily basis until I changed camp 2 weeks ago.

Being forced to see him around, that was the main reason I requested to change camps. Even just going near the area where it happened was very traumatic. ”

Brandon shares how he feels about how the entire situation was handled:

“Personally, as a victim, I think it’s really fucked up that he only got charged for 5 days. He just wasn’t made to suffer any real consequences. At the same time though, I can sympathise with my superiors; I understand it’s a difficult situation to deal with. My Ma’ams were very sympathetic, and the main investigator was a very sweet guy. But I still think I am not really satisfied with their response overall.

A superior even told me to learn to stand up for myself more.”

He also shares that in the aftermath, he’s struggling to process his thoughts and feelings.

“It does help that I don’t think about it constantly, and it’s not really eating me up inside as much as I thought it would. But I’m also afraid that if I continue to avoid it, it will continue to haunt me forever.

It has also affected how I think of myself. Before this, I thought I had a rather strong-willed character, that I was good at reading social situations. But imagine: I was put in a situation where I felt immensely powerless and where I actively suppressed my ability to read the situation…my counsellor says this was because I was probably in shock.”

“Either way, this whole incident made me feel like a big part of my identity was robbed from me. It was a crushing blow to my ego.”

When I asked what he was doing to try and recover from his experience, he mentions speaking with his friends and seeking therapy. He’s currently meeting an army counsellor on a regular basis.  

“I’m not sure how much talking to people helps. I usually don’t talk to people about it unless I have a firm grasp of how they would react. Family, for example, might react far more differently from what I imagine, or react more strongly than expected.

The reason I spoke with Amanda was because I knew she was going to be supportive of me. She’s a hardcore activist for women’s rights, and at that time, I needed a firm, strong voice to guide me. Amanda also spoke with me a while afterwards to ask me how I was doing.

I also spoke about this with a close guy friend. Actually, he thought I was joking at first, but once he realised I was being serious he took it very seriously and tried his best to give me support. We never spoke about it again, though. I think that as a guy, he just doesn’t know how.

Ultimately, I think this is something that I have to deal with myself. Nobody can really help me deal with it.”

This last story involves Aalif*, a 31-year-old man who contacted us over email to share his experience of sexual assault which occurred in 2017. We have republished it word-for-word with minor editing, after verifying the account with the individual.

“I’m not sure whether my story qualifies as an example of sexual assault, or even if I’m the victim or the perpetrator.”

“I spent 21st August 2015 to 24th April 2019 in one of the clusters of Changi prison. Yeah, I know what you’re thinking–but this isn’t one of those “dropping the soap in the shower” stories. Those stories are terrible, by the way. They do happen, and they are unforgivable.

Anyway, I had a cellmate. Let’s call him Jali. He’s, for lack of a better word, like a spastic midget that’s overly hairy and has the eyes of an insect. I wouldn’t touch him with a ten-foot pole if I was a homosexual. But you see, what’s worse is he’s mentally “different” and doesn’t get along with people. He talks to the warders often and in prison, we don’t like that. He wants everything to be his way and he needs all the attention in the world. I’ve met a thousand and one assholes but no one is as ostracized and despised as him, and at first I didn’t really know why.

My cell consists of six to seven inmates and we usually spend the morning doing martial arts, exercising and the typical prison routines. This guy doesn’t. He’s always reading, or writing notes, or leering at the rest of us. In our cell, the warders specifically placed an inmate of “high influence and power”–let’s call him Sai–so that nothing happens to Jali.

Sai is a 55-year-old hardened gangster renowned for his effective boxing techniques and training that few can endure. I was in the cell to learn Sai’s boxing. Ask any Singaporean man what they think of BMT during national service, and I’d say Sai’s sessions are worse. You train until you’re out of breath and sweat, you punch until your knuckles microfracture. And then you punch some more.

So, back to Jali. No one talks to him. I sleep diagonally next to him, because in a prison, all Malays/Muslims  sleep near each other in the cell’s corner for practical prayer reasons. At night I’d talk to him. I don’t really care if you’re unpopular or if everyone thinks you’re “xia suay” (a term to describe embarrassment or disgrace), everyone has a story. In a spartan prison environment, where everyone looks the same, dresses the same, possesses more or less the same, stories are all we have to differentiate one man from the next.

Every night, I’d be exhausted, but Jali would always want conversation. Sometimes we talked about girls, sometimes we talked about we like to do outside, sometimes we talked about family. There are nights when we can talk for hours, and sometimes, certain topics seem to hit a nerve in a Jali. I notice these things, and I’ve heard some rumours.

One night, he asked if I knew about his past. I didn’t exactly, but admitted that I heard he’s been sodomized while he was a boy. These news travel fast. “Prison internet”, they call it.

He gave me his personal recount of what happened while he was 12, in Muhammadiyah’s home for juvenile delinquents. It was at a Mussolah (the place where Muslims congregate), and somewhere near the pulpit they restrained him and took turns. There were 5 of them and all were twice the size of an average teen. And Jali, I remind you, is stunted like a midget. At 26 years old, he’s probably 153cm tall, at most.

He said that there was blood, and he kept begging them to stop. They were his friends. Everyone involved got caught for the act of sodomy and were punished accordingly, and this was how people, even today, knows his story. He wished no one knew of the way he was treated: like a shameful animalistic whore. When he told me his story, tears were streaming down his face.

In a prison, men don’t weep. So when I saw Jali cry, my heart softened.

I gave him a hug. I told him it’s alright, that he had no choice during the incident and that if you let go of the past and move on, you are braver and stronger than half the assholes in prison. You are not “xia suay” to me. And you are my friend.

So that’s Jali’s story. But this is about mine. After that night, Jali and I got closer. Because Sai’s boxing classes were physically and mentally demanding, Jali began offering massages to ease my pain and tension. Every two days, he’d painstakingly balm his hands and massage my knuckles, arms, shoulders, back, neck. We’d still talk while he massages, though I feel a tinge of guilt every time because he doesn’t owe me this. All I provided was a shoulder to cry on.

Sometimes, I’d imagine I was in a spa indulging the services of a beautiful girl. And those nights, I discovered that humans really do have erogenous parts of their bodies. Some touches, on innocuous parts of the body elicit inevitable pleasures. I almost had erections. I started shifting my pelvic area a lot. Sporadically, I let out barely audible moans.

“Now lie on your back”, Jali says. Again with the massages. One would have thought that a “victim” of sexual violence would be touch sensitive and allergic to men.

With my mind swimming in pools of passion at the familiarity of a human touch, Jali whispered, “Do you want me to wet it?” I didn’t see any bloody water around there, but that moment, it dawned upon me–I’d been seduced. Everything had been staged and planned. I said yes. And that was the first blowjob I got in a prison.

The guilt and fear was overwhelming, and the next day I made it clear that I do not want it to happen again. I began to distance myself from Jali, but he kept using the friendship card and offering massages. It happened again and again. I’ve never felt so depressed in my prison life.

Jali began treating me differently. During breakfasts, he’d give me his share of food. He became clingy. When I ignored him, he’d cry in the showers and I had to placate him, because I didn’t want anyone to get suspicious about what was happening. He acted like a 6 year old boy. He kept wanting it. He sometimes got it.

In no time, he asked for anal sex. I told him I can’t do it. I told him, in all directness, “You’re a guy and you’re fucking ugly.”

He said just once–please–and it’ll be over.

When everyone else was out at the yard, I pasted scantily-clad pictures of Deepika Padukone on the wall. I screwed him with more hatred and despise that I’ve had for all the whores combined. There was blood and when he asked to stop, I stopped. I made him clean it and swallow. Hatred supersedes guilt, most of the time.”

“It was disgusting but end of the day, I tell myself I’m doing what he wants.

“Why I question if I’m the victim or the perpetrator is because, given a chance, I would never want any of these incidents to have happened. This fucking midget, I underestimated his capacity to manipulate and use people for his desires. I later discovered I was not the only one who fell for this act. It was then that I realised that this was the very reason why people avoided and ostracised him.

In a prison, there is a myriad of dangerous people. This guy is a monster in a class of his own. He does not respect anyone nor anything except his desires. He hides behind a façade of self-victimisation, disability and loneliness, preying on those willing to give empathy.

Given a chance to turn back time, I’d break his face and all the bones in his body. Or maybe I’ll simply leave him alone.”

As much as possible, I’ve kept these accounts verbatim. I wanted to let the survivors’ stories speak for themselves.

Far too often, males are left out of the public conversation surrounding sexual harassment and assault that was launched by the #MeToo movement. Other than intensifying the shame and trauma experienced by the survivors, the lack of discourse also generates a lot of confusion over what counts as sexual assault for males.

The first two accounts clearly display survivors being in weaker, more vulnerable positions. For Jonathan and Brandon, it seems straightforward: the perpetrators abused their positions of power. But in Aalif’s case, it’s not as clear-cut. He struggles with even identifying if he’s a victim in the first place, admitting to enjoying the pleasurable sensations of Jali’s massages.

What is also significant is that Aalif was the ‘penetrator’—not Jali. And yet, this proves that men can be coerced into having sex with their perpetrator, be they male or female. I’m sure most would agree there was at least some level of emotional manipulation or compulsion involved; according to Aalif’s account, he was an unwilling participant.

Recent changes proposed by the Criminal Law Reform Bill includes an expanded definition of rape, which now acknowledges that males can be victims of rape and sexual assault too.

Effective from April this year, this law now includes “non-consensual penetration of the anus or the mouth using one’s penis” in the definition of rape. It also widens the scope of sexual assault to include instances where a woman forces a man to penetrate her vagina, anus or mouth, with his penis.

While this is a promising first step, we still have to address the deeper, more systemic issues that cannot be easily uprooted with a change in legislature.

Our society still possesses a myopic definition of ‘masculinity’ which imposes unhealthy, toxic expectations on boys and men. Furthermore, as the Monica Baey incident displayed, many still possess the disturbing tendency towards victim-shaming while attempting to shield the perpetrator.

It’s time we recognise that the seriousness of the issue, and learn how to offer genuine support and empathy for survivors—regardless of their gender, race, or sexual orientation—as they begin their journey of recovery.

These accounts above were provided to Rice Media (with the consent of the victims to disseminate). *All the names in this article have been changed to protect the identities of the people involved.

We would like to also acknowledge that this article would not have been possible without the courage of the survivors, and the people who have encouraged them to report and speak up about their experience.

If you have experienced any form of sexual assault or harassment and would like to seek help, please contact AWARE’s Sexual Assault Care Centre at 6779 0282 or email them at sacc@aware.org.sg. More information on sexual assault can be found here. If you’re interested to learn how to provide  proper support to survivors, you can look into participating in AWARE’s First Responder Training here.

Have a story you want to share with us? Drop us a note at community@ricemedia.co.

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Ethel Pang Contributor