I recently administered a survey to a group of students at Truman University on the topic of sexual assault. The results showed that most students didn’t believe male rape was an issue and most thought less than 10% of victims were men.
These individuals would be shocked to learn that 38% of rape victims are actually male, according to a recently released study by the National Crime Victimization Survey. The Bureau of Justice Statistics examined the results after some scrutiny at how large the statistic seemed to be. However, much to everyone’s surprise, the bureau found no error in the study. Society’s attitude towards male sexual assault victims is shifting. In 2012, the FBI changed the definition of rape to include male victims. Before 2012, forced penetration was not acknowledged as rape. However, educating the public on the realities of sexual assault is a long process, and little progress seems to be made. Many people refuse to believe that a man can even be raped.
As a feminist and a proponent of human rights, I’m very troubled by the trend of assuming only women experience sexual assault. Every year, 19-31% of college men receive some form of unwanted sexual contact, and perpetrators are typically female. We’re predisposed to think of sexual assault as a male-on-female crime and tend to discredit any crime that doesn’t fit our preconceived definition of what constitutes as rape. Female perpetrators often have significantly lighter sentences, and male victims rarely step forward. Rape is the most underreported crime in America, and male victims are the least likely to report it. The perfect crime is the one that nobody hears about, and unfortunately, male sexual assault fits in that category all too often. Victims are typically gay and/or non-Caucasian.
The demographic most at risk for male rape is young, African-American homosexual males, although individuals of all demographics are affected. Male rape can be a form of gay bashing and needs to be recognized as a serious issue.
We need to radically change the way we think about rape. Rape is too often categorized as sex-driven crime. However, it has nothing to do with gender or sex-drive. Many rapists report that the gender of their victim is inconsequential. Rape is a crime of power and control.
If we stop labeling rape as a male-on-female crime, we can also avoid the issue of victim blaming. Female victims are often asked what they were wearing at the time of the incident, if their sexuality as a woman was pronounced, etc. Male victims are never asked what they were wearing when they were raped.
It’s evident that gender has little to do with victimization in the case of sexual assault. Genderizing the crime paints women as weak and men as insatiable, two false stereotypes.
Male victims of sexual assault are a minority. But ignoring their experience only encourages the perpetration of crime and does nothing to encourage solutions. A big reason why male victims tend not to report their rapist is because they feel isolated by the crime. This is largely due to the lack of awareness surrounding male sexual assault. The most important thing we can do to encourage an atmosphere of inclusiveness and healing is to raise awareness on the issue of male sexual assault instead of ignoring it. Acknowledging the experience of male rape victims will help change the way we view sexual assault as a whole and help stop the unnecessary genderization of the crime, which hurts both men and women.
Only rapists can prevent rape and stopping rapists from pursuing crime starts by shedding light on it instead of sweeping it under the rug. Rape is not about gender, and recognizing that will help us better understand how to solve it.