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For a male sexual assault survivor, justice won in court does not equal healing

Nov 30, 2023, 9:08 PM

Samuel Schultz poses for a picture near his his home, Monday, Oct. 9, 2023 in New York. It took eig...

Samuel Schultz poses for a picture near his his home, Monday, Oct. 9, 2023 in New York. It took eight years and the burgeoning #MeToo movement to spur them to go public and make a police report, and an additional five years for their attackers to plead guilty. Now, as much as Schultz hopes there’s a reckoning coming in gay and queer communities, too, it feels like they are the one shouldering the blame, not the attackers: for coming forward, for harming the men’s reputations. (AP Photo/Seth Wenig)
Credit: ASSOCIATED PRESS

(AP Photo/Seth Wenig)

When Sam Schultz was sexually assaulted, it felt like a part of them died.

It took eight years and the burgeoning #MeToo movement to spur them to go public and make a police report, and an additional five years for their attackers to plead guilty.

Now, as much as Schultz hopes there’s a reckoning coming in gay and queer communities, too, it feels like they are the one shouldering the blame, not the attackers: for coming forward, for harming the men’s reputations.

Instead of being able to focus on recovery, Schultz has been saddled with worries from other gay men that talking about sexual abuse in their community will hurt the fight for LBGTQ+ rights.

The pain of the assault and ensuing public attention and court proceedings have taken a huge toll.

“It is an exhausting and horrifying journey that I almost quit because it just takes way too much of a person,” Schultz said in an interview with The Associated Press. “And to any person who has pursued justice and quit along the way, I get it. The system is not built for us. The system is built to protect certain people.”

As many as 95% of male sexual violations go unreported, according to research cited in a review of scientific literature about male victims of sexual assault, published in April in the journal Behavioral Sciences. Four of five men who reported assaults regretted doing so, saying that police were often unsympathetic and disinterested and that the process just added more trauma.

Men may fail to report sexual assault because of stigma, shame, guilt and embarrassment; fear of not being believed; privacy concerns; and worries that their sexual orientation or masculinity will be questioned, according to research cited in the article.

For gay men and other LGBTQ+ people, “their friends and family may not be aware of how they identify. They’re afraid that that this will tip people off, to disclose something they’re not ready to disclose,” said Scott Berkowitz, president of RAINN, the Rape, Abuse and Incest National Network. “There’s in some places a disbelief that this really happens to LGBTQ people.”

Prominent male sexual abuse and assault survivors have come forward in recent years, including actor Anthony Edwards, of “ER” fame, who serves as the board chair and national spokesperson for the nonprofit 1in6 — so named because of research indicating that at least 1 in 6 men have experienced sexual abuse or assault.

A similar group, MaleSurvivor, formed in 1995, says it is committed to helping boys and men who have experienced sexual abuse.

And the National Women’s Law Center, administrator of the Time’s Up Legal Defense Fund, which provides legal aid in cases of sex discrimination or harassment, also offers help to men. It helped pay Schultz’s legal fees. Still, just 4% of the people who have sought its support over the years, or about 200, identify as male.

“We have such strong and well-worn stereotypes and ideas about who is a survivor in this country, stereotypes that don’t match reality,” said Fatima Goss Graves, president and CEO of the National Women’s Law Center. “And men as a category don’t meet that stereotype, even though all the research has shown us that at least 9% of sexual assault survivors are male.”

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This story includes discussion of sexual assault. If you or someone you know needs help, call the National Sexual Assault Hotline at 800-656-4673 or go to https://hotline.rainn.org.

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Schultz, now 37, described a wrenching and maddening journey from assault, when they were 23, to adjudication and beyond.

Schultz was an aspiring opera singer and a graduate student at Houston’s Rice University when they met David Daniels, a famous countertenor, and Scott Walters, a conductor, through the city’s music circles. Schultz remembers admiring Daniels for being a “proud gay man” in a conservative art form.

The two invited Schultz to the closing of the Houston Grand Opera’s “Xerxes,” in which Daniels was starring, Schultz said. Later that night at a cast party, the couple invited Schultz to their apartment afterward, cautioning the young singer not to tell anyone, lest others get jealous.

Schultz was handed a drink and later woke up in an unfamiliar room, naked and bleeding. Shock and then fear set in.

“Was I supposed to go to the police? Was I supposed to go to the hospital? Was I supposed to go home? The police didn’t feel like a safe option. The hospital certainly didn’t feel like a safe option. I went home and I stared at a wall,” they said.

Schultz discussed the assault with relatives, friends and a therapist but didn’t go public until 2018, when the #MeToo movement provided more comfort in making a report.

Daniels and Walters were arrested in 2019 and maintained the encounter with Schultz was consensual until, just as the two were going to trial on charges of first-degree aggravated sexual assault, they accepted a deal to plead guilty to sexual assault of an adult, a second-degree felony. Both were sentenced to eight years’ probation and required to register as sex offenders.

The men still tell others in the opera community that they aren’t guilty, Schultz said, and that the plea was just to avoid prison. Schultz saw others in the opera community rally around the attackers, and was criticized for besmirching the reputation of prominent gay men.

It hurts to see people place more value on their own friendship with the attackers than the hurt they’ve caused.

“You’re failing to recognize how they’ve criminally impacted my life,” Schultz said.

Ted Gideonse, an associate professor of teaching of health, society and behavior at the University of California, Irvine, public health program, noted that for gay and bisexual men, lines of consent have been historically muddy. That doesn’t make it right.

The longtime illicit nature of sexual encounters between men meant that by necessity they had to be coded.

Gay men often gather in bars – spaces they feel safe to be themselves. But bars are a place that are already sexually heightened, said Gideonse, a researcher in medical and psychological anthropology.

“There is virtually no sort of admission that gay men or men who have sex with men have a completely different way of interacting around sex than heterosexuals do,” Gideonse said.

Differences in what constitutes consent and predation, particularly for things like unwanted touching, are changing generationally, he said.

“The older men are much more like, ‘Are you kidding, this is really typical stuff that no one has been bothered with before,’ and the younger people saying, ‘They just didn’t tell you they were bothered,’” Gideonse said.

Schultz agrees there’s a need for a discussion about consent within the gay community. In a recent essay in the Washington Blade, an LGBTQ online news magazine, Schultz spoke about the sexualization of young people, and the problems it creates.

“As young queer people, many of us are objectified and reduced to conquests by often older or more powerful peers,” Schultz wrote. “We learn to believe that our primary value to many is sex rather than equal treatment and respect.”

Just last month, the BBC published a report after a two-year investigation that uncovered stories alleging that Mike Jeffries, the former CEO of clothing retailer Abercrombie & Fitch, used a middleman to exploit young adult men for sex at events he hosted at his home in New York and at hotels in Paris, London and elsewhere.

A dozen men described events involving sex acts that were run for Jeffries and his partner, Matthew Smith, from 2009 to 2015. Jeffries stepped down from Abercrombie & Fitch in 2014.

Schultz hopes that it’s a sign of things changing, and that allegations of men being abused are taken seriously.

After Schultz first told their own story, a man in his 60s heard it on the radio and realized he had been sexually assaulted in college, too.

“He wrote to me that he broke down crying at the breakfast table and for the first time started to understand what had happened to him when he was in college,” Schultz said. “And I think a lot of men push experiences away so they don’t ever have to deal with them.”

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For a male sexual assault survivor, justice won in court does not equal healing