MICHEL MARTIN, HOST:
It's a courtesy - actually more like a requirement - in this news organization to let you know when we are about to talk about something you might find difficult or perhaps unsuitable for someone listening with you. This is one of those times. We're going to talk about rape. Specifically, men who've been victims of rape through the story of one man who's chosen to write about it.
And I use the words rape and victim intentionally and specifically because those are the words our next guest chose. Professor Raymond Douglas teaches history at Colgate University in New York. He's published a number of books about the history of 20th century Europe.
But he recently published a very different volume, one in which he reflects on his own rape by a priest when he was 18 years old. The book is called "On Being Raped." And Professor Douglas joins today from our studios in London. And I need to remind our listeners once again that we are going to be talking about the issue of sexual violence for the next few minutes. Professor Douglas, welcome and thank you so much for joining us.
RAYMOND DOUGLAS: Good day to you. Glad to be here.
MARTIN: One of the important things about this book that you explain that perhaps people who have not had this experience may not understand is that it continues to intrude in your life. Reading from the book, you say that through the intervention of some inexplicable, chronological constant, rape is always now. Why is that?
DOUGLAS: I think it's the sort of thing that always will have a lasting impact. It is life-changing. There's no question about that.
MARTIN: Would you - would you want to describe briefly what happened as you recount it?
DOUGLAS: I'll go through it very briefly indeed. I was 18 years of age. And I received an invitation from a local priest who had been a sort of unofficial chaplain at our school to attend a party he was throwing. I found him with some of my former schoolmates rapidly getting drunk. He wouldn't stop drinking. We were worried that he might get behind the wheel of his car and kill somebody, so we decided that somebody would stay with him. And that somebody was me. Shortly after everybody else did go, this individual who, as I did not know at the time but subsequently learned, was a serial sex offender, proposed - to put it bluntly - that I provide him with oral sex. We fought. I lost. And the next four hours were unpleasant.
MARTIN: You know, what happened immediately after is that you went through this mental calculus with yourself trying to figure out who would believe you. And you almost immediately determined that nobody would. Why is that?
DOUGLAS: Well, the principal reason was that my injuries were unimpressive. And being a young man in a blue-collar job going up against one of God's anointed, I decided that the credibility balance probably wasn't going to be in my favor.
MARTIN: But you did try to alert your friends and church authorities. What happened then? What did they do?
DOUGLAS: Well, I reported it firstly to a priest of the archdiocese. He started by giving me absolution for, as he put it, whatever sins I may have committed. The second time I wrote to directly to the Archbishop. He referred me to a diocesan official. I was interviewed by that official who did precisely nothing. I learned much later that that official contacted the perpetrator and told him that there was nothing to worry about, that I was not the kind of person to kick up a fuss.
MARTIN: When you went for help to the rape support networks that existed at the time, there was no concept that this could have happened to a man. And in fact one person, who you even generously say might have been well-meaning, said if you really cared about rape that you would keep silent about it because that would - your story would detract from the focus on women who had been raped. How do you understand that now? How do you even process that now?
DOUGLAS: I'm sorry to say that that attitude has remained quite prevalent over the years. We really still haven't developed a vocabulary with which to describe or conceptualize attacks of this kind. And there's really nobody who's working on it.
MARTIN: The priest who raped you was eventually convicted of raping another boy. But - I don't know, you can tell me why - he never served a day in jail. How does that sit with you?
DOUGLAS: Personally, putting him in prison would do little or nothing for me. There's no resolution. There's no satisfaction to be achieved from that. He managed to beat the rap by the fact that he had blown out his liver through intense alcohol abuse. But certainly, if I had the opportunity to send him off to jail tomorrow, I wouldn't lift my finger to bring that about.
MARTIN: You would not?
DOUGLAS: I wouldn't.
MARTIN: Your attitude toward what happened to you seems very different from the stance that a lot of people take today. For example, beginning where we began our conversation, there seems to be this push to reframe this as I'm not a victim. I am a survivor, and I'm not going to let my rape define me. But you write - and I quote here - "I'm compelled to acknowledge that being raped is the most consequential thing that has happened to me." And you also write (reading) I adhere to the word victim rather than survivor in the same way that I have chosen to acknowledge what happened to me as rape rather than sexual assault. Can you unpack that for us?
DOUGLAS: Yes. So it's a difficult balance to strike between two truths that run in different directions. Life does go on. It can be a rewarding and valuable life. I am married to a wonderful woman. I have a wonderful daughter. I've had professional success. On the other hand, there is a sort of triumphalist narrative in which the pain and the ugliness and the permanence of sexual violence gets sidetracked in favor of a feel-good narrative in which one goes through a period of victimhood and then emerges as a, quote unquote, "survivor."
And one of the reasons that a lot of people are a little squicky about the word survivor is that it seems to imply that once you attain that status it's all done and dusted. It's all safely in the past. And for a huge number of people it isn't, and it won't be. It won't ever be.
MARTIN: I'm sure there are people listening right now who, as you said, have experienced what you did and do not know what to do about it. Is there anything you wish to say to them?
DOUGLAS: The most important thing - you're not alone. There are so many more of us out here than you think. Don't give up.
MARTIN: Professor Raymond Douglas is a professor of history at Colgate University. His latest book is called "On Being Raped." And he joined us from the BBC studios in London. Professor Douglas, my every good wish for you. And I thank you so much for speaking with us.
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