What does it say about our society when we are only acknowledging the reality of female sexual perpetrators at the end of 2016?
As much as I detest the “it’s the current year” argument, I feel it is applicable in this instance. Despite all the progress made in victim advocacy in the last thirty years, we still hesitate to admit that women commit sexual violence. The hesitation comes in part from cultural norms about women’s capacity for violence, in part from assumptions about male victimization, and in part from a political movement that frames sexual violence as a “gendered” crime.
I have written numerous times about female sex offenders. While the topic receives less media and scholarly attention, there are plenty of studies showing the prevalence of female sexual perpetration. I previously noted that if one looks at these studies in chronological order, the reported rate of female perpetration, particularly against male victims, increases over time. The more we study the topic, the more obvious it becomes that not only do women commit sexual violence, but that they represent the majority of people who sexually assault men and boys.
As shown above, none of this information is new. I pieced it together without access to scholarly publications. Other advocates, men’s rights activists, and even feminists have done the same. The information is scattered and somewhat limited, yet it is not hard to find.
It is simply not discussed.
That seems to be changing:
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.”
Again, this is nothing new. However, Atlantic author Conor Friedersdorf appears unfamiliar with the information. He took the revelations found in the paper as somehow unique. They are not. The researchers simply did what I have done on this blog: pulled together dozens of studies concerning female sex offenders, looked at the data, and drew certain conclusions. As Friedersdorf notes, “those conclusions are grounded in striking numbers.”
The researchers looked at the CDC’s National Intimate Partner and Sexual Violence Survey and found the same information that I and many others did:
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.”
They looked at the National Crime Victimization Survey, conducted by the Bureau of Justice Statistics, (which incidentally never asks male victims if they were ever raped) and found:
[…] female perpetrators acting without male co-perpetrators were reported in 28 percent of rape or sexual assault incidents involving male victims and 4.1 percent of incidents with female victims. Female perpetrator were reported in 34.7 percent of incidents with male victims and 4.2 percent of incidents with female victims.
They similarly looked at two prison studies, one for adults and the other for juveniles, that found a high rate of female perpetration, particularly by female staff in both adult and juvenile facilities. The researchers also noticed a bit of information that many in the media ignore about prison sexual violence against female inmates:
…while it is often assumed that inmate-on-inmate sexual assault comprises men victimizing men, the survey found that women state prisoners were more than three times as likely to experience sexual victimization perpetrated by women inmates (13.7 percent) than were men to be victimized by other male inmates (4.2 percent) (Beck et al., 2013).
The researchers also looked at a small survey involving male college students that found that 51.2% of male students experienced sexual abuse since the age of 16, half of which female perpetrators committed.
This trend of female perpetrators continued:
As well, “a 2014 study of 284 men and boys in college and high school found that 43 percent reported being sexually coerced, with the majority of coercive incidents resulting in unwanted sexual intercourse. Of them, 95 percent reported only female perpetrators. The authors defined sexual coercion broadly, including verbal pressure such as nagging and begging, which, the authors acknowledge, increases prevalence dramatically.”
And “a 2012 study using data from the U. S. Census Bureau’s nationally representative National Epidemiologic Survey on Alcohol and Related Conditions found in a sample of 43,000 adults little difference in the sex of self-reported sexual perpetrators. Of those who affirmed that they had ‘ever forced someone to have sex with you against their will,’ 43.6 percent were female and 56.4 percent were male.”
Again, to anyone reading this blog, to any advocates for male victims, or the average men’s rights activists, none of this is news. We have known about these findings for years. When we attempt to discuss them, we are often dismissed, mocked, accused of lying about the data, accused of misogyny, or some combination of those. Rarely is the topic taken seriously, even when there is evidence, as the researchers found, showing that female perpetrators are under-reported:
Tellingly, researchers have found that victims who experience childhood sexual abuse at the hands of both women and men are more reluctant to disclose the victimization perpetrated by women (Sgroi & Sargent, 1993). Indeed the discomfort of reporting child sexual victimization by a female perpetrator can be so acute that a victim may instead inaccurately report that his or her abuser was male (Longdon, 1993).
Male victims may experience pressure to interpret sexual victimization by women in a way more consistent with masculinity ideals, such as the idea that men should relish any available opportunity for sex (Davies & Rogers, 2006). Or, sexual victimization might be reframed as a form of sexual initiation or a rite of passage, to make it seem benign. In some cases, male victims are portrayed as responsible for the abuse. Particularly as male victims move from childhood to adolescence, they are ascribed more blame for encounters with adult women.
And according to the paper, when female abusers are reported, they are less likely to be investigated, arrested, or punished compared to male perpetrators, who are regarded as more harmful.
I wrote last year about a paper written by Lara Stemple in which she noted the curious separation of the types of victimization in the CDC’s study. The CDC researchers decided to separate out “made to penetrate” from “rape” because the act was primarily done to men. According to the researchers, that the majority of the victims are male somehow disqualifies the act as rape. Yet when one adds “made to penetrate” in with the “rape” statistics, it becomes obvious that more males than expected are victims of rape and that the majority of those rapes are committed by women.
I jokingly posted this video in response to Stemple’s findings. In light of the recent findings, I would like to finish the scene:
Please understand, it is not that I enjoy the findings of these studies. It is that the critics of people like me, of men’s rights activists, and of male survivors have been so wrong for so long that it feels good to have a bulk of evidence now coming from people on their own side showing how wrong they have been.
The primary reason why the topic of female sexual perpetrators is taboo is because it goes against accepted norms about female behavior. We see women as inherent nurturers, biologically inclined to instantly and perpetually mother everyone. We see them as physically weaker than men, and assume that they pose little or no physical threat to anyone. We see women as emotionally fragile and incapable for sustained cruelty, malice, indifference, or conceit.
All of those factor into how we regard accusations of female perpetration. As a society, perhaps even as a species, we cannot fathom how women could be behave as “depraved” as men. This is despite most people knowing women or of women who behave in manipulative, cruel, and violent ways. We know that it happens, we see its affects in our communities, and we yet we pretend that women cannot do those sorts of things.
Yet that does not explain the virtual censorship of discussion about this topic in the professional field. The lack of professional discussion about female perpetrators stems mostly from one cause: feminism.
Feminists inched their way into the social sciences, and they largely control what topics are studied and how they are studied. The feminist position is that sexual violence is a gender-based crime committed by men against women as a means of oppression. Any discussion outside of that purview is considered misogyny.
I can already hear the feminist response. “No feminist would do that. Feminists oppose all forms of sexual violence. They would never say just talking about the topic is sexist.”
Of course not. That is why the researchers said this:
[…] they were sensitive to the possibility that “a focus on female perpetration might be skeptically viewed as an attempt to upend a women’s rights agenda focused on male-perpetrated sexual victimization.” As they see it, “attention to female perpetration is consistent with feminist approaches that take into account power relations, intersectional analyses, and the imperative to question gender-based stereotypes.”
No one makes that sort of statement unless people will actually respond to their paper with that kind of reaction.
Unfortunately, feminists have largely opposed efforts to discuss female sexual perpetrators. Even when they attempt to discuss it themselves, they make a point of either reminding people that “women have it worse”, attacking the men’s rights movement, or wholly ignoring that feminism plays a role in silencing victims of female perpetrators.
Try to have an open discussion about female perpetrators or male victims in a feminist space, and one will quickly find numerous reminders not to say anything “bad” about feminism or claims of “not all feminists” or one’s comments randomly disappearing. Anything that questions the feminist narrative, be it a study, a case in the news, a personal anecdote, or even someone’s own contradictory comment, is disallowed.
We see this time and again in feminist spaces like The Good Men Project. We see this in studies like those conducted by the CDC. There is a concerted effort by feminists to mask the reality of female violence, be it sexual, physical, or emotional violence. This would not be a problem if it were limited to online discussions or in classrooms. It unfortunately extends to actual research, actual policing, and actual outreach. This in turn affects whether victims will come forward and how they will fair should they come forward.
It does no one any good to attempt to deny that women commit sexual violence. As the researchers noted:
[…] in a better world, those charged with responding to sexual victimization would be both gender inclusive, addressing “all victims and perpetrators, regardless of sex,” and gender sensitive, understanding how prevailing norms “influence women and men in disproportionate or different ways.”
It is that simple idea, that men and women can experience the same problems in different ways, that should guide how we address sexual violence. We do not need to hide that women commit sexual violence, nor should we play politics with the topic in order to avoid offending a political movement.
We are talking about one of the worst violations one can commit against a person. It should be treated with the seriousness, decency, and respect it deserves, not used a political softball.