Given how often feminists want to teach men about sexual violence, I think I will borrow Bill Maher’s schtick from his show Real Time with Bill Maher.
New rule: if you want to teach men about sexual violence, don’t downplay the sexual violence they experience.
In an incredibly unsurprising move, the Good Men Project ran an article about teaching men about sexual violence that begins and ends with the false notion that men are not really victims of rape. Ross Steinborn, the author, leads with this argument:
It’s September and by now hundreds of thousands of college freshmen have moved into their dorm rooms, attended their first parties, begun their first courses, and completed (or skipped) some of their first homework assignments. Also, by now, some have, sadly, survived a sexual assault from one of their classmates. In fact, twenty five percent (or 1 in 4) of freshman women and ten percent of college men will survive the trauma and violence of a sexual assaults by the time they turn their tassels to the left side of their caps.* When I first heard these numbers I was stunned. It’s an ignominy that a quarter of freshman women and a handful of college men will be sexually assaulted on American college campuses before they graduate.
Let us stop there. Ten percent of college males is more than a handful. We need numbers, so let us use the numbers listed in a Forbes article. In 2008, about 9.8 million men and 13 million women attended college. If we use Steinborn’s rates, that would mean about 980,000 men and 3.25 million women were sexually assaulted by the time they finished college. One million raped males seems like more than a handful.
To put this further into perspective, about 4% of college students are black men. If we used Forbes numbers, that would amount to about 900,000 black men in college. I doubt that Steinborn would refer to those black men as “a handful.”
However, the 1 in 10 rate is much lower than accepted 1 in 6 rate commonly used to describe the prevalence of sexual violence against boys. The majority of the studies that found that rate surveyed college-age men, so one could fairly argue that 1 in 6 males are sexually assaulted by the time they reach college. Using the Forbes numbers, that would result in 1.6 million college-age men having suffered sexual violence before they started college. That is also not “a handful” of college men.
Steinborn relies on a 2007 study to support his position. However, there is a problem with the study’s method. From the study:
The first and most inclusive set of measures we present are the number and percentage of undergraduate women who reported being a victim of attempted or completed sexual assault of any type before entering college (1) (n = 819, 15.9%) and since entering college (6) (n = 1,073, 19.0%). The next set of prevalence estimates breaks down attempted and completed assaults for each time period.
Yet when the researchers interviewed men:
Although the prevalence of sexual assault is considerably lower among the male sample than the female sample, there are some estimates worth noting. Approximately 6.1%(n = 84) of males reported experiencing attempted or completed sexual assault since entering college (6).
The researchers did not ask men about their experiences of sexual violence prior to entering college. To the contrary, they specifically excluded that data:
As was the case among the female undergraduate sample, a majority of the male victims of incapacitated sexual assault were classified as having experienced AOD-enabled sexual assault (i.e., assault that happened when the victim was incapacitated after voluntarily consuming alcohol and/or drugs); the prevalence for this type of assault among males was 2.7% (15). […] 15 Although the “past 12 month” prevalence is also high among freshmen, they were excluded from these comparisons of sexual assault prevalence because they had not experienced 12 months of college.
The researchers eventually admitted in their conclusion:
It is also unclear whether the male data on victimization are accurate, because there is such limited prior research with which to compare the estimates. Given that the male component of the CSA Study was exploratory, we believe it was a worthwhile endeavor, but it is unclear whether we can draw any meaningful conclusions from the data collected from undergraduate males.
In other words, their sample rate of males was so low they cannot trust their own results. Why then would Steinborn present the 1 in 10 as accurate?
Perhaps this is why:
So, as the rationality goes it’s women who need to deal with sexual assault. But by and large — 90-98 percent depending on which study you go with** — of sexual assaults, against both women and men, are perpetrated by men.
The double asterisks refer to this:
The Bureau of Justice Statistics (page 10) states that in 1995, 99% of forcible rape was committed by men. Though scholars are beginning to look at female perpetrators and male-on-male and female-on-female sexual assault, it is clear that the vast majority of rape and sexual assualt is commited by men, no matter se In sexual assault prevention and response communities, like the Boston Area Rape Crisis Center, these stats the accepted standard.
It seems odd to cite an 18-year-old statistic when new research is available. For example, a 2010 CDC study found:
For male victims, the sex of the perpetrator varied by the type of sexual violence experienced. The majority of male rape victims (93.3%) reported only male perpetrators. For three of the other forms of sexual violence, a majority of male victims reported only female perpetrators: being made to penetrate (79.2%), sexual coercion (83.6%), and unwanted sexual contact (53.1%). For non-contact unwanted sexual experiences, approximately half of male victims (49.0%) reported only male perpetrators and more than one-third (37.7%) reported only female perpetrators (data not shown).
A 2005 study found:
It was found that nearly 40% of CSA among men and 6% of CSA among women was perpetrated by a female; this has been reported by others. Among male victims of CSA, the risk of negative outcomes was similar when the gender of the perpetrator was compared. Thus, perpetration of CSA by a female appears to exert negative effects that are similar in magnitude to CSA perpetrated by males. Prior reports have suggested that female perpetration of childhood sexual abuse is under-reported, which makes it appear as if female perpetration of CSA does not occur as frequently as male perpetration. However, the findings indicate that female perpetration is common and also associated with a substantial risk for negative long-term consequences. Thus, the vulnerability of boys to perpetration of CSA by both males and females deserves increased national attention.
Two studies within the last ten years found that women commit between 40% to 70% of sexual violence against males. It is only by refusing to count female perpetration as rape, as the CDC did, that one finds that “90-98 percent […] of sexual assaults […] are perpetrated by men.”
Yet Steinborn dismisses those studies:
I saw that article and I’m very glad that scholars and many others are beginning to look at male victimization. The studies I’m familiar with suggests that 1 in 6 men will be sexually assaulted before they are 16 and I’ve heard some numbers that suggest that 10% of men will be sexually assaulted in their 4 years of college. What I hope this current research focus doesn’t overshadow is that the vast majority of surveyors of sexual assault are women and that no matter the gender of the survivor, the perpetrator is overwhelming male. But on another level your right — men are victims and we need a system that helps men deal with their victimization that does not include violence.
Perhaps I am misreading Steinborn’s position, however, in his latter statement he appears to imply that sexual assaults against men and boys is not violence.
Setting that aside, Steinborn trots out the an old feminist trope: I’ll agree that men are victims, but only if you agree only men commit rape and that the vast, vast, vast majority ad infinitum of rape victims are female.
Unfortunately for Steinborn, current research suggests that males represent a far larger percentage of rape victims than previously thought, and that women commit far more sexual violence than anyone thought.
Again, if you want to teach men about sexual violence, it is a good idea not to marginalize male victims. They are the group most likely to side with you, but if you treat them like rare abnormalities who do not really matter, you will lose their support as you ironically promote the “rape culture” you want to get rid of.
Another new rule: if you want to teach men about sexual violence, do not accuse them of being rapists or supporting, condoning, or encouraging rape just because they are male.
Despite several studies showing that most men who commit rape make up about 2% of the total male population, feminists seem attached to claiming all men are rapists or are potential rapists. This presents a major problem for their advocacy, as Steinborn explains:
For instance, you won’t get a good response by going into the room and saying, “Hey all you potential rapists.” […] The challenge, therefore, when speaking about sexual assault with young men is that while most of them do not fall into this category they are not entirely off the hook, for many of them contribute to male sexual cultural where the actions of these predators are easily hid. That is a culture where men view sex as a trophy, a prize to be won, and women as objects and defenders of that prize. Perhaps this is why the primary metaphor for speaking about sex is baseball—acquiring sex is viewed as a game, a sport, where one “team” (men) are on the offensive against the other team (women) who are “defending” the “prize.”
Steinborn’s latter comment is precisely why feminists are so bad at discussing sexual violence with men. They suspect nefarious intent where there is none. Perhaps the reason baseball is the primary metaphor for sex is because it is the most easily understood comparison.
Steinborn accepts that most men are not rapists and have no intention of raping. However, not raping women is apparently insufficient to absolve all men of responsibility for sexual violence against women. Instead, one must assume that all men or most men view women as trophies, prizes, and objects. Steinborn does not consider the possibility that many college men and women have no interest in long-term relationships and sometimes just want to have sex with random. Instead, he seems to consider the latter the problem:
While many men, the vast majority in fact, will not cheat, as it were, at the game, their attitude(s) towards sex and women, nonetheless, allow some men to get away with cheating. Therefore, all men are responsible for changing our sexual cultures, for refusing to laugh at rape jokes, or using violent language to talk about sex, by rejecting to objectify any woman, no matter how she is dressed, and taking seriously gender violence and sexual assault. Only when men begin to change their attitudes towards sex and gender violence will we change what many call “rape culture” (to be sure any culture in which a quarter of college women are sexually assaulted in four years is certainly a rape culture) and expose the actions of the few men who do commit sexual assault.
Yes, it is simply because people laugh at rape jokes, use violent language, and “objectify” women that sexual violence towards women happens. It has nothing to do with the men who consciously choose to ignore a woman’s consent and force themselves on her or wait until she is too drunk or high to say no.
This is ludicrous. The people who commit sex crimes will do so whether someone tells a rape joke or not. They will do so whether people objectify women or not, whether people use violent language or not, and whether people victim-blame or not. People are responsible for their own behavior, and while one can argue that trivializing crimes does not help matters, it also does not make people commit crimes.
Blaming all men for what 2% of men do is nothing but scapegoating. Painting sexual violence as something only men do to only women is nothing but victim minimization. Teaching men about sexual violence by feeding them inaccurate, misrepresented statistics is little more than brainwashing.
If you want to teach men about sexual violence, you need to start by admitting that at least 1 in 6 men are victims of sexual assault by the age of 18. You need to start by listening to those experiences and learning from them. You need to stop pointing the finger at all men and acknowledge that after 40 years of saying the same things your strategies for preventing sexual violence against women are ineffective. You need to speak to the men and women who commit sex crimes, and learn what motivated them to act as they did. You need to learn what the warning signs are (note: being male is not one of them), and teach men and women to look for people behaving in a way that could lead to abusive behavior.
Peddling to feminists by denying male victimization and playing up female victimization may score you a feminist cookie, but it will not solve any problems.