[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.