Justice

The Big Problem With How We Talk About Male Rape

Rape and sexual assault of most victims has been underreported, but there's a big problem with the reporting of male sexual assault victims - including the way society talks about it.

Lara Stemple, director of the Health and Human Right's Law Project at the University of California, Los Angeles, Law School, and her colleagues found that male victims and female perpetrators are more common than Americans may believe. The researchers analyzed data from 2008-2013 on sexual victimization from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the Bureau of Justice Statistics.

"We don't want to detract from the ongoing problems with women and sexual assault, but we want to include everybody," she told ATTN:.

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Adult women and men reported a "nearly equal prevalence" of non-consensual sex in the last year, and women are the majority of people assaulting men, according to the 2014 analysis based on survey data from the CDC. Nearly 80 percent of male victims said they were assaulted by a woman in the CDC survey data - however, women were more likely to suffer a sexual assault from men than women in the past year.

In their lifetimes, more than 71 percent of straight men and 21 percent of gay men said they were assaulted by a woman in the CDC survey, compared to 5 percent of straight women and nearly 15 percent of lesbians who said they were assaulted by another women.

So why do male sexual assault victims and female perpetrators get less attention?

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Stemple told ATTN: that we need to expand the definition of rape. The CDC survey counts rape as penetration of the victim, but a man being forced to penetrate a woman or another man would count as non-rape sexual harm and it's instead included with behavior like flashing or lewd comments.

"We object to their definition of rape," she said. "'Have you been made to have sex against your will?' If they say, 'yes' then that person was raped."

Stemple's report also analyzed data from the Bureau of Justice Statistics' National Crime Victimization Surveys, which found that female perpetrators were reported in nearly 35 percent of incidents involving male victims. Stemple believed the survey was probably underreporting sexual assaults like rape because only one person reported assaults for the entire household, which could've been problematic because the person reporting might not have known about an assault in the family, or might've improperly dismissed an incident.

There is a misconception that men can't be raped.

Clinical psychologist Jim Hopper, an independent consultant and teaching associate at Harvard Medical School, said that the involuntary physical response men sometimes have when they're assaulted can make them feel like they're to blame.

"Not only are men ashamed to tell others that they've been sexually assaulted by a woman, they have trouble even acknowledging it to themselves," said Hopper to ATTN:. "Naming their experience for what it was, sexual assault, rape, constitutes a threat to their very identify as men."

Society tells men that they should always want sex, Hopper added.

"Males always want sex they've been told, especially, if it's a girlfriend or an attractive woman," he explained. "It's simply inconceivable that sex could be unwanted, let alone an assault. Those messages are everywhere in the culture, and boys and men get them at every age, from every direction."

If you or someone you know has been sexually assaulted, raped, abused or forced into any kind of non-consensual sex, please reach out to the Rape Abuse and Incest National Network's hotline at 1-800-656-HOPE to speak with trained staff for assistance and counsel.

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