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. This makes it especially difficult for a man to defend himself physically against a female attacker, since the social and legal consequences of hitting a woman are profound, and the odds are slim that he will be believed when he argues that he was acting in self-defense. To a large extent, this phenomenon mitigates men’s strength and size advantage, which is often used to claim that men cannot be forced to have sex by a woman, who is smaller and not as physically strong (and also used to claim that men are the only sex capable of rape or assault).
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 research 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 than men sexually assault women.