By Sarah Hayes, A&E Editor
Content warning: This review discusses a book that goes into detail about rape, sexual assault, rape culture, victim blaming, homophobia and sexual violence.
Raymond M. Douglas is a successful author. He teaches at a prestigious university. He has a wife and two daughters. He has won awards for his work. At the age of 18, a priest raped him. It is the latter that defines Douglas’ latest book, bluntly titled “On Being Raped.” As the title suggests, part of the book is a broad examination of the culture of rape, specifically the fact that men are victims of rape as much as women, but it is also the specific story of a man and four horrific hours of his life that he will never get back.
Years ago, Douglas was a young man working the night shift as a part-time security guard for a university. One night, he was assigned to watch over an intoxicated school chaplain in the parochial house. What follows is something that continues to haunt Douglas for decades to follow, a terror that threatens his mental health and becomes something he must come to grip with as he is determined to continue on with his life the best he can. To add to the stress, the local church system, which should be interested in putting this particular priest out of the frock for good, becomes oddly hesitant on enacting any justice for the wrong done to Douglas, or even formally acknowledging that a wrong was done.
Readers who want a clear antagonist will find several to point a finger at, all implicit in the assault and rape of Douglas: the chaplain himself; the priests who Douglas turned to in reporting his attack; the hospital that heard his report, disbelieved that he did not consent, and immediately locked him away for being homosexual (same-sex sexual relations were still criminalized in the United Kingdom until 2003); his colleagues who immediately questioned why he did not leave the parochial house earlier. What Douglas recreates is what every victim of rape eventually faces during their life, and that is the tangled web of rape culture, which blames victims for their own assaults and turns a blind eye on those who commit violent sex crimes against the body.
Douglas talks statistics and facts, bringing in examples of men as rape victims that have made the news, but the heart of his narrative is his own narrative, from the night of the attack to the decades-long process of recovery. How he deals with the trauma of his attack can be read as messy, problematic, even internalized victim blaming (at several points, Douglas takes pot shots at his own behavior that can be seen as both an attempt at levity and as an overly critical analysis of events that were out of his control), but it is his personal process, and that is a valuable and individualized aspect of this book that theory-only writing cannot deliver.
“On Being Raped” is a powerful, difficult read, but in a society where people still put the onus on the victim to defend themselves a second time in the joint courts of law and public opinion, it is a necessary read.
This book was obtained as an uncorrected promotional galley through the Goodreads giveaway program and the publisher, Beacon Press. It was not given for any compensation on the part of “The Current” student newspaper or the reviewer.
Victims of rape and sexual assault can find guidance and support through the resources available at the University of Missouri-St. Louis campus. Services include individual, group, and couples counseling, educational workshops, mental health screenings, and in-person support during a mental health crisis. Counseling Services is located in Millennium Student Center 131 and can be reached at 314-516-5711.