Challenging myths

Male rape victims face many stereotypes and stigmas. People question their level of consent, their responsibility for the attack, their masculinity, and their sexuality. These attitudes in turn shape not only how people treat male victims, but also how the courts treat male victims. A recent article discussed this issue.

In Philip R.S. Rumney and Natalia Hanley’s piece The Mythology of Male Rape, they studied how a group of students responded to a male-on-male rape scenario. The paired offered this situation:

[David and Ian] met at a party and then went back to David’s flat to watch a DVD and talk about football. Ian claims that, when he was getting ready to leave the flat, David restrained him, removed his trousers and raped him. By contrast, David claims that during the evening ‘one thing led to another’ and they had consensual sex.

The four groups of students had to decide whether Ian was raped and whether David reasonably believed he had Ian’s consent. While there were only 18 students in total who participated in the study, the results are enlightening.

Several of the students argued that Ian could not have been raped because he did not resist and was not injured. Injury and resistance were key to their willingness to believe Ian’s story, with one student stating:

You would expect that there would have to be some sort of fight. It’s not easy to pull someone’s trousers down without them wanting to; especially if they had a belt, it would be a difficult thing to do to physically rape someone. There must have been some sort of fight or struggle for him.

This thinking goes back to the idea that men can always protect themselves. Any man who is raped should be able to stop or should hurt in some way, otherwise he really wanted it. Curiously, some students considered Ian’s claim about David restraining him proof that the act was consensual, arguing that because of the football (or soccer as Americans call it) aspect perhaps David thought Ian liked it rough. One student went do far to state:

If [Ian] hadn’t just said that I would probably have been more inclined to believe him but the fact he’s exaggerating, he restrained me and ripped my trousers off.

As the researchers noted, Ian made no such claim about David ripping off his clothes. The student added that bit herself. That sort of thing happens at rape trials and even in general discussions about sexual violence. People will add in whatever helps their own argument.

The issue of intoxication, sexuality, and appropriate responses also came up. Several students argued that it would be hard for David to rape Ian if either he or Ian were drunk. Others suggested that a drunk David may have thought he had consent. Others stated hat David may have taken Ian’s acceptance of his invitation to come over as consent. Some students also said that David was responsible for his actions whether he was drunk or not.

Things got trickier when it came to sexuality. Several students questioned why Ian would go to David’s home after meeting him at a party if he was not gay. They questioned whether Ian lied about his sexuality just to protect his masculinity.

The assumption that male victims are gay is a common one, and it plays out in a myriad of ways. The researchers noted an example from another study concerning Metropolitan Police officers in England. The study found that they treated claims made by gay men as unreliable. They also considered gay men more likely to make false accusations about rape and considered less likely to be traumatized by the rape.

In another example concerning a prison rape case, Roderick Johnson sued prison authorities for failing to protect him from repeated rapes. However, the officials disbelieved him based on Johnson not fighting back during the assaults. At the pretrail hearing, Jimmy Bowman, one of the defendants, stated, “Sometimes an inmate has to defend himself. We don’t expect him not to do anything.”

While this study, given its small sample size, is not representative, it does show how easily stereotypes about male victims affect how people view sexual violence against men. It also shows that male victims face many of the same stigmas that female victims do. They simply have the added burden of questions about their sexuality and their “inherent” ability to protect themselves.

Yet what is particularly important is that most of these attitudes were geared towards adult men. When we see studies about sexual violence against males, they tend to focus on boys. Few studies look at the prevalence of sexual violence against men, and those that do tend to find very low rates. It is possible and probable that the rates are much higher than people assume, but that men, fearing the negative responses mentioned above, will not talk about their abuse.

These myths about sexual violence against men cause more problems than people think. They do not just affect whether male victims will come forward, but whether people will believe them, whether researchers will study the issue, and whether the authorities will take their claims seriously. We must challenge these views if we want to help male victims. Otherwise, these views will continue to spread, and more men will hide in silence rather than get the help they need and deserve.

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5 thoughts on “Challenging myths

  1. This was interesting.

    I found the actual scenario about the prison guard super disturbing.
    “Sometimes an inmate has to defend himself. We don’t expect him not to do anything.”

    If it is an inmate’s job to protect himself, what is the police’s job? Sit and watch.

    No it is protect and serve. All citizens. Even lawbreakers. Just because they break the law does not mean that all the same laws still apply to them and that a police’s job suddenly becomes null when it comes to defending a prisoner.

    About the rape scenario, this seems odd a little bit. The reason is we do not have enough information about what happened I think.

    Also, I think that this should be compared with a similar female story just to compare. There is not a lot of story given.

    I would assume a female would fight back too. Wouldn’t you? That would be kind of typical, right? Maybe not if they don’t want to get hurt further. My best friend was raped and she didn’t fight because she just wanted to leave. Assuming that is what happened to the male, then I guess a person doesn’t fight back. Idk, it’s weird.

  2. I would assume a female would fight back too. Wouldn’t you? That would be kind of typical, right?

    No. Some people lock up with fear. Others are surprised and unable to act. They may respond as your friend did. They may think that if they do not fight back it will be over soon.

    I agree that the scenario presented was sparse. Things change if we add details. If Ian was smaller than David, maybe he assumed he could not fight back. If David was a popular guy maybe Ian assumed no one would believe him. Perhaps Ian had been raped before and just shut down. These are the kinds of things that would make the difference in a trial. However, the scenario does reveal how people might react, especially since many of the students added their own spin to the scenario to explain their reasoning.

  3. This thinking goes back to the idea that men can always protect themselves. Any man who is raped should be able to stop or should hurt in some way, otherwise he really wanted it.
    And this thinking is used in just the same way in female against male rape. Except then you also get twist of “how could a woman possibly overpower him?”.

    No. Some people lock up with fear. Others are surprised and unable to act. They may respond as your friend did. They may think that if they do not fight back it will be over soon.
    True.

  4. I would assume a female would fight back too. Wouldn’t you? That would be kind of typical, right? Maybe not if they don’t want to get hurt further. My best friend was raped and she didn’t fight because she just wanted to leave.

    There’s a contradiction in there. You assume female (and male) victims would typically fight back, but you acknowledge that your best friend did not fight back. I’m not sure your best friend is as atypical as you seem to believe. I think fighting back occurs less often in so-called date-rape scenarious and more often in so-called assault/stranger-rapes.

    When I woke up to a woman having sex with me (without my consent) I sort of froze while several thoughts raced through my head; “I should enjoy this”, “I don’t enjoy this” and after a short while I faked an orgasm to get it over with.

    In retrospect I have dreamed about fighting her off (even violently so) when I woke up.
    I have felt some level of guilt for not fighting her off immediately when I woke up and for choosing the “coward” way out by faking that orgasm and leaving as soon as I could. I say on some level since sex was initiated while I slept there is no way I could stop it from happening in the first place – I only could’ve shortened the time I endured it.
    Nevertheless, it’s a guilt I think I share with several other victims of either gender who did not physically resist or fight their abuser. In the end I am glad I didn’t fight her off because if her room-mates had stormed into the room and found us both naked and her with a black eye I am pretty sure I would be the one getting towed to the Police station while she could easily make accuses of assault and even rape stick to me if she felt so inclined.

  5. This reminds me of a recent post:

    College students (157 men and 158 women; predominantly white middle class) from psychology courses at a midwestern university rated their agreement with statements reflecting myths that male rape cannot happen, involves victim blame, and is not traumatic to men. Statements varied by whether the rape perpetrator was a man or woman. Results showed that a majority of subjects disagreed with all myth statements, but most strongly with trauma myths. Percentages of disagreement with myths for subject groups ranged from 51% to 98%. Women were significantly more rejecting of rape myths than were men. Subjects were more likely to accept myths in which the rape perpetrator was female rather than male. Subjects’ past victim experience with sexual coercion was not related to rape myth acceptance. Results are discussed in terms of societal attitudes toward rape and sex role stereotypes. – Acceptance of male rape myths among college men and women by Cindy Struckman-Johnson and David Struckman-Johnson

    The above study cited here:
    Struckman-Johnson and Struckman-Johnson (1992) reported that approximately 18% of women and 22% of men believed that it is impossible to rape a man – regardless of perpetrator sex. The authors also reported that some subjects believed that men did not experience trauma due to a sexual assault by a woman (35% of men and 22% of women). The authors concluded that male rape myths were more likely to be accepted if the perpetrator was a woman. Thus, the use of pressure tactics or force by a woman could be seen as a method of foreplay and not aggression. From Deviance to Normalcy: Women as Sexual Aggressors – Anderson, Melson – 2002

    we found sizable proportions of men and women who agreed with the myths. Most notably, 26% of men and 16% of women agreed that a man would not be very upset after being raped by a woman, and 25% of men and nearly 10% of women agreed that a man is blameworthy for not escaping a woman.Male Rape Myths – The Role of Gender, Violence, and Sexism – Chapleau, Oswald, Russell – 2008

    Links here -> http://feck-blog.blogspot.com/2012/02/closer-look-at-crime-surveys.html

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