On the Reporting Problem

I’d like to take a moment to unpack an analysis I’ve read (and repeatedly cited) as it relates to some of the other sexual assault data I’m familiar with. This analysis, written by Loree Cook-Daniels of the national anti-violence organization Forge, cites an array of studies looking into the phenomenon of male victimization and female perpetration, and why these events are rarely reported to the authorities, result in conviction, or make it to published statistics or general knowledge.  Any statistic I cite in the following article that is not otherwise linked can be found in the above linked analysis.

My regular readers are by now familiar with my complaints about the pervasive and serious problem of sexual assault not being taken seriously outside the Duluth model paradigms of patriarchal violence (i.e. any victim who is not a victim of male-on-female assault).  This is true both in the general public, as I am regularly told in gender theory debates, often in plain language, that non-Duluth victims do not exist, don’t matter, or aren’t the real/larger problem (even after I disclose that I am one of them), and also institutionally.

On the social level, there is a chasm of difference between the way we teach males and females about consent, and the paradigms surrounding how we treat each.  Boys are taught to obtain consent, and girls are taught that it’s okay to withhold it.  Men are taught not to rape, and women are taught how to defend themselves against it.  Rape is viewed as something men do to women, men are viewed as always wanting sex (and thus impossible to violate), and therefore any unwelcome advance made by a woman, especially toward a man, is trivialized or completely dismissed.  I myself have repeatedly and publicly witnessed the difference between how people react to male and female perpetrated sexual assault, and male and female victims.  Women are not taught to respect consent, and many women don’t, with very little social or legal consequence.

On the institutional level, major research organizations widely regarded as credible will depict only female victims of male violence in the summaries of their findings, or skew definitions so that it appears that these are the vast majority of cases.  I have talked at length about the CDC with respect to this problem, by they are by far not the only offenders.  Even the FBI and other federal justice organizations define rape in such a way that excludes most male victims of female assault.  Even in their recently updated definition, only forcible penetration, not the forcing of the victim to penetrate the perpetrator, is considered rape.

Mary Koss of the CDC defends her differentiation of male-on-female rape from the separate female-on-male category termed “made to penetrate” in a 2007 paper with the following horrifically sexist rape apolgia:

“We acknowledge the inappropriateness of female verbal coercion and the legitimacy of male perceptions that they have had unwanted sex.  Although men may sometimes sexually penetrate women when ambivalent about their own desires, these acts fail to meet legal definitions of rape that are based on the penetration of the body of the victim.”

The legal definition she cites is troubling enough, but according to Koss, men do not fail to consent.  They merely perceive that they have had unwanted sex.  They are simply ambivalent about their own desires.  I’ll remind you that this was published in a publicly accessible academic paper written by one of the most prominent members of a major federal health organization.

But the problem doesn’t stop there.  The justice system is hideously biased against any victims outside the Duluth model.  I personally know men and women outside that paradigm who have been turned away or even laughed at by police when trying to report, and I’ve often read and cited studies confirming the prevalence of this problem.

One study in Canada showed that 86% of victims of female aggressors were not believed when they attempted to report.  The analysis also reports that, controlling for probable cause, a male adolescent is 46.5 times (not percent, times) more likely to be arrested and charged than a comparable female suspect.  This is largely because, when the victim is taken seriously by the officer to whom he reports victimization, judges will routinely dismiss cases in which the perpetrator is female, either on the grounds that women don’t rape, or the (unfortunately realistic) assumption that no jury will convict a woman.

These problems lead, predictably, to an abysmally low reporting rate for non-Duluth model victims.  Why report when you know you won’t be taken seriously any step of the way, when you might have to endure mockery at the hands of the people whose job it is to help you?  Never mind the fear of social stigma, and the fact that most non-Duluth victims don’t even conceptualize what happened to them as sexual assault, since they’ve been taught their whole lives that rape is something men do to women.

Another study of male victims found that, of those who had therapists, only 3% had told their therapists that they had been assaulted.  If you can’t even tell your therapist, you’re not going to tell a cop, and you’re certainly not going to tell a stranger conducting a CDC phone survey.

So let’s go back to the numbers I always cite.  The most recent publicly accessible iterations of the NISVS show gender parity in both victimization and perpetration.  This means that about as many men as women reported victimization in the past year.  Most respondents reported victimization by the opposite sex, but the study even accounts for some same-sex assault.

So here’s what doesn’t add up.  We already know that there is a massive reporting problem in sexual assault cases, but especially and extremely so with respect to male victims and female perpetrators.  And yet CDC research shows respondents of both sexes reporting equal amounts of victimization (along with other studies showing surprisingly high proportions of male victims).  If only a tiny percent of male victims even feel comfortable disclosing victimization to their therapists, what percentage do you suppose we’re looking at in published survey data?

Similarly, if some of the prevalence statistics with which we’re all familiar come from police reports and conviction rates, but many male victims can’t even convince an officer to take a report, and most judges and juries won’t convict a female perpetrator, than those statistics will only reflect the degree to which a non-Duluth victim can seek justice or assistance, not the rate at which they are victimized.

I suspect that there are way, way more non-Duluth victims out there who are keeping their trauma a secret.  In fact, I am starting to suspect something very contrary to the popular narrative.

When you consider the difference between the way we teach men and women about assault and consent, the lack of social or legal consequences for female perpetrators, the variety of stigmas against non-Duluth victims, the biases in research and criminal justice, and the resultant lack of willingness for male victims to come forward, it seems increasingly probable that women sexually assault men more often, perhaps significantly more often, than men sexually assault women.



Filed under activism, criminal justice, equality, men's health, men's rights, rape, sexual assault

6 responses to “On the Reporting Problem

  1. Loree Cook-Daniels may have done excellent research on transgender victimization, but her most alarming stats on male victimization are unreliable. The ‘86% not believed’ figure comes from a website (http://canadiancrc.com/Female_Sex_Offenders-Female_Sexual_Predators_awareness.aspx) which refers to a BBC Panorama episode from almost 20 years ago, and an interview of one female perpetrator on Oprah. And the ‘46.5 times more likely to be arrested’ stat from Tom James’ 2003 book has similarly mysterious origins. What study is it based on? Did they control for age, especially age relative to sexual partners?

    Hanna Rosin’s article (When Men are Raped) refers to NCVS 2012 data that 38% of rape victims were male. 2012 was a fluke. Since 1995, only one other year (2006) exceeded 15%, and the average is 10%. See for yourself with the Victimization Analysis Tool (VAT – https://www.bjs.gov/index.cfm?ty=nvat). It won’t help you kill super mutants, but it has a shit ton of data. NCVS may under-estimate male victimization (they ask directly about ‘rape’, allowing gendered victimization stereotypes to bias results), and I applaud Rosin and Stemple for highlighting male victims, but it’s no longer reasonable to cite the 38% stat now that several years of more recent NCVS data contradict it.

    Also the FBI definition is more complicated than you think. Tamen (https://tamenwrote.wordpress.com/2015/05/10/an-update-on-fbis-definition-of-rape/) argues that the FBI included ‘made to penetrate’ in some technical/implicit or (as he aptly puts it) half-assed way so that they can plausibly claim to be inclusive without actually getting police departments to include male victims.


    • Thanks for fact checking me. I didn’t mean to imply that all the studies’ findings were a perfect reflection of reality. They obviously contradict one another by reporting widely varying breakdowns, and I agree with you that the CDC’s multiple years of repeated gender parity is far more reliable than the one 2012 NSVS result. I cited those articles together because they show, to differing degrees, that men are victimized at a much higher rate than the average person would predict (or than the average research organization slants its conclusion to portray). I wanted to make the point that the assumption that male victims don’t exist, or are an extreme minority, is a faulty one.

      Overall, though, I am arguing that all these studies suffer from the same system of pressures and assumptions that prevent men from reporting victimization, meaning that it’s possible and even likely that women assault men more often than the reverse. After all, if the CDC (the most recent and consistent source) is repeatedly finding that men and women offend and are victimized at comparable rates, but men have more factors than women preventing them from coming forward, it is likely that men are actually victimized more often than women.

      Yep, you could read “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” to include the victim penetrating the assailant, but most people wouldn’t, and the section about oral seems especially gender biased (it would take some mental gymnastics to argue that you can penetrate someone’s mouth with a vagina). This could very well have been a move to pay lip service to gender equality while maintaining roughly the same standard of gendered treatment of the crime. However, it is an improvement from the previous definition, as it clearly allows for the rape of a male by another male.


  2. I didn’t mention the CDC Intimate partner & Sexual Violence Survey (NISVS) or compare it to the FBI Crime Victimization Survey (NCVS). It’s hard to say whether two years of consistent CDC data (2010,2011) are more reliable than two decades of weirdly turbulent FBI data. In any case they certainly do both validate your point that men are a substantial fraction of rape victims.

    The FBI changed their definition in response to feminist pressure, so, naturally, male victims were an afterthought. Eleanor Smeal, President of the Feminist Majority Foundation: “This will ensure the crime of rape is measured in a way that it includes all rape, and it essentially becomes a crime to which more resources are allocated. It’s intolerable the amount of violence against women, and we feel this will have a significant impact.” (http://msmagazine.com/blog/2011/10/19/update-major-victory-in-rape-is-rape-campaign/)


    • You’re very well read, and I always appreciate your contributions to my posts.

      I had heard that the definition change was a feminist initiative, and I’ll never understand why that movement so desperately wants to conceal or distract from male victims and female perpetrators. It’s not like you can’t promote women’s health and safety WHILE promoting men’s (and hell, I’m sure if they really wanted to they could come up with some kind of mental gymnastics to incorporate those phenomena into patriarchy theory, just like every other fact that objectively contradicts it). Ideology is a hell of a drug.


  3. Pingback: On Feminism, Equality, and Scotsmen | egalitarian jackalope

  4. Pingback: Rape Culture: A Comparison | egalitarian jackalope

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