Every 98 seconds, a person in America is sexually assaulted. And when we discuss the sexual assault epidemic in this country, the conversation centers often on the stories of female survivors. While it is true that the majority of sexual assault survivors are women, that by no means exempts men from experiencing sexual violence.
According to The National Sexual Violence Resource Center (NSVRC), one in 71 men will be raped in their lives, and one in six men will experience some form of sexual violence. While the numbers for women are double this or more, there is no acceptable sexual assault statistic. Until all of these numbers are zero, we cannot stop fighting for survivors, no matter their gender.
The victimization of men is one critically overlooked or minimized point in this conversation on sexual assault, and the numbers for these cases are often higher than commonly believed. Rape culture manifests in different ways for different genders, and we who advocate for survivors must never prioritize justice for one group over justice for all.
Examining the Gender Divide
Though in this conversation on sexual assault, the fear of false accusations against men is widely asserted, men are actually more likely to be raped than falsely accused of rape. As stated by the NSVRC, one in six boys will be sexually abused before they turn 18 years old. And while sexual assault is severely under-reported in general, men report their attacks even less than women.
An important distinction to make in this discussion, especially when rape culture is concerned, is that while the majority of assaults are committed by men, men are also victimized, and the harmful culture that has developed from this is just as detrimental to the well-being of men as to women. Rape culture teaches men to wield sexual violence as power, and this has devastating effects on our understanding of masculinity and autonomy. “Being a man” is often conflated with being violent or predatory, and so when men are victimized, it damages their sense of masculinity or self.
The discussion of masculinity and its ties to predatory behavior needs to be brought into the conversation of femininity and its ties to victimhood. Masculinity does not predicate sexual violence, and femininity does not predicate being a victim of sexual violence, but both of these concepts are inextricably tangled in rape culture.
The Experience of Male Victims
Harmful gender stereotypes have a hand in every side of the discussion on sexual assault. Girls and boys are raised and socialized to view sexual encounters differently, and those socializations follow them throughout their lives. Analysis has shown that 46% of male survivors have reported female perpetrators, 89% of boys in juvenile facilities were abused by female staff members, and 79% of self-reported gay male victims were attacked by members of the same sex. Clearly, the discussion of victimization by gender needs to shift its focus.
While the discourse for female victims has become very clear, male victims don’t share the same focus. The notion that “real men” could fight off a sexual attack and the proliferation of jokes about rape in prison are just a few examples that add to the trivialization of male rape victims’ experiences. The thought that men can’t be raped at all is still rampant, and to combat it we must change the way we discuss predatory behaviors and power dynamics between the genders.
A male sexual assault survivor is no less traumatized by their attack than a female survivor, and their assault is by no means less deserving of justice. By masking the victimization of men, socializing them to associate sexual situations with power, and mocking their trauma, our society has only worsened the problem.
A broader discussion on various gender dynamics and how they function in rape culture is sorely needed in this country. Transgender and gender-nonconforming people also experience a different side of this issue, and treating their experiences as outliers is also counterproductive.
At Survivors Justice Center, we understand that sexual violence has no gender, and we work with survivors of all genders to hold their perpetrators accountable and start the healing process.