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.

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This is a brief statement of my opinion on the Aziz Ansari case.  Content note: rape.

There’s a direct analogy between rape and drowning.  Drowning looks very different in real life vs the movies.  But nobody demands that people behave more stereotypically while drowning.  When people fail to behave stereotypically, still nobody denies that it was really drowning.  And nobody derails the conversation by insisting that nearby swimmers can’t be treated as criminals just because they don’t recognize drowning.

I understand that among SJ-oriented people, there is some controversy about the Aziz Ansari case.  A lot of people saying that it was wrong, but not sexual assault.  My stance is that it was a fairly typical story of rape, making it a troubling demonstration of people’s inability to recognize rape.  Yes, “rape” instead of “sexual assault”, because it was penetrative–that should be straightforward.  But the part that gives people trouble, is that Grace didn’t behave as they expected a non-consenting person should, and they think the typical person would have great difficulty recognizing the signs.  To this I say, okay, but please update your expectations.  This is what drowning looks like.

The felt sense model of consent

[cn: non-explicit discussion of rape and sexual consent]

I recently wrote a guide to terms relating to sexual violence, and I included brief descriptions of a few common models of consent. While I do not reject these models of consent, I do advocate a lesser-known model of consent. It’s known as “consent as a felt sense”.

This model was first described by maymay and unquietpirate, although I have serious disagreements with their framing, as I will discuss below. I would instead recommend coyote’s take, which was what first made the model click for me. If you want even more reading, Ozy has a critique of the model.

The communication vs the message

The standard narrative of consent is someone saying “yes” or “no” to a sexual proposition. This narrative isn’t entirely accurate. Studies show that saying “no” is a disfavored way to express refusal, and people commonly couch or soften their refusals, both inside and outside sexual contexts. It’s also well-known that consent can be expressed non-verbally. Once we get past the myths and legends, we see that consent isn’t about saying one particular word or another. It’s about communication, by whatever means are effective.

But the thing about communication, is that there is a message that we are trying to communicate. Perhaps the intended message is “I consent”, but this quickly devolves into recursive circle. “I wish to communicate to you that I wish to communicate to you that I consent.” Upon reflection, we come to the conclusion that “I consent” means “I am okay with this”.

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A guide to sexual violence terminology

[cn: sexual violence, including explicit references]

When I started out writing about sexual violence, I was confused about many of the terms surrounding it. I didn’t even know, until someone told me, that “sexual violence” was an all-encompassing term. So I’m writing a guide to terminology, of the kind I wish I had years ago. My aim is to go beyond a glossary, not just providing definitions but also commenting on connotations and practical usage.

Categories of sexual violence

Sexual violence – Sexual violence is a super-category that includes any sexual (or sexually charged) act that violates someone’s consent. That includes sexual assault, sexual coercion, sexual harassment, and child sexual abuse (all of which are to be defined later). Note that sexual violence is a term used by public health advocates and activists, not by the legal system; not all sexual violence is illegal.

In my experience, definitions of sexual violence can be confusing. For example, the NSVRC says sexual violence is when “someone forces or manipulates someone else into unwanted sexual activity without their consent,” and then proceeds to list examples which do not obviously fall under its own definition, such as spying on sexual acts. If you’re not sure whether to go with the explicit definition, or the list of examples, always go with the list, which has more consensus than the literal definition.

Sexual assault – Sexual assault is non-consensual sexual touching. Common examples include unwanted kissing, groping certain body parts, and rape. Sexual assault is also a legal term, although at least in the US, there is a distinction between assault (the threat of violence) and battery (the violence itself). Outside of legal contexts, “sexual assault” usually refers to what is legally called “sexual battery”.

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Why are there so few asexual men?

This is a repost of an article I wrote in 2015.  I made a few minor updates, but all the speculation still applies today.

In my analysis of the 2014 AVEN Survey of online asexual communities, I showed that only 12% of aces (aces = people on the asexual spectrum) are men.    According to my numbers, the fraction of asexuals who are men is similar.  [Update: The 2015 Asexual Census finds the same result.]  Someone asked me why that is, and I thought I’d make my answer public.

Extant data

In a community survey of AVEN in 2008, 28% of asexuals were men.  Another community survey in 2011 reported 13% of aces were men.  A Spanish-language community survey in 2013 reports that 36% of asexuals were assigned male at birth.

These are all community surveys conducted online, and they only tell us about people in the various online communities.  They do not tell us about asexuals or asexual-spectrum people in general.

However, there was also an academic study conducted in 2004, based on a national probability sample in the UK in 1994.  In that study 35% of asexuals were men.  In theory, this should tell us about asexuals in general, although there are many reasons to worry about systematic biases.

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Image over substance

[cn: CSA, sexual assault]

Actor Kevin Spacey was recently accused of sexually assaulting a 14 year old boy. The incident was 30 years ago. Kevin Spacey, didn’t he play the protagonist in American Beauty, a movie that all but celebrated pedophilia, and featured a repressed homosexual murderer? Oh, I guess people today mostly know him for his role in House of Cards.

Anyway… this story caught my eye because several friends were saying that Spacey had found the one time that it was inappropriate to come out as gay. See, in Spacey’s statement of apology, he added a paragraph saying that he was gay.

Yeah, so about that. It makes sense that he would say that, because after all, he was accused of sexually assaulting a boy, and had long been rumored to be gay. People were going to connect the dots. They already connected the dots in the article which first published the accusations! But I agree that it seems like a deeply inappropriate time to come out, because it comes across as an attempt to distract. Indeed, some news outlets ran stories that mentioned the coming out first, and the accusations second. Although, looking at Google news results, I suspect this was the exception to the rule. If the intention was to distract, it probably just drew more media attention.

I want to talk about how some people criticized Spacey for the wrong reasons. Yes I know that sounds pedantic. Really who cares if some people come to the correct conclusion for wrong reasons? The reason I care, is because I care about the issue of sexual assault in the context of queer men. And some commentators? They seem to care more about image over substance.
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Who is #metoo for?

[cn: non-explicit discussion of sexual harassment and assault]

A week ago, there was the #metoo campaign. It called for people who had experienced sexual assault or sexual harassment to say “me too” on social media, so that we might realize how common it is. It swept over Facebook for quite a while, so presumably most readers have already heard of it; I’m just recapping so nobody feels left out.

I didn’t say anything on Facebook, but here I will say, “Me too.” I have been a victim of multiple counts of sexual assault, including rape. It’s not a big deal for me to come out and say this, because I have been open about it for years.

#Metoo was not a helpful campaign to me personally.  I did not desire to participate, and I did not learn anything from it.  I already knew lots of people have experienced sexual assault and harassment.  I mean, I work on the Asexual Community Survey and produce graphs like this one.

A plot of the percentage of people who experience sexual violence, broken down by age. It's around 30% for minors and approaches 70% for people in their 40s.

Please do not take the numbers on this graph literally, and do not duplicate the image without citation to the report that it comes from. There’s a lot of additional context that changes its interpretation.

The plot suggests that about 70% of the ace respondents to our survey will experience sexual violence of some kind in their lifetime.  It will be somewhat smaller in the general population, because the general population has more men and is less queer.  (In our own survey, the straight non-ace people had rates that were about 10% smaller.)  But no matter how we cut it, we’re talking about a very significant fraction of the general population.  And that doesn’t even include sexual harassment!

This is all to say, if you really want to know how widespread sexual assault and harassment is, you can just look those numbers up.  Believe those numbers.  Internalize them.  Now just pretend that X% of your friends said, “Me Too,” and you can save them the trouble of actually having to do it.

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