It's a story we've heard countless times before, but with a twist: This time, the victim of sexual assault was a young boy.
Outside a high-school wrestling match in a tiny Colorado town, three upperclassmen high school wrestlers cornered a 13-year-old boy on an empty school bus, bound him with duct tape, and sodomized him with a pencil. It's a disgusting, horrific act, but the town's response was equally horrible.
Immediately afterwards, the school board and district superintendent were informed about the rape by the boy's father, who is the principal of the K-12 school that all of the involved parties attended. For a month, they knew and did absolutely nothing. In fact, the wrestling coach (who is also the father of two of the attackers and president of the school board) dismissed the event, stating, "This happens 1,000 times a day around the U.S."
Meanwhile, the boy himself was going through hell. Kids made t-shirts supporting his attackers, his locker was regularly vandalized, his Facebook page bore ugly insults, and he was constantly asked, "What's been stuck up your butt today?" He was not only raped by the three high schoolers, but he was victimized again every single day by the taunts of his peers and the indifference of the school officials.
Finally, the boy's father reported the rape to the police. In response, the townspeople forced him to resign from his job as principal. The attackers did finally have to face up to their crime, but their punishment was one day of in-school suspension and some community service. Kids who get into fistfights have stricter sentences than that.
Today, the boy and his family live 200 miles away in another Colorado town, but the event still haunts them. Their hometown, the three attackers, and the wrestling coach continue as though they haven't maliciously driven out a rape victim who needed their support and concern.
This is a side of rape culture that rarely ever sees the light of day, but it echoes other high-profile rape cases that have been in the media recently. When high-school athletes are treated as demi-gods, as they often are in small rural towns where high-school sports are the only entertainment, they start to think they can do no wrong. And these three high school rapists have certainly learned no differently.
But another part of the equation is the concept of toxic masculinity, or the idea that to be masculine requires violence against anything considered feminine — even younger boys. By dominating and violating the 13-year-old, the rapists were asserting their masculinity in one of the only ways they knew how. And that idea is one that is born within our entire culture, from sports to movies.
This isn't an isolated incident either. Around 10% of high school boys reported being victims of rape, mostly perpetrated by other boys. The real number is probably much higher considering the stigma associated with male rape victims.
When we talk about ending rape culture, we're not just talking about ending sexual violence against women. We're talking about ending sexual violence against men as well, and we're talking about ending the notion that the victim of such planned-out, violent attacks is the one to blame. But with such incidents being the rule and not the exception, it's clear that we still have a long way to go.