Who perpetrates sexual assault?
The common archetypal images are of men with greasy moustaches and trenchcoats, waiting to physically overpower their female victims into submission. As for victims, men can’t get raped because they’re too strong to get physically subdued. That’s just science, right?
This logic builds upon the presumed premise that one must be raped by a member of the opposite sex, and that rape can only happen through physical force — neither of which are true. In reality, the majority of sexual offences are intra-familial, or perpetrated by acquaintances, friends, or partners. In these cases, the perpetrator rarely physically overpowers the victim; they’re more likely to rely on coercion or manipulation, using emotions or verbal threats as weapons.
Sexual assault can happen to anyone. It can happen within relationships, amongst acquaintances, or at the hands of a stranger. It can include any range of non-consensual sexual behavior. Really, the only link is that those who experience it are left filled with shame, and suffer a string of consequences — physical, psychological, emotional. If we cannot pinpoint one scenario or one type of perpetrator, then how can we have a clear idea of what a victim looks like?
I recently started watching Mad Men, thinking it would be filled with so much misogyny and gender stereotypes of the time period that I wouldn’t be able to get past the first season. Spoiler alert: I just finished the sixth season and it is revealed that Don Draper, the stoic, hard-drinking, womanizing protagonist, was raped as a boy. Only it’s not said in so many words: it’s presented as an older woman — a prostitute — taking his virginity against his will.
He grows up to have a drinking problem, an inability to commit to one woman (despite being married twice), and a habit of never sharing his feelings or weaknesses. Yet he is successful in business and pleasure, and is seen as mysterious and suave; women want him, and men want to be him.
Sure, it can be argued that it was a different time. It can also be argued that this is fiction. Yet, the Center for Disease Control’s National Intimate Partner and Sexual Violence Survey in 2010 reported that the rate of male victims of sexual assault was much higher than expected — something that’s been corroborated by many similar studies. One study found that 44 per cent of college men in their sample reported being subjected to a sexually coercive tactic, while another reported similar numbers of 43 per cent of college men reporting being a victim of a coercive incident.
In the United States, 10 per cent of reported victims of sexual assault are males.
Now, these numbers are only representative of one small aspect of sexual abuse, and the numbers reported by women are still much higher. Nonetheless, these statistics are shockingly high for an issue where men are solely seen as perpetrators, and never victims.
Not only that, but male victimization is grossly underreported because, simply put, our society does not take male sexual assault seriously. I have heard too many people argue that rape is exclusively a women’s issue or that men can’t be raped, and I have seen too many men refuse to show that they’re hurting simply because they’re “being men.”
Every so often, male survivors of sexual victimization speak out, and the stories are as diverse and complex as the issue of rape itself: some were victimized as children, some for their chosen gender or sexuality, some at the hands of partners (both male and female). According to the Texas Association Against Sexual Assault, 10 per cent of reported victims are males.
Our society maintains an outdated and heteronormative view of sexuality, which is partly where this idea stems from. If, as society dictates, women are coyer and have sex only to please their men, and all men want sex all the time, and people only have sex with the opposite gender, then it would logically follow that only men can perpetrate rape upon women. Given that none of these are facts, it’s insulting to all genders and sexual practices that this is the inherent assumption.
With all this as a framework, there’s no surprise that this is the same society that minimizes the impact that non-consensual sex has on males. There’s a belief that men always want sex, that it’s only a matter of collecting the largest number of (female) partners, and that it’s just part of being a man — whatever that even means.
If there is anything we can take from the recent pro-rape FROSH chants, it’s that all of us — especially boys and men — are in dire need of education. One must wonder whether the enigmatic “Bro Code,” the Holy Bible for misogynists that commands “bros before hos,” has a subsection that deals with a bro getting raped. I’d imagine the answer is no, that this isn’t seen as something that men should talk about — though I’m hardly a Bro Code scholar.
We need to educate boys and men so that they stop perpetuating rape culture and start spreading respect and mindfulness of the impact of their words and actions. But we also need to educate them so that they are not afraid to step forward when they are the ones victimized. Rape culture is not a joke, and it shouldn’t be treated as such by anybody. It is constantly being perpetrated in media, in everyday actions and jokes and on our university campuses. The only way that we can hope that our children will live in a better world is if we are ready to be allies and to hear each other’s stories — regardless of gender.