The Sexist

Male Rape Victims And the Penetration Problem

In today's Sexist Beatdown, we discussed the reluctance to accept men as victims of sexual assault. Men, according to the Gender Police, are seen as unrapeable—they are constantly expected to pursue sex, and are therefore impossible to violate. Commenter Drew noted another cultural barrier to male victims of sexual assault—our tendency to conflate sexual violation with penetration. He writes:

to get into even more touchy territory, maybe the word “sex” isn’t specific enough. Because what really seems to be at issue here isn’t just anything that falls under the heading of sex, it’s really more what falls under the heading of “penetration.”

Because I’d bet those same (straight) men who have a hard time seeing/admitting a big problem with them being drunkenly led into having obligation/consequence-free sex would probably immediately see the situation very differently if the “sex” turned out to have involved them being on the penetrated end of a sex act (whether with a woman or a man).

The idea that rape is classified based on body parts isn't just a cultural thing; it's a criminal thing, too. According to the FBI's Uniform Crime Reporting system, forcible rape is "the carnal knowledge of a female forcibly and against her will." To the FBI, the carnal knowledge of a male forcibly and against his will is considered a different (and lesser) crime: "assault."

Here, sexual consent is defined not only by a person's will, but by their physical attributes. According to the FBI's definition, female bodies can be raped, but male bodies cannot. I suspect this is why men are only seen as victims when their bodies are penetrated—it's perceived as a feminine sexual position, and only female bodies can be victimized. Under this model, physical characteristics become shorthand for consent.

When people who believe that men can't be raped are forced to justify their position, the argument usually goes something like this:

A: If a person can't legally consent to sex when they're too drunk, what happens when both sex partners are too drunk to have sex? Why isn't the man considered a victim of rape as well?

B: Even when two people are drunk, at least one of them has to physically initiate the sex act. When both partners are actively and enthusiastically participating, it's sex. When only one person is physically pursuing sex, and the other person has verbally consented that that's what they're into, it's sex. When only one person is physically pursuing sex, and the other person hasn't provided their verbal consent, it's assault. It's impossible for two people lying around passed out to somehow violate each other against both of their wills. Sex doesn't just happen.

A: OK. But why is it that only men are assumed to be the aggressor in a situation like that? Can't a woman physically force herself on a guy who's too drunk to have sex?

B: Umm ... not really.

A: Why not?

B: Because ... his dick wouldn't get hard.

Some people actually think that an erection is a physical indication of consent. It is not. According to the Rape Victim Advocacy Program, arousal is actually quite common in sexual assault scenarios involving both male and female victims:

Male victims/survivors are often ashamed and confused when their body responds during an assault. Frequently, men who are sexually assaulted or raped have an involuntary or forced erection or ejaculation. Also, muscles in the anus often relax when a man is raped. This does not mean that the survivor wanted to be raped or sexually assaulted. Involuntary erections and ejaculations are normal reactions to physical stimulation even when sex is non-consensual.

As the National Center for Victims of Crime notes, male victims of rape often blame themselves for their "involuntary physiological reaction" to a sexual assault. They, too, believe an erection automatically implies consent:

It is not uncommon for a male rape victim to blame himself for the rape, believing that he in some way gave permission to the rapist (Brochman, 1991). Male rape victims suffer a similar fear that female rape victims face—that people will believe the myth that they may have enjoyed being raped. Some men may believe they were not raped or that they gave consent because they became sexually aroused, had an erection, or ejaculated during the sexual assault.

If we're serious about addressing sexual assault against men and women, we must break down these physical barriers. The female body has long been invoked to justify sexual assaults against women—we are too sexy to be left alone, too vulnerable to fight back, too feminine to be respected. A woman's body should never make her a victim—and a man's body should never make him invisible.

  • Robby

    Very decent article, and very true. Admiting rape or date rape or what ever is hard for men, both gay and straight, inside and outside of a relationship. It can take years and threapy to get to the point where they stop beating ourselves up, and learn to peacefully move one with their lives.

  • recursiveparadox

    It gets even worse when trans women are involved. Because then, the idea that you can't rape someone with a penis is applied to a group that gets raped quite possibly more than cis women do (by percentage).

    Which is ridiculous.

  • TJ

    I read the post soon after he wrote it and thought the same way. There is a real stigma and shame, even if it's clear that the man has been raped. It's not ok for a man to say that he was taken advantage of.

    "But you're bigger than her!"

    "But you came!"

    If we constantly think that men are not capable of being raped, there is no way that we will be able to intelligently and honestly talk about how to stop rape as a whole.

  • The Sexiest

    Thank you, Amanda, for this piece. You touched on many important topics. I hope more people take it to heart.

  • Toysoldier

    This is a surprisingly decent feminist article about male rape considering the typically more hostile, denialist feminist commentary about male victimization.

    It is worth noting that one of the reasons male rape is occasionally legally regarded as "sexual assault" instead of "rape" is because of the push by certain groups to frame rape as something only men do to only women. There is dearth of public knowledge about male victimization primarily because male victims have been routinely marginalized by victim advocacy groups more interested in pushing agendas than acknowledging the female perpetration of sexual violence. One of the ways to address this problem is to stop framing sexual violence as a crime against women and start listening to the voices of male victims. That may be difficult because just as the general society prefers to ignore such crimes because they do not fit into society's preconceived notions about male vulnerability and female violence, those who currently control the discussion about sexual violence equally prefer to ignore female-on-male sexual violence because it dismantles their perceptions about how sexual violence works, why it occurs and who is capable of it.

    The one major thing lacking in this article is information for male victims who want support. There are several organizations -- 1 in 6, MaleSurvivor and Mankind to name a few -- who specifically reach out to male victims and their websites have more information regarding the rate of sexual violence against boys and men, the impact rape has on male victims and access to services help to male victims on their journey towards healing.

  • Danny

    One of the ways to address this problem is to stop framing sexual violence as a crime against women and start listening to the voices of male victims.

    Yes there is definitely a problem with defining sexual violence by the who involved instead of the what. Rape is sex in which the victim does not consent and/or their ability to consent was taken from them. No more no less. There is no reason to look at the genders or body parts of the people involved as the indicator of whether or not sexual violence occurred.

  • http://RapeandRealsex angela

    i Never be Rape become just 17 i Never be Rape i am Only woman me feel Not Good to be IDIDTT out There fuck you someone like gay hurt you hurt someone feel fuck hurt my feel like There Rape be Drugs i Never hrut like me i got boyfrend when have sex,Baby,have new Houes, got kiss me,and i got hurt be Rape my boyfrend ls Chris cassaons Chris like me Chris love me Chris be 22 i got be 18 fuck No why 18 got Rape fuck No why fuck No i got be 18 No fuck you i got be 18 fuck me No fuck you Thing hurt me fuck it hurt me fuck you bicth try me bicth fuck you hurt me i got be 18 hurt me bicth fuck you hurt me

  • nan

    Thank you for your blog on this. I think males are shamed even more than women if they've been a victim of a sex crime. I know my boyfriend is still dealing with being raped by a fellow solider 20 years ago :(

  • PorrigeOats

    Thankyou for sorting this out Mrs Hess; I think I owe my little brother an apology, we've been figting over this point for years.

  • Emily

    The drunk sex question has always confused me - you cannot have two people simultaneously raping each other, because you can't argue that a rapist wasn't "consenting" to their own actions. However, if you argue that it isn't rape, that implies that there's a category of non-consensual sex that's OK. Then how do you determine the aggressor, since it'll inevitably turn into he-said-she-said type situation, or maybe they were too drunk to remember? You can't just unilaterally blame the male as the aggressor - not only does that assume males can't be raped, it also implies that females are incapable of initiating a sexual encounter, and completely ignores the possibility of such a situation occurring between anyone except a male and a female.

  • LeeJH

    I've read this article before somewhere...

  • Amanda Hess


  • Pingback: Crime, Gender, & related: a tale of the two sexes « The Anti

  • merrimac

    I once lived in a foster home where the foster female would routinly strip the boys down and beat them in front of the other girls...but it was never ever the other way around to the girls...l've never been able to see women as anything but hiding monsters in fake make up...Im gay and am nutured well protected by "paternal" instincts of my lover. I was made to be that way by your sex and the males who support you...pure polished hatred. Had my dignity and integity stolen for life by a female...I ache one can take back or ever give back to me what was stolen. safety and importance as a human being completly striped off with my clothing while being unrepairably humilated naked. Who cared...he's a boy anyway...a pervert...she said...
    ? Was I raped ?

  • pippiness

    I was raped by a woman at the age of 31. It shocked the hell out of me days later. I would have not believe it could be done if it had not happened to me.

    Here's the story:

    My ex girlfriend called me to see how I was getting along. I had just moved into a apartment separating from my ex-wife and children. We were in a relationship of HIGH conflict. This conflict was well known by everyone we knew because I was not connect to an organized group of males & my wife made it publicly known of her abuse toward me. ie cheating, child w/ other men and derogatory/profane ways she would speak to me. I was 2 years into a new city from my city of origin.

    My ex-girlfriend's (who was NOT my wife) lease was up two weeks prior to my move. She lived with a roommate and both had moved. She move to an apartment and her room mate moved to a motel because she could NOT least an apartment due to her negative rental history & prior evictions.

    About two weeks later, my ex girlfriend call me to ask if I would pick up her ex room mate from the motel and bring her to a homeless shelter. The ex-girlfriend was leaving town to go get married to a guy she had been prison-dating. I said, yes, I would.

    When I picked up the ex-room mate, she started crying about her situation. I felt sorry for her and gave her a month to get things together. She accepted my offer.

    She moved all of her things into my place. As we were going over to my place, she reminded me of an abusive episode w/ my wife. As I revisited the pain from her abuse, my ex-girlfriend's ex-roommate put her things in what she noticed to be an empty apartment with only blankets and my closes. She ask if she could sleep in the bedroom because of her female time of the month, the bedroom had the bathroom in it. I agreed only for that week and that the bedroom would be off limits during my times in the shower. She agreed.

    Needless to say, when the week was over she refuse to leave my room saying that is why my wife left me is because I am not compassionate enough toward women - weighing me down with a guilt trip.

    I ask her to leave and she declined saying it was her home too. I waited until she left an hour later to the laundry room. I locked her out and waited until she came back from the laundry room in the apt complex only for her to knock while I was urinating. All of a sudden, I heard the front door go - BOOM! I left the restroom after showering the wall and floor. I saw this 295lb butch-type women lying on top of my front door on the floor of my living room.

    She jump up after I tried to help her up and she punched me in the mouth and I slap her back. I yelled at her for breaking down my front door. (Now, this is when the story goes to fast-forward.) She began to fight me and was applauded that I slap her as a result of her punching me. She said to me, "You will NEVER hit another woman again."

    Long story mad short, The police came, I went to jail. Got out in 3 days. My ex-girlfriend came scolded me for taking her in. I complained about my problems and she listen over the dinner. We left the restaurant to continue the discussion at her place. She said, if I would take a drink (alcoholic bev), then she would take me home. I said, okay. I got drunk and passed out. I woke up in a drunken stupor with an extreme erection and having sex with my close on. I begged her to stop and she declined. I remember, the words of her ex-room mate which said, "You will NEVER hit another woman again." I was stuck there and I began to cry as a child. She finished the process, I prayed for my penis to become placid, it didn't. I think it was because of my tensed/alcoholic condition. I reached no orgasm but kept crying and I BEGGED her to stop. She said, they did it to her and I was hers tonight. I became stonewalled until I got home.

    A week later, the notion of my being victimized came to my head and mind. I realized I was raped and on the same day, I found out that I would have a criminal record for an assault charge for the rest of my life. It took me weeks to come out of hiding from guilt and shame. I thought of all the derogatory messages men say to other men. I saw myself as the weak of the weakness of all men because I was more stupid than I being a victim of rape. I was suicidal and I couldn't stop crying. This was more than 8 years ago and every now and then, I still cry about it.

    The End!

  • Olivia

    pippiness, thank you for sharing your story... it really touched me, and I now feel like I understand the logistics of this type of rape.

    I took a summer course a few years ago at NYU called "women and the media" and we spent a lesson on how the media portrays sex crimes. We only talked about women being raped. When someone brought up males as victims, the professor said that men cannot be raped because they wouldn't get hard.

    Because of this professor's mistake, I feel passionately about the subject... I can't believe that such an intelligent, open-minded woman would be so ignorant. I am now preparing a 10-page criminology research paper on this subject.

  • Pingback: Alas, a blog » Blog Archive » linkspam: Why didn’t you call the police? Part One

  • Pingback: A Bromantic Attempt at Feminism « pop goes alicia

  • NCMan

    So explain to me again why you told her to stop having sex with you? Sorry, you just described a pretty common fantasy for a guy, to wake up with a girl already having sex with you, especially with an ex. It's pretty damn near impossible for a woman to rape a man because even if we didn't want it from her before it started, once we are inside her we'll pretty much go with anything. Man on man rape is definitely possible for obvious reasons, and though I haven't experienced it, I can imagine there being some pretty confusing emotions and feelings of shame and guilt if the rapist was able to elicit some kind of sexual response from the victim such as an erection or even an orgasm.