Random notes on male victims of sexual violence

[cn: sexual violence, including rape]

So last month, I talked a bit about sexual violence. And when most people think about this topic, they imagine male perpetrators and female victims. But since my personal experience is in gay male contexts, I tend to think of male victims first. And male victims, well isn’t that a thing? You have all the usual myths about sexual violence, and problems with how we treat victims after the fact; but on top of that, you have even more issues that are specific to male victims.

In this post, I’ll discuss three disparate topics related to male victims. First, I’ll talk about some male-specific misconceptions. Second, I’ll talk about prevalence statistics, and complain about how people have collected these statistics. Third, I’ll talk about feminism.

1. Facts and misconceptions

MaleSurvivor.org has a great list of facts about male victims, debunking common misconceptions. I’m not going to reinvent the wheel, I’ll just highlight a few points for readers who don’t click that link. Yes, men can be victims of sexual violence. Their perpetrators can have any gender/orientation combination. No, survivors are not more likely to become sexual abusers.

One particularly insidious misconception, is that erection equals consent. The one reference I saw suggests that about half of male victims of rape maintain their erections through the incident. That means if you believe the misconception, you could easily erase a significant fraction of male rape victims.  This misconception is commonly believed by both perpetrators and victims, with tragic consequences. Ally Fogg has a great post talking about this, including the aforementioned reference. I feel gratified to discover that one of the best resources on this topic is someone on my blogging network.

2. Statistics and prevalence

There’s an issue with statistics of rape of men. “Rape” is defined by several institutions to only include incidents where the victim is penetrated, and not incidents where the victim is made to penetrate the perpetrator. To save space, I’m going to take it for granted that you, the reader, agree with me that this is nonsense, and that rape should obviously include the category of “being made to penetrate”. From this perspective, you basically can’t trust any statistics of rape, without looking closely at the details.

According to the CDC’s 2010 report, 18.3% of women and 1.4% of men have been raped in their lifetime. This is incorrect. According to the very same report, an additional 4.8% of men reported that they were “made to penetrate” at some point in their lifetime. So it would be more accurate to put side by side the numbers 18.3% of women and roughly 6% of men. (Note, the 1.4% and 4.8% may overlap, so adding them up to 6% isn’t exact.)

And the CDC report is one of the better resources on this topic, because even if they use the wrong definition, they at least make the correct numbers easy to find. I occasionally look up statistics on sexual violence and often I’d have to really dig to even figure out definition they’re using. For example, what definition is RAINN using on this page? Spoiler: not the right one. And what does it say when an organization, which claims to support male victims, can’t even define rape in a way that is appropriate for male victims?

Again, a great resource on this topic is Ally Fogg. He goes through a bunch of studies, and it seems that the 6% figure is not a fluke. Interestingly, while women have higher lifetime incidence than men, men and women appear to have equal incidence in the past year. That might mean that prevalence among women was higher in the past, or perhaps it means that there are gender differences in recollection bias. I suspect that even when researchers use appropriate definitions, it can be very difficult to accurately measure rates of sexual violence, so I try not to read too much into the precise numbers.

3. Male victims and feminism

To be blunt, I don’t think male victims get enough support from feminists. It’s hard to come up with concrete evidence for this impression, but I’ll say that when I researched male victims, very few of the resources and articles are from a feminist perspective. I did get a lot of results from RAINN, but then RAINN can’t even get the definition right. When I look for articles criticizing the CDC for their restrictive definition of rape, most articles come from anti-feminist perspectives (e.g.). This is really gross, and frankly feminists should feel embarrassed and upstaged.

I should clarify, I strongly identify as a feminist. And yet I can’t faithfully discuss this issue without attacking the feminist track record. I urge feminists everywhere to think critically about this issue, and write about it too, so I no longer have to be so nasty when I talk about it.

Here’s why it’s bad when anti-feminists dominate the conversation. So much of anti-feminism is bullshit, and even when they’re right about something for once, they still manage to insert a bunch of bullshit into it. Some of the bullshit is mundane, like when Cathy Young can’t even add percentages right. And then there’s all the focus placed on the “gender war” angle. This is not especially helpful to me as someone who talks about sexual violence in queer contexts. Indeed, it is the opposite of helpful, because it ignores the realities of male survivors, in favor of using them as political ammunition. It also seems that anti-feminist support for male victims is less than whole-hearted, as they will gladly repeat misconceptions about sexual violence, and engage in victim blaming.

Again, I’m a feminist, and also a cis man. And male feminism, well isn’t that a thing? The public conversation about feminist men places them firmly in the role as allies. There’s an argument over whether male allies should even identify as feminists, or if this labeling places too much focus on themselves, rather than on the women that they’re trying to help. But when I identify as a feminist man, it is not just about being an ally. It is about supporting male victims like myself, while rebuking anti-feminist bullshit. We must accept that male feminism is not just a matter of allyship, it is a necessary part of men fighting for themselves.


  1. Oggie. says


    I thought long and hard about whether to comment on this article. You may know my history. You may not. That said, I can give some anecdotal support to your article.


    No, survivors are not more likely to become sexual abusers.

    Possibly the worst thing that my rapist did to me, and to others, was consciously try to train us to be rapists. He told us, again and again and again, that there were girls and there were men. Men were the ones who could take pleasure where ever they wanted. Girls were the ones who were too weak to stop men. He showed us what life for girls was like — anal and oral rape, forced penetration, humiliation — and told us that, once we were men, we would get to be the ones forcing the girls to give us pleasure. I sometimes hear the words he used but I’m not sure if I am inventing them in my memories or not, but the idea that girls (he considered all children (boys and girls), all women, and most men to be girls) existed to please men and men had the right to take pleasure whether the girls agreed or not was always the thrust of the indoctrination.

    After scouts had imploded, I had one episode in which I joined a group of three little girls (I babysat two of them for the summer and the third showed up Friday morning for a weekend with the two I babysat), all in the four to six years old range. I was twelve that summer. They were already involved in very adult sexual play when I entered the room. And the training my rapist has forced into my head was too damn easy to follow. I made a conscious decision after that, deciding that I was now a man and never had to assault someone again. And I haven’t. I view it as making the right decision for the wrong reason.

    I did become an abuser. Once. And made the decision not to continue. And that episode makes me physically ill when I write about it. I know that I was not old enough to be legally responsible. I know that my brain was not fully formed. I know that it was what I was indoctrinated into. And it still kills my soul (not the fictional eternal soul, the soul of who I am, who I think I am, what I believe and what is important to me.).

    I blame my rapist. His indoctrination was in my head that day. Hell, he was in my head that day.

    One particularly insidious misconception, is that erection equals consent.

    I still remember, and it still terrifies my and disturbs me and shames me, that I sometimes enjoyed what my rapist did to me. I was nine or ten years old and really didn’t fully understand what my erection was or meant, but he used that to shame me, to silence me. And I do remember being told that my erection showed that I enjoyed what he was doing so it was what I wanted. I still have twinges of guilt when I get an erection, even with my wife of almost 30 years.


    According to the very same report, an additional 4.8% of men reported that they were “made to penetrate” at some point in their lifetime.

    I was made to penetrate my friends in Cub Scouts. I was made to penetrate a girl who was, maybe, four or five. I know, in my brain, that I did this to avoid the pain that would result had I said no (I learned really fast not to say no to my scout leader (or his friend)). Which is still a festering pool of guilt that I “decided”* to hurt a much younger child rather than be hurt myself.


    Indeed, it is the opposite of helpful, because it ignores the realities of male survivors, in favor of using them as political ammunition.

    And what happened to me, more important, what I did when I was twelve, have been used as ammunition against the progressive wing of atheism.


    You can approve this comment or dump it. Either way, I’m good with that. I come at this from the perspective of a man who is so straight that you could use me to hem trousers. Yet my first sexual experiences involved homosexual rape. Your article sparked memories (nothing bad, just my past as I remember it (and I do not pretend that what I remember is exactly what happened)) and I needed to do some writing to stop the endless circles of woulda/coulda/shoulda that went through my head all last night.

    Thank you.

    * It was a magicians choice — there was no real choice for me. Took me decades to figure that one out.

  2. says

    It is left somewhat unclear why “men fighting for themselves” against nonconsensual sex should require anyone to commit to any given set of ideas about women’s or men’s rights. Can we not simply fight for ourselves on basic principles of consent and human decency? Seems like that approach should be somewhat simpler than bringing in the ongoing struggle between anti-feminism and feminism, not to mention the struggles between intersectional feminism and more venerable feminisms.

    p.s. What definition did RAINN get wrong?

  3. says

    @Damion Reinhardt,
    Apart of being a fight for women’s rights, feminism is also a tradition of activism, and an ongoing conversation. Every attempt to address sexual violence is at least implicitly responding to feminism. And in my opinion, the most effective attempts to address sexual violence are the ones that adopt feminist ideas, tools, and frameworks.

    Although in practice maybe some organizations could avoid taking any explicit stance on feminism, RAINN being an example. But I mean, RAINN is still a feminist organization in all but name.

    p.s. What definition did RAINN get wrong?

    RAINN says “1 out of every 10 rape victims are male,” and cites a study that does not include the “being made to penetrate” category.

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