Remember being 19 years old? I can — barely. It's more than half a lifetime ago for me. You're going to classes. Depending on whether your parents are paying for school, you're probably working a part-time job, at the very least to have some walking-around money. Perhaps you've only fairly recently acclimatized to a new city — you've made new friends, and the neighbourhood Starbucks has your regular order down.
On Saturday night, you want to have some fun. You get a group of friends together and head downtown to hit a club. A few drinks. Some laughs. Maybe dance a little. Spot a cutie at the bar and strike up a conversation, because you never know. Shoot down the jerks and the phonies — who has the time for someone trying to run some game? You might even connect with some people — your group ends up hanging out with another group.
Eventually, it's time to call it a night, which means you have to deal with the packed streetcar or the late-night bus. You might have enough cash left to treat yourself to a cab, but everyone is trying to get a cab — you'll be here forever. Hey, there's the group from the club — they have a car and a sober driver, and they've offered to drop you by home.
Maybe you'd usually think better of it, getting into an SUV alone with four people who are essentially strangers to you, no matter how friendly they've seemed. If you've had a few, you might not be in the best shape to make wise decisions about this sort of thing. Or you're just the trusting sort, believing the best in people. So you accept. Fantastic, you say. Thanks; you guys are lifesavers…
A little while later, you're standing alone in a parking lot. Confused. Scared. Violated. Ashamed. Somehow, you manage to make it home. It's well into the day on Sunday before you even start to process what's happened to you. It's several days later before you finally get up the nerve to feel like you can talk about it, and you make your way to the local police station to report it.
I can't even begin to imagine what this would feel like — the pain, the guilt. Young women who are sexually assaulted and come out the other side are forever altered by it, and would need to draw upon reserves of strength they might never have known they possessed.
But if you've been following the news in Toronto this week, you know that there's a twist to this story. This time, we're talking about a 19-year-old man. A 19-year-old man who got into an SUV with four women he met at a club, who was driven to a parking lot not too far away, and who was allegedly sexually assaulted by those four women.
A 19-year-old man. It takes a moment to settle when it lands on your ears, because it's unexpected. It's uncommon, or at least much, much less common.
There's a different mix of pressures that must drive how this gets processed by a male victim. Society tells you that men are supposed to be tough; they're supposed to be able to take care of themselves and fight back when challenged. They're also not supposed to have feelings; how many times have you heard someone say to suck it up and "take it like a man"?
I'll echo the comments of many — I hope this young man has a good support system as he works through this situation. I hope he has friends who will listen without judgment, family who love him, and access to professionals to work through the trauma. He needs care and attention, in an environment where he feels safe and with people who he can trust.
You know what he doesn't need?
"Of course, one man's sexual assault is another man's sexual fantasy come true."
"Sexual assault, you say? Lucky guy others say, nudge-nudge, a fivesome and didn't even have to pay for it."
He doesn't need a columnist in the country's largest-circulation newspaper turning him into an object of ridicule. Rosie DiManno's column on the Toronto Star's website today is egregiously offensive. It's too clever by half and, as a result, not clever in the least. DiManno presents the reader with a remarkable display of textual gymnastics by letting us know that the Star's staff was warned not to make light of this situation, while she simultaneously does exactly that.
Look, I'm no naïf. As a twenty-first century newspaper columnist, some would argue that DiManno has done her job here. She's getting people talking — the only bad publicity is no publicity — which drives traffic to the site. It's a game, and the currency of this game is page views, and impressions, and click-throughs.
Except it's no game to this young man, this victim. This wasn't a bon-chicka-wow-wow scene from a teenager's porn-inspired dream world. This is real life, and he's suffered through one of the most horrifying experiences imaginable — a violation of his very person.
He didn't need for Rosie DiManno to violate him all over again.