Women rape men a lot more often than you think, according to the findings of researcher Lara Stemple.
Her journey to this remarkable discovery that could change how we talk about sexual assault in America began with combing over a recent National Crime Victimization Survey from the Bureau of Justice Statistics (BJS).
In it, she noticed that 38 percent of sexual assault cases in a survey of more than 40,000 households involved men as the victims. In previous years, the stats were between five and 14 percent, indicating that the crime is grossly underreported.
This is a sentiment Stemple seems to subscribe to in her work with the Health and Human Rights Project at UCLA.
Author Hanna Rosin shared Stemple’s story in a recent blog post for Slate:
She had once worked on prison reform and knew that jail is a place where sexual violence against men is routine but not counted in the general national statistics. Stemple began digging through existing surveys and discovered that her hunch was correct. The experience of men and women is “a lot closer than any of us would expect,” she says. For some kinds of victimization, men and women have roughly equal experiences. Stemple concluded that we need to “completely rethink our assumptions about sexual victimization,” and especially our fallback model that men are always the perpetrators and women the victims.
Stemple parses multiple sets of data to arrive at her conclusions in the new paper, “The Sexual Victimization of Men in America: New Data Challenge Old Assumptions.”
The study, co-written with Ilan Meyer and first published in the April 17 edition of the American Journal of Public Health, also comes to one surprising fact about the nature of who it is victimizing many male victims of sexual assault.
When the term “being made to penetrate” is included as part of the general definition of rape, it turns out that women rape men nearly equally to how often they’re victimized by them.
“This definition includes victims who were forced to penetrate someone else with their own body parts, either by physical force or coercion, or when the victim was drunk or high or otherwise unable to consent,” Rosin explains.
“When those cases were taken into account, the rates of nonconsensual sexual contact basically equalized, with 1.270 million women and 1.267 million men claiming to be victims of sexual violence.”
Furthermore, an example Stemple provides for showing that women rape men a lot more often than you think is in a study of male juvenile offenders, who are often not included in studies regarding sexual assault.
Of the juveniles reporting staff sexual misconduct, 89 percent were boys reporting abuse by a female staff member. “In total, inmates reported an astronomical 900,000 incidents of sexual abuse,” the study adds.
While the findings stop way short of identifying women as the dominant sexual offenders, they do challenge the typical narrative on what it means to be a rape victim, and for that matter, what it means to be a rape offender.
What we shouldn’t do, however, is use this data as a form of ammunition in the blame game. It’s not meant to be a catalyst to some grand Rape Debate — who attacks more, men or women? — but instead, it should be used to facilitate better societal understanding.
When that happens, victims of either gender will feel more empowered to seek help and shed the burden of shame they shouldn’t be feeling in the first place.
Do you think women rape men as often or comparable to men attacking women? What do you think we can do to give male victims the strength to report these crimes?
[Image via Flickr Creative Commons]