November 2016 National:
According to new research, sexual victimization by women is more common than gender stereotypes would suggest.
Two years ago, Lara Stemple, Director of UCLA’s Health and Human Rights Law Project, came upon a statistic that surprised her: In incidents of sexual violence reported to the National Crime Victimization Survey, 38 percent of victims were men––a figure much higher than in prior surveys. Intrigued, she began to investigate: Was sexual violence against men more common than previously thought?
The inquiry was a timely one. For years, the FBI definition of rape was gendered, requiring “carnal knowledge of a female forcibly and against her will.” But a recent redefinition focused instead on forced penetration with no mention of gender. Meanwhile, other data-gatherers had started to track a new category of sexual violence that the Centers for Disease Control call “being forced to penetrate.” And still others were keeping better track of sexual violence in prisons.
Taken together, the new data challenged widely held beliefs.
In “When Men Are Raped,” the journalist Hanna Rosin summarized the peer-reviewed results that Stemple published with co-author Ilan Meyer in the American Journal of Public Health. “For some kinds of victimization, men and women have roughly equal experiences,” Rosin wrote. “Stemple is a longtime feminist who fully understands that men have historically used sexual violence to subjugate women and that in most countries they still do. As she sees it, feminism has fought long and hard to fight rape myths—that if a woman gets raped it’s somehow her fault, that she welcomed it in some way. But the same conversation needs to happen for men.”
This awareness-raising need not come at the expense of women victimized by sexual violence, Stemple emphasized to Rosin, because “compassion is not a finite resource.” She also began to wonder, if men were victims of sexual violence far more often than was previously known by researchers, who were the perpetrators? Other men? Women? In what proportions? Under what circumstances?
A new investigation was born.
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Today, the fruits of that research were published in another peer-reviewed paper, “Sexual Victimization Perpetrated by Women: Federal Data Reveal Surprising Prevalence.” Co-authored with Andrew Flores and Ilan Meyer, it appears in Aggression and Violent Behavior. Once again, federal survey data challenged conventional wisdom.
“These surveys have reached many tens of thousands of people, and each has shown internally consistent results over time,” the authors note. “We therefore believe that this article provides more definitive estimates about the prevalence of female sexual perpetration than has been provided in the literature to date. Taken as a whole, the reports we examine document surprisingly significant prevalence of female-perpetrated sexual victimization, mostly against men and occasionally against women.”
Those conclusions are grounded in striking numbers.
The authors first present what they learned from the The National Intimate Partner and Sexual Violence Survey, an ongoing, nationally representative survey conducted by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention that measures both lifetime victimization and victimization within the 12 months prior to questioning. Only the 2010 report provides data on the perpetrator’s sex. It found that over their lifetime, women were vastly more likely to experience abuse perpetrated by men, as were male victims who were penetrated without their consent. “But among men reporting other forms of sexual victimization, 68.6% reported female perpetrators,” the paper reports, while among men reporting being made to penetrate, “the form of nonconsensual sex that men are much more likely to experience in their lifetime ... 79.2% of victimized men reported female perpetrators.” ..Continued.. by Conor Friedersdorf