Kenneth Rogers Jr. was 10 years old when his older sister finally stopped raping him. One day, after two years of routinely sexually abusing him, his sister came to his room and abruptly told him their activities needed to end once and for all.
“It happened after church,” Rogers says. “She said, ‘we can’t do this anymore.’”
The 32-year-old Baltimore, Maryland school teacher, who has authored six books, was consumed with a myriad of unanswered questions. He had no one to answer them and no one to talk to. He was alone.
Rogers later learned that his sister had been molested by her childhood sitter, “Mr. Miller,” before she started raping him. Despite the abuse, Rogers and his sister, who is five years his senior, maintained a close relationship until he began to acknowledge the trauma in 2014. That year, following the birth of his first daughter, he suffered an intense emotional breakdown that he attributes to the lack of control he felt being a new father. Rogers feels that the fear and powerlessness he felt fathering an unpredictable infant mirrored the loss of control and predictability he felt when he was being victimized by his sister.
“I couldn’t control life,” Rogers says. “I couldn’t control me.”
He began to suffer from debilitating depression, anxiety and excessive suicidal ideation that resulted in regular visits to the emergency room. Rogers says he eventually saw a therapist who asked probing questions about his life.
“My therapist was talking to me and then finally was able to get out of me the fact that I was sexually abused by my sister for two years,” Rogers says. “She was like, ‘Don’t you think that might have something to do with it?”
Rogers’ breakdown would serve as the catalyst to his path toward healing. A journey that may last the rest of his life.
From 2010-2013, The Center for Disease Control and Prevention found that men and women shared strikingly similar 12-month occurrences of nonconsensual sex in 2011, with 1.6 million women and 1.7 million men reporting being raped or “made to penetrate.” Lara Stemple, the director of the Health and Human Rights Law Project at UCLA, coauthored a 2016 study examining the prevalence of female perpetrated sexual victimization by analyzing the CDC’s findings. Stemple says that the CDC’s study almost buried their data by using terms that misrepresented their statistics.
The CDC’s study considered being “made to penetrate, sexual coercion, unwanted sexual contact, and noncontact unwanted sexual experiences” as “other forms of sexual violence,” indicating that it didn’t satisfy their definition of rape. But among men reporting “other forms” of sexual victimization, 68.6 percent reported female perpetrators. Specifically, being “made to penetrate” – the form of nonconsensual sex Rogers endured as a child — is frequently perpetrated by women: 79 percent of victimized men reported female assailants.
Although nonfictional narratives concerning incestuous abuse aren’t unheard of, Rogers’ story may be anomalous because his attacker was not only female, but his older sister and a child herself.
Eric Stiles, who was the life span manager at the National Sexual Violence Resource Center during the time of our interview, says sexual predators occupy diverse backgrounds and have various motivations to sexually subordinate. He says that motifs concerning who offends has resulted in active predators being overlooked.
“We overlook the grandmothers who offend, the female corrections guards and children [who offend],” Stiles says.
Cindy Struckman-Johnson, a psychology professor at the University of South Dakota who researches sexual trauma, says that many men don’t even have the language needed to effectively articulate their experiences.
“There just aren’t categories for the emotions and sense of violation they feel,” Struckman-Johnson says. “Men often don’t even have the words to express or say what they are feeling.”
Stemple says that men often experience the same physical and emotional consequences of their trauma as women, such as PTSD, depression, substance abuse and other crippling conditions. She says that men however tend to question their masculinity, especially if they experienced arousal during their assaults.
“I’ve talked to many male survivors who feel very confused and even traumatized by the fact that their body is responding to sexual victimization,” Stemple says.
Dr. Andrew Smiler, the author of “Dating and Sex: A Guide for the 21st Century Teen Boy,” and board president of Male Survivor, says that it’s normal for people to physically respond while being sexually abused. Rogers noted that there were times when he enjoyed and even eagerly awaited the sexual contact he would have with his sister. Smiler says that receiving enjoyment or pleasure from sexual abuse and rape is typical for both male and female survivors. It is not at all uncommon and is in no way a form of consent.
“There’s a lot of other stuff that comes along with the sexual contact,” Smiler says. “There’s a lot of positive attention that is coming from the perpetrator. Most people respond when someone gives them their full attention and is complimentary and is nice to them.”
When Rogers was 8 years old, his sister introduced him to pornographic films from their father’s porn collection. For months on end they would watch the films together in the basement of the family home when their parents weren’t in the house. His sister initiated what sexual trauma professionals call, the grooming process, which is the systematic erosion of a victims’ defenses and a period where the predator establishes trust with their potential child – or adult – victim, according to The National Center for Victims of Violent Crime website.
Smiler says that the grooming process can span months or years and is used to break down the victim’s resistance to being sexual and may increase the victim’s desire to be sexual.
One day when Rogers and his sister were watching one of the films, things took a turn for the worse when his sister suggested they emulate the sex acts being performed on screen.
“One time afterwards… or during,” Rogers says, seeming to sift through his memories for acute accuracy, “she said, ‘Let’s do what they do on the TV.’”
He says he didn’t know what to do the first of the many times his sister raped him. He was frozen, paralyzed with fear as his body experienced perplexing, foreign physical sensations he was too young to comprehend.
“She pretty much made me do it. Took off my clothes, [put me] on top, and she moved me.”
Rogers’ sixth book “Raped Black Male: A Memoir,” graphically details the life altering ordeal and reads: “I lay there lifeless, uncomfortable and cold. She was larger and there was no way for me to touch the mattress, so I lay hovering in the air on top and inside of her body as the pornographic movie continued to play in the background.”
The FBI amended its definition of rape in 2012 to encompass varying forms of penetrative sexual assault: “the penetration, no matter how slight, of the vagina or anus with any body part or object, or oral penetration by a sex organ of another person, without the consent of the victim.”
Smiler says that having clearly defined legal definitions of rape is vital for legislators to apply and execute the law. He says, though, how survivors contextualize their own experiences is a personal choice and he doesn’t think it’s necessary to police the terms survivors choose to use for themselves.
“You’re talking about people having arguments between how they see and describe and understand their own experience of what happened to them,” Smiler says. “We want survivors to be believed and we want people to understand and recognize what survivors are telling them.”
One of Stemple’s two studies researching female perpetrated male victimization criticized the FBI’s new definition of rape stating: “although the new deﬁnition reﬂects a more inclusive understanding of sexual victimization, it appears to still focus on the penetration of the victim, which excludes victims who were made to penetrate,”
Sexist notions about women being incapable of inflicting pain upon others as well as social constructs about men as sexual predators make it difficult for people to unobjectionably accept men as victims and women as perpetrators.
“We have stereotypes of male sexual predators that run so deep that we can’t get away from it,” Struckman-Johnson says. “[Rape] needs to be seen as a human behavior that all people are capable of.”
Chelsea Wiggins, the college and prevention policy attorney for the Maryland Coalition Against Sexual Assault, says stigma and stereotypes can also prevent men from reporting their assaults.
“The stigmas that persist around sexual assault make it difficult for anyone to come forward,” Wiggins says. “But the additional pressures and stereotypes associated with masculinity can make it especially challenging for male survivors to feel safe reporting or seeking help.”
Stemple says that ideas about men always being sexually available and constantly possessing the physical capabilities to protect themselves from harm are dangerous and encourages their silence.
“The reality is that many circumstances of [sexual] abuse are not about physical overpowering,” Stemple says. “He may not be strong and even if he is it doesn’t mean that he can’t be victimized regardless of that strength.”
Struckman-Johnson says that law enforcement already fails to provide the support and concern any sexual assault survivor needs, especially when a man accuses a woman of sexual violence.
“The legal system is not sympathetic to receiving and processing a report of rape that is sympathetic to the victim,” Struckman-Johnson says. “It’s doubled that they will be thrown by the idea of a male victim and possibly openly doubt it.”
Stiles says that because society fails to recognize males as victims, therapeutic resources specifically tailored to address their trauma are scarce and according to him, movements to combat rape have always been energized to primarily aid women. Until recently, the needs of men were never acknowledged historically, as men have been conditioned to resonate machismo and bravado; traits that leave no room for men to be anyone’s victim, especially as it pertains to sexual assault.
“There’s no real way for men to see themselves as victims and our systems aren’t developed currently and historically to support male survivors,” Stiles says.
Struckman-Johnson believes the research community is even reluctant to study female on male sexual violence and says there is “editorial resistance to articles on this topic.”
“There is an invested point of view for the female victim,” Struckman-Johnson says. “You have to make sure you get the right journal [to publish] or [the research community] won’t listen to you.”
Stemple says that there should be spaces allotted for research and conversations about the unique needs that both men and women have as survivors of sexual trauma.
“Compassion is not a finite resource,” Stemple says. “We should be looking at this issue as an ‘and,’ as an additional area of concern. Not as a replacement or an ‘instead of.’ And I think it’s very important to do that.
Smiler cautions that rivaling men’s needs and women’s needs as sexual assault survivors, especially at the political level, at least, remains “fundamentally dangerous.”
“On the political front, issues of male victims and female victims are often pitted against each other,” Smiler says. “As though this is a zero-sum game where we can only help one group and not both groups.”
“My dad told me I just needed to forget about it,” Rogers says, sitting on a small grey couch in the back of his basement, where he has been engrossed in research for his seventh book he plans to title, “Heroes, Villains and Healing: A Guide to Help Male Survivors of Child Sexual Abuse Using DC Comic Superheroes and Villains.”
He didn’t inform his family of the abuse until the year of his breakdown. Rogers says the news jolted and divided his family, with each member having their own opinion. He says that his mother was appalled because it blemished the image she maintained about their family, a family that Rogers says was always dysfunctional beneath the surface.
Despite everything that has happened, however, Rogers says he blames no one. He says he realizes that his sister sexually assaulting him was probably her perpetuating a cycle that’s typical with some sexual abuse survivors.
Although he doesn’t blame his sister, he does hold her accountable for her actions and now sees the transformational value of his trauma. “Yes, I was sexually abused, but I’m still alive and breathing from it,” Rogers says. “If I can help somebody else, that would be amazing. That’s definitely a blessing.”