Maybe we should advocate for government authorities to treat a kick to the crotch differently depending on the sex of the victim. After all, it’s common knowledge that it hurts much worse for a guy to be kicked there… so kicking a gal in the crotch really isn’t that big of a deal, right? I mean, it’s not like she’s got testicles, so her experience of crotch-kicking-related pain and suffering just cannot compare to the experience of a guy. It should be fine if a kick to a female’s nether regions is considered a less criminal act, treated by society with less concern, and taken less seriously when reported. In fact, we really shouldn’t be referring to the behavior in the same terms, as it means so much more when it happens to a guy.
We could label it felonious assault when the victim is male, and simple assault when the victim is female, because we know that the level of injury to a female is not as bad. Knowing how harmful a kick to the crotch can be for a man, it shouldn’t bother anyone if female victims of crotch-kicking aren’t afforded the same considerations as male victims, either in law or policy. If prosecutors decide to be pickier about which cases of simple assault to the crotch they pursue, that’s only because the reduced extent of potential damage in cases of female victims means less potential evidence of the crime. Even though this means people will know they can, in the absence of witnesses, kick females in the crotch with near impunity, nobody should object to the difference in treatment, because simple assault is still a crime, even if it isn’t the same as felonious assault.
As long as, you know, we say that nobody deserves to get kicked in the crotch, it’s perfectly acceptable to neglect female victims a little, in favor of focusing on male victims, right?
Of course not.
That would be discriminatory.
There would be mass outrage if we argued that a kick to the crotch is a worse crime against men than against women. It would be said that by diminishing the seriousness of it when women are the target, we were tolerating violence against women, even though we would still be calling the assault a crime.
An assault should be treated according to its severity, not labeled and segregated by gender.
The sex of the victim does not define the actions of the perpetrator.
An intimate sexual attack focusing on the genitals of the victim should not be labeled differently or treated differently in any way based on the victim’s sex. Unfortunately, according to some, it is. U.S. government institutions, rape prevention advocacy organizations, victim’s advocates, and women’s groups, and government agencies and advocacy groups in several other nations discriminate in this way, despite ample evidence of male victimization and female perpetration. An intimate sexual attack focusing on a female’s genitals is considered rape. An intimate sexual attack focusing on a male’s genitals is considered less than rape.
As a result, advocacy, policy, and law have all been based on treating rape as a crisis faced by women, but not experienced by men. Programs focus on assisting female victims, with few resources left to assist male victims. Male victims have less support from law enforcement, less support from the criminal justice system, and less support from their overall community. In fact, male victims of rape are not only pushed aside, but stigmatized for complaining about being victimized, and sometimes punished for being raped. Myths related to forced envelopment are considered “common knowledge.”
You can’t get an erection unless you’re turned on.
There are two problems with this belief.
First, erection can occur in the absence of emotional sexual arousal. Erection is an autonomic reflex initiated by the parasympathetic nervous system. Though emotional arousal can cause an erection, an erection can also occur as an automatic response to physical stimulation, even when emotional arousal is absent.
Second, emotional arousal is not consent, and it doesn’t override verbal refusal, or the inability to refuse or consent due to a compromised mental state such as intoxication. Even if he is turned on, if the perpetrator ignores or contravenes the victim’s choice in the matter, the perpetrator is committing rape.
No means no, even when his body looks like it is saying yes.
A woman couldn’t overpower a man. If he didn’t want to have sex, he could have stopped her.
Again, there are two things wrong with this belief.
First, not every man is big and strong, and not every woman is small and weak. Not every rape involves an adult man, either. There are times when a female rapist can physically overpower a male victim. Female rapists who can’t physically overpower a victim on their own sometimes use intoxicants to weaken their victims.
Second, physical force is not the only way to commit rape. Coercion can be used to take away a male victim’s ability to refuse just the same as it can with a female victim, including threat of force, or threats to commit another crime against the victim, threat of blackmail, or threat of false accusation. Female rapists also have a method of coercion which male rapists cannot use: The societal taboo against men physically hurting women, even under duress. The threat of fallout from breaking that taboo can keep a male victim from fighting back, even if he is capable of overpowering his attacker.
The power of that taboo cannot be underestimated. It is trained into boys from an early age that while they may be rough and aggressive with each other, girls are an exception, entitled to special consideration, because girls are smaller and weaker. They are taught to enforce this taboo against other boys who violate it. This is told to boys even though during that age, it is often not true that girls are smaller and weaker. They’re raised with the knowledge that girls can get away with physical aggression toward them, and they are not permitted to retaliate. Often, they’re raised to view females as their responsibility to protect and nurture, even those with whom they are not directly involved, with admonishments like “ladies first,” and punishment dealt and stigma attached to any male who doesn’t follow the rules. Societal taboos of such gravity are not easily broken by most individuals, even when facing adverse conditions.
To expect them, after all of that, to be prepared to aggressively defend against a female attacker would be ludicrous, especially in a circumstance in which they have no witness to support their claim that the aggression was justified.
If you didn’t want it, you must be gay.
The first and foremost wrong in this is the way it often gets used – as a way of shaming male victims into silence. People would rather belittle, marginalize, and mischaracterize the victim than acknowledge female perpetration of sex crimes. It’s also often used by the very same people who would condemn gay shaming by any other person for any other reason.
Second, it’s based on the assumption that men always want sex, and have no standards or preferences when it comes to where they get it.
There are many reasons why a straight guy might not want sex from a given female. He could be in a relationship, and simply be loyal to his love. He could be maintaining a celibate lifestyle, either temporary (as in, waiting for marriage) or permanently (as some do for religious reasons.) He could have a specific disinterest in the perpetrator; she could have poor hygiene, be someone else’s presumed monogamous intimate partner, be someone he considers off-limits (a friend’s ex, or a boss’s daughter, for instance), be someone he doesn’t trust or who he sees as having power over him (any authority), or he could simply not be attracted to her. He might have decided he doesn’t know her well enough or has not become emotionally close enough to her to have sex with her. Or, he could be underage, and not qualified to decide for himself that he should have sex. Regardless, being male doesn’t. Neither does being straight. Being female does not entitle a woman to demand or expect sex.
At least you don’t have to worry about getting pregnant.
In the case of a male victim, this is dodging the truth. The worry of a female victim is that she might become pregnant. The worry of the male victim of a female rapist is that if his rapist becomes pregnant, there is nothing he can do about it. A female victim can have an abortion, use safe-haven abandonment, or opt for adoption if she chooses to carry the child. A male victim is shit out of luck. Not only will he become a father against his will, but he’ll have to live with the knowledge that his child is in the custody of his rapist, and he can be made to pay his rapist child support for the duration of the child’s underage years.
That leads to the next myth:
It couldn’t have been rape if you ejaculated. You wouldn’t have an orgasm during a rape.
Obviously, part of the counter to this myth is the same as the myth about men overpowering their attackers. Sometimes a rapist will drug her victim to ensure that he cannot or will not refuse or defend himself. An incapacitated victim who can still produce an erection can also ejaculate.
Another counter to this is that sometimes the victim is a victim because he is under the age of consent, and though totally able to perform, not qualified to decide that he should have sex.
Additionally, ejaculate is not the only sexual fluid which can contain sperm. While it is a rare occurrance, a sex act that does not cause ejaculation can still result in pregnancy.
Finally, just like an erection, ejaculation is an autonomic reflex , and can be caused strictly by stimulation, even in the absence of emotional arousal. A man can be stimulated against his will from zero to erection to ejaculation if he is by any means denied the ability to refuse. The perpetrator’s act of contravening the victim’s refusal is rape.
And the last, sneakiest myth, the one people believe without thinking about it:
It isn’t as traumatic for a male to be raped by a female as for a female to be raped by a male.
Not only is this wrong, in some cases the truth is the opposite. Female victims, though they may not be universally supported in their recovery, do have community and justice system support. Sparse representation in the justice system and advocacy community can isolate a male victim, leaving him on his own to deal with emotional trauma that can include feelings of anger, powerlessness, shame, disbelief and shock, anxiety, fear, emasculation, and depression.
Just as a female victim does, a male victim may feel made unclean by the experience, especially if anything about the nature of it violated his moral, ethical, or religious code. He may feel dishonored, or duped. A man raped by envelopment is likely to suffer confusion, or cognitive dissonance, as the memory of his body’s involuntary reaction and his knowledge of how sex works compete with his knowledge that he did not want what was done to him. His experience of emotional pain related to the rape will likely compete with his understanding of society’s attitudes about men and sex. He may question his own sexuality because of social attitudes about men and sex.
He may blame himself for the experience, even if it was violent, even if he protested, even though he was averse to the attack. If he does, his self-blame will be compounded by social attitudes he encounters, reinforced by popular media portrayals of men and heterosexual sex, and of female on male sexual assault. In fact, he may have to deal with guilt heaped on him by the very people he goes to for help, especially if he or his assailant is in a relationship, in which case he may be accused of cheating or being someone’s partner in cheating.
Because they are trained from early childhood to “tough everything out,” men are more likely to internalize their emotional responses to being raped. This is again compounded by the reactions they may get if they don’t internalize those responses. Having always been told they are not permitted to acknowledge and seek relief from the experience of vulnerability, self-doubt, hurt, anxiety, or fear, they cannot simply flip an emotional switch and begin explaining these responses to others. Having been trained to present themselves as strong, capable, and confident, they cannot simply reverse that effort and vent their pain. Having been raised to be independent, or self-dependent, they’re ill-equipped to seek help in assessing and addressing the emotional fallout one experiences following a rape. And knowing how unsympathetic the system, their community, even their friends and family may be certainly does not foster a tendency to open up.
However, a review published in the Journal of the American Medical Association in 1998 by William C. Holmes, MD, MSCE and Gail B. Slap, MD, MS. “Sexual Abuse of Boys: Definition, Prevalence, Correlates, Sequelae, and Management,” noted that sexually exploited boys, including those who did not consider themselves victims, presented an increased rate of a broad range of issues indicating trauma.
Victims experienced greater difficulty controlling sexual feelings and were hypersexual, were more likely to engage in high-risk sexual behaviors such as unprotected sex, prostitution, and promiscuity, as well as drug and alcohol abuse and had an increased rate of sexually transmitted diseases and partner pregnancy.
The reviewers also found an increased rate of post-traumatic stress disorder, anxiety disorders, borderline personality disorder, paranoia, dissociation, somatization, anger, aggressive behavior, and poor school performance, gender role confusion, and insecurity about intimate partner relationships, with both men and women.
The researchers reported that sexually abused boys experienced twice the rate of low self-esteem, behavioral problems, and antisocial personality disorder. They are four times as likely to experience major depression, and could be up to 14 times more likely to attempt suicide, twice as likely to run away from home or have legal problems, and three times more likely to have bulimia, are up to five times as likely to report sexually related problems, including sexual dysfunction.
The impact is overwhelmingly clear. It is just not as widely acknowledged.
The myths surrounding male rape victims should look familiar to anyone who has had the term “rape culture” explained to them. Here, you have victim blaming, victim shaming, and outright denial of the victim’s experience. You have the normalization of a female sense of entitlement to expect sex from men, to presume themselves desired, and to assume that consent is given, even when it’s clearly not.
And upon learning that the experience of specifically genital-contact rape, rape committed in the most traditionally intimate way a male experiences sex, is as common among males as it is among females, American agencies and organizations which present themselves to the public as advocates for victims and advocates for justice have instead perpetuated that culture of tolerance for rape by excluding or attempting to exclude that experience when defining the term.
For those who have been victimized, that’s a real kick to the crotch.
- Back for more! Masculinities and covid-19, continued | HBR Talk 169 - February 25, 2021
- UK considers making misandry a hate crime | HBR Talk 168 - February 18, 2021
- A look at feminist research on masculinities and covid-19 | HBR Talk 167 - February 11, 2021