The word “rape” conjures up an image of a helpless young woman being held down and forcefully penetrated, a brutal act that provokes widespread empathy for the victim. Not all sexual assaults fit this description, however; by definition, they can involve any type of sexual contact or behavior that occurs without the explicit consent of the recipient, including unwelcome kissing or touching. That said, the meaning of rape in those instances where women are on the receiving end has gradually expanded to include the latter acts and a wide range of inappropriate behavior.
Unfortunately, what hasn’t changed is the perception that women are the only victims. In fact, the past decade has seen a dramatic increase in the number of incidents of women raping and sexually assaulting boys and men. On May 2014, Jezebel reported a study, where a large portion of teen boys and young men have been forced or coerced into sexual activity by a peer. The study, published in the journal Psychology of Men and Masculinity, 43% of high school boys and young college men reported they had an unwanted sexual experience, and 95% reported that a female acquaintance was the aggressor.[i] Other statistics confirm that men are not the only perpetrators. According to a 2010 National Crime Victimization Survey, which queried 40,000 households about rape and sexual violence, 38% of reported incidents involved women targeting boys and men.[ii]
Unfortunately, the stereotype about rape has had damaging and far-reaching consequences. Commentators such as Mike Lew, author of Victims No Longer, and Mike Hunter, author of Abused Boys, have noted that because there are no prevention programs aimed at thwarting such assaults and so many go unreported, school administrators, police and society at large have the false impression that boys and men are not at risk. That ignorance has allowed the problem to fester. While WND’s list of hundreds of female teachers who were caught raping teenage male students seems long, it likely pales in comparison to the actual number of women who have gotten away scot-free.[iii]
Societal attitudes about female assaults on males
Certainly, attitudes about masculinity and sexual abuse vary greatly. However, western country prejudices generally mean that little boys are shown little or no empathy or their concerns are quickly dismissed if they say that they have been sexually assaulted by a female. For the most part, they are essentially told to…“man up.” While stories about women being raped are widely reported and debated, garnering headlines and grabbing the attention of police, legal and other officials across the country, incidents where men are the victims are rarely covered, if at all.
But the fact is that crimes, where men are the victims, cause considerable harm. While it is no secret that males enjoy sex, that doesn’t mean unwanted, and aggressive coercion is right or appropriate. There is overwhelming evidence that when boys and men are sexually assaulted, they suffer post-traumatic stress, guilt, fear, powerlessness, shame, distrust, betrayal, anger, self-harm, flashbacks, and depression. Like their female counterparts, they often experience painful and long-lasting issues.[iv]
Unfortunately, these facts don’t seem to matter to those in authority. Generally speaking, school administrators, police, prosecutors, judges, and juries view and treat the issue of male sexual assault less seriously than those cases where woman are the victims. In fact, the notion of female-on-male assault is often dismissed as a joke, helping to sustain the myth that men cannot be raped, and that females who attack males are less severe and less harmful than those who commit “real” rape.
It doesn’t help that those who have been victimized, especially younger males, don’t have an appropriate frame of reference or sufficient knowledge to understand the criminality of the event or series of events. For one thing, governments have not regulated or educated young boys and society on this phenomenon. Now, though, the time is right to draw male rape out from the shadows, shine a light all over it, and bring renewed clarity, equality and hope to solve this serious problem.
The Problem and Statistics
Even when there is no criminality involved, or the facts are murky, evidence suggests that women are not the innocents that society seems to think they are, especially where alcohol is involved. In various surveys, men have reported being unwillingly accosted, groped, teased, clutched or massaged on the crotch. Women have shoved tongues down men’s throats or flicked behinds without consent. They joke around and sit on guys knees or laps without asking, wiggling sexually. Some boys and men have even been blackmailed: the female victimizers say that if he doesn’t have sex with them, they will tell others that the boy or man is gay.
The fact is, millions of boys and men have been coerced or forced into unwanted sexual situations that might not fit the strictest definition of what constitutes an illegal act. According to The National Post,[v] “38.3% college men reported being pressured by women into a range of sexual activity, from kissing and cuddling to intercourse and oral sex. Another survey from the Guardian[vi] found that more men (62.7%) than women (46.3%) had experienced unwanted intercourse. It is not uncommon for male victims to have some association with their offenders; they are often friends, students or teachers.
The damaging emotional fallout from male rape can be seen in brief videos posted by those who have been victimized, including Jerry Liu, who, as a seventh-grader, was assaulted by older and bigger girls (watch video here), and Will, who was raped by a female teacher (watch video here). And lastly here is a 30-minute compilation of news clips titled: Why are So Many Women Raping Boys, offering a variety of disturbing insights about these crimes (watch video here).
Victim Underreporting and the College Double Trauma
As noted earlier, public awareness of this epidemic is virtually absent, leaving victims, many of them youths, lost and unaware. In truth, there are NO or a few clearly defined methods or established locations for those who have been assaulted to report what happened. Schools have little in the way of resources, counseling or policies that are exclusively intended to educate or enlighten. Moreover, most young victims tend to keep quiet about such incidents, partly because they feel intimidated by peers who make homophobic or other disparaging remarks.
Once abused boys and men grow older they may enter higher education, and when those who were sexually coerced in their early years reach college, they quickly discover that male-related post-traumatic stress disorder issues and other male-related concerns are generally ignored, overlooked or boycotted. Worse still, campuses are swirling with consent and rape-culture demonstrations that highlight only men as perpetrators who are raping females on campuses all across the country. Those male college students who were victimized in middle or high school end up reliving the nightmare again, overwhelmed by flashbacks and the same traumatic emotions and distress they experienced when the assaults occurred.
Reducing Rape Incidents
By definition, rape is an act of power over another person. Psychologists theorize that such urges develop in some men and women[vii] in childhood, stemming in large measure from misplaced rage.[viii] That said, sexual assault is not a women’s or men’s issue, nor is it a liberal or conservative issue. Rape is a human issue.
Now more than ever, those in positions of authority across the country, especially college administrators, should be taking pains to understand what is leading individuals to commit such heinous acts, and then work to inform everyone concerned and prevent them from happening at all. Boys and young men need education and protective measures that are publically available at all levels, ages, and schools. Victims should be encouraged to free themselves from the darkness and report such incidents at appropriate locations.
Like women, boys and men need safe places where they can get help. On college campuses, male studies facilities and programs should be a requisite feature, while in secondary schools, there should be clear policies and programs aimed at ensuring that students, teachers, security, and administrators are fully aware of the problem and that counseling and other resources are readily available—not to mention an understanding of the responses that are appropriate in such situations. Only then we can work together to reduce sexual assaults and alleviate the widespread damage it is causing.