Note: This article is also available in Spanish.
In 2012, two different communities had similar responses to criminal acts by students in their local schools.
In the first case two intoxicated youths exploited the incapacitated condition of their victim, and they and other students took photos which were shared with still other students following the rape. This crime, and the lack of response to it, were picked up by the internet community and thrust into the international spotlight where both issues received extensive press coverage and were the subjects of extensive public speculation. There was widespread outrage over the crime itself, the students’ attitude toward the actions of the perpetrators and toward the victim, and the massive failure by adults in that community, some of whom are now being investigated due to evidence that they assisted in sweeping the crime under the rug. The attention resulted in an investigation into the crime, multiple criminal charges including rape, a trial which also received extensive news coverage, conviction and sentencing of the two youths, and further investigation into the actions of parents and other adult mentors in conjunction with the crime.
In the second case three completely sober youths physically restrained their victim with brute force and duct tape, and committed anal rape using a foreign object. This crime and response was picked up by almost nobody. The earliest story I could find referred to the crime as nothing more than a hazing incident. Later stories didn’t do any better until recently, and even those haven’t carried the level of outrage seen in reporting on the other case. The community response following the reporting of this crime and the resulting arrests was even more dramatically pro-perpetrator than the other, with students wearing t-shirts with the perpetrators’ initials to school, harassing and threatening the victim, and threatening to leave the school if the victim’s father wasn’t fired from his position there. The difference in legal response is equally and appallingly stark; unlike the main perpetrators in the first case, the perpetrators in this case were allowed to get by with pleading guilty to mere misdemeanor charges.
What difference could there possibly have been between the two cases to cause such a disparity in response to these crimes? Is it less violent, less brutal, less of a violation of one’s person to be wrestled into submission, bound, and anally raped than it is to be raped while unconscious?
Of course not.
Is there something terribly unusual about the community where the second case occurred?
Nope – in fact, a recent article about “sodomy hazing” includes the statement that it is surprisingly common, and commonly is not treated with enough seriousness by adult mentors involved with perpetrators and victims.
Is it because the crime isn’t being reported?
Nope – that same article also reported that more than 40 similar incidents had been reported in just the last year, and that a 2009 study in the Journal of Youth and Adolescence found significant reporting of similar crimes within the studied demographic.
The gender of that demographic – high school males – seems to be the factor that makes the difference in social and legal response. It’s politically incorrect to be seen as not sensitive enough to the experiences of female victims of male rapists. Insensitivity to male rape victims is a social norm.
Much of the response to male victims can be attributed to common misconceptions and myths about them, with consent considered a given, the presumption that when it’s not, all he has to do is resist, the treatment of his body’s reaction as indicative of his intent, and ignorance of the danger a rapist does or does not present to a male victim.
This contributes to under-reporting by male victims by making it hard for them to think of themselves as victims, much less advocate for themselves, by shaming them into silence, and by shaping the professional response when victims do come forward.
From the Invisible Boy Report, Prepared by: Frederick Mathews, Ph.D., C. Psych
One problem with trying to understand the true prevalence rate of male victimization is how the present picture has been affected by factors pertaining to professional practice. Here we have to look at the low substantiation rates of all forms of maltreatment, especially in younger children. Substantiation rates are always higher for adolescent populations, typically because teens are easier to interview and are better able to articulate to investigators what happened to them.
This is even more of an issue for male victims. When boys are victimized, they tend to be seen as less in need of care and support (Watkins and Bentovim, 1992). They are also blamed more for their abuse (Burgess, 1985; Broussard and Wagner, 1988; Whatley and Riggio, 1993) and their offenders are held less accountable (Burgess, 1985). In one of the most troubling studies, Pierce and Pierce (1985) found that male victims, despite being subjected to more invasive types of abuse and more types of sexual acts than female victims, were 5 times less likely to be removed from their homes.
Another reason for the double standard male victims face is the expectation of male stoicism; when faced with an adverse condition men are presumed better equipped to withstand adversity than women. From childhood, they’re taught that when faced with adversity, in order to be “real men,” they should disregard their own suffering and continue offering their contributions to society as if undamaged. This can be seen in everyday attitudes, and as the Invisible Boy Report points out in the section on Media Images of Violence toward Boys and Young men,
Looking past the more conventional forms of research and other types of information about violence and abuse, it is easy to find media images supporting male victimization. Women have long argued for greater accountability on the part of the media to refrain from using harmful, sexist and objectifying images of females in advertising and entertainment. Males are also now beginning to raise their own concerns.
Violence toward males is so normalized in our society that it has become invisible to the average person.
“Tough it out,” says society.
“Take it like a man. Shake it off… walk it off… grin and bear it… suck it up and drive on… man up.”
Male victims who report sexual assault often face dismissal and ridicule by people who refuse to believe that a man can be overpowered by a woman, who consider admission of having been victimized an unbecoming show of weakness, who question or attack his sexuality in response to his complaint, or who assume that a man’s presumed toughness makes the violation he suffered less than a woman would suffer from the same type of attack.
That’s the main difference in the wider response to the two incidents described in the beginning of this post.
The first one occurred in 2012 in Steubenville, Ohio. Probably most people reading recognized the story without me naming it, because of the coverage it received and the firestorm it set off.
For everyone who doesn’t recognize the second story, it took place in the very small community of Norwood, Colorado, also in 2012, and received only partial coverage by local sources at the time. Notice that the community’s response was to defend the perpetrators by citing a perceived tolerance for hazing. The parents weren’t angry about the environment to which their children were being subjected. They came forward to argue that being protected from it was a form of special treatment.
The Bloomberg News article which recently revived the story didn’t contain the word “rape” in the headline, though it appears several times throughout the article. It seems the media is reluctant to label the specific incident rape, even while acknowledging that’s what forced penetration of the anus against the victim’s will is.
What was the reaction to any media failure to show sufficient condemnation toward the Steubenville perpetrators? Feminist websites had a collective ire-gasm, which I’ve previously contrasted with the response I saw to charges brought against Kaitlyn Hunt for her sexual relationship with a 14 year old… which they would call rape if Kaitlyn were a man. That brings up the next double standard; the response when the perpetrator is female.
In female perpetrator, male victim circumstances, the attitude toward the victim is exacerbated by social attitudes toward the roles of the sexes in the context of a sexual encounter, in which males are presumed interested, and females are presumed reluctant. It’s expected that a woman’s consent will be sought, while a man’s right to consent or deny is ignored. Men are seekers of consent, and women are gatekeepers. The gatekeeper-to-consent concept is so ingrained that it is often not a conscious thought. As a result, the social response to male rape victims is hampered by the idea that it’s abnormal for a heterosexual man to not automatically consent to any sexual contact from a woman. While society treats “no” as the default answer for women, until a “yes” is earned and offered, the default answer for men is treated as “yes,” leading to a tendency to disbelieve men who report being victimized. This mentality is imposed upon the view of male victims often regardless of their age.
Long before someone becomes an adult protective services worker, law enforcement officer, or judge, he or she has had years of exposure to a whole range of stereotypes about men and women. The stereotypes that even trained abuse professionals bring to their work on sexual assault cases include:
Violence is a male problem.
Women are only violent in self‐defense.
Men always want sex; they can’t be raped.
Women are hurt more by sexual assault than men are.
The effects of these stereotypes can be seen in a wide variety of statistics and research. First, women are far less likely to be arrested and prosecuted for sexual abuse. “When probable cause exists to charge a juvenile with a sex offense, the offender is 46.5 times more likely to be arrested and charged with a crime if he is male than if she is female,” reports Thomas B. James, J.D., in his 2003 book, Domestic Violence: The 12 Things You Aren’t Supposed to Know. A 1994 article by Lisa Lipshires, “Female Perpetration of Child Sexual Abuse: An Overview of the Problem,” relates many stories of district attorneys and judges dismissing cases against women because “women don’t do things like this” or “public sentiment would not allow for such charges to be brought….” Lipshires also reports that a psychologist who trains district attorneys about sexual abuse has found that often, “there will be a female attorney on staff who is trying to prosecute a female perpetrator [of a male victim], and the male attorneys will say, ‘Look, we’re not going to waste the taxpayers’ dollars on this. This is every man’s fantasy.’”
Feminist advocates have exploited those social tendencies in order to maintain both their monopoly on perceived victim status, and the illusion that women are less domineering and violent than men. All of feminism’s vitriolic condemnation of sex offenders vanishes when the perpetrator is female, to be replaced with arguments they’d call rape apology, victim blaming, marginalizing, minimalizing, and misogyny if they were offered in discussion of male victimization of women. They try to refocus discussion to the “women have it worse” dialogue by downplaying the suffering of male victims in comparison to that of female victims. They deny statistics, falsely claiming that the incidence of female perpetrated rape of male victims is lower than it actually is. Many will go so far as to argue that men can’t be raped.
The successful effort by Mary Koss to define male victims of female rapists out of legal existence is a prime example of that argument; in order to forward it, she has to assert that an experience (forced heterosexual sex) which is clearly understood to be rape when a man does it to a woman isn’t the same crime when the sexes of the victim and perpetrator are reversed. The Koss effect isn’t limited to feminist-led research. The U.S. justice department’s updated definition of rape, like the CDC’s definition, requires that victim be penetrated, and therefore excludes a sexually intimate attack on a male victim’s genitals. This means Justice department statistics on rape will include same sex perpetrators, but not many female rapists of male victims.
A 2008/2009 Bureau of Justice Statistics study on Sexual Victimization in Juvenile Facilities Reported by Youth found that although female staff accounted for a slight minority among adult staffers in the surveyed facilities, 95% of those reporting sexual misconduct by staff said they’d been victimized by female staff. The study also found that males were disproportionately targeted by staff; 10.8% of males were victimized, versus 4.7% of females.
The study and the setting of perpetration don’t lend themselves to concrete conclusions about the general population, but they do contradict the belief that perpetration is mostly male, and targets mostly females. In this setting, based on the percentages of the population given by the bureau, despite being in the minority in both staff and inmate populations, females made up approximately 85% of all perpetrators. Males made up approximately 95% of all victims. Given the way feminists argue in favor of creating exclusionary “safe spaces” for women due to stated concerns over male aggression, could it not be reasonably argued that there should be no female staffers permitted in juvenile facilities, in order to reduce sexual victimization of inmates? Yet, were anyone to put forth the idea, is there any doubt that cries of misogyny and discrimination would drown out any discussion on the suggestion?
One stake feminists have in maintaining the male perpetrator/female victim image of rape is that a more balanced and honest view of the crime wouldn’t provide them with the same fodder for fundraising efforts. Women as a group are seen as more vulnerable than men. The general public is more sympathetic to women, and perceived threats to women can be more readily exploited as a tool of manipulation. Feminists need to maintain the public perception that women are innocent victims and men are violent and domineering in order to maximize the marketability of protecting women from men, or they risk losing their government, corporate, and public funding meal ticket.
Another stake is that such a view would knock down the vulnerable woman/dangerous man concept upon which feminist advocacy on intimate partner and sexual violence is based. Feminist advocates exploit that concept as much for political power as for money, and they don’t want the laws and policies they’ve used it to advocate for turned around and applied to female perpetrators.
Outside the U.S., feminist advocates have fought to keep some nations’ governments from recognizing the crime of rape when perpetrated against men by women. This effort has been successful in India. In the U.K., female perpetration of genital on genital rape against a man would not be called rape, but “sexual assault,” for which the sentence span is shorter.
Laws governing authority response to rape allegations compromise the due process rights of the accused. (Stop Abusive and Violent Environments)
Over the last 40 years, rape laws have undergone a fundamental transformation. In some ways, these changes have removed barriers to rape victims receiving a fair trial and have helped bring many rapists to justice. But in other ways the reforms have gone too far, upending traditional tenets of criminal procedure and removing due process protections for the accused.
The overall effect has been to shift the burden of proof to the defendant, likely resulting in more wrongful convictions. In Washington state, for example, juries receive the following instruction: “The burden is on the defendant to prove by a preponderance of the evidence that the sexual intercourse was consensual.”
As a result, false allegations have increased, thus diluting the availability of services and protections for victims, and diminishing the credibility of future victims’ claims.
It’s no wonder feminists have fought so hard to keep rape laws and sexual misconduct policy from treating male and female perpetration equally. These laws and policies have created an environment wherein women can and do abuse the power of the vulnerable woman/dangerous man concept by using false accusations as weapons in minor disputes and in custody battles, tools of revenge, or an alibi for cheating, or even just for attention. Equal treatment would subject women to the same legal environment now faced by men.
That admission, repeatedly articulated in more politically correct terms by feminists fighting to prevent recognition of male victims of female perpetrators, amounts to an admission of awareness.
Feminists call it rape apology when it’s directed at female victims of male perpetrators, whether it’s denial that the victim was violated, or denial that the perpetrator did anything wrong, yet when the victim is male, and especially when the perpetrator is female, it’s feminists who take the lead in that denial.
Feminists call a community-wide attitude of rape apology “rape culture” when the victim is female, yet by their own definition, they’re most guilty of promoting a rape culture that tolerates victimization of boys and men, especially when the perpetrator is female.
After decades of research and theory building, feminist rape apologists know full well the damage they are doing to boys and men. They’re aware that their denial is preventing male victims from seeing the same progress in legal response and victim’s assistance that has been won for women. They know they are promoting lenience for female rapists.
Feminists came out of every nook and cranny of the world wide web to support – even celebrate as a martyr – Steubenville’s female victim. They’ve deliberately thrown men and boys like the Norwood rape victim under the bus, and it’s obvious they intend to continue to do so.
If male victims of sexual violence are ever going to see justice and recovery, it’s going to have to come from a better group of advocates.