Trauma of Rape of Men and Women

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Updated: Mar 28, 2022
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No one should have to deal with the trauma of rape. In an ideal world, men and women could walk down the street, naked, with no comments or harassment from individuals or groups. Let’s face it, not everyone should be seen naked but in an optimum world, they should have the ability to go unharmed. Instead, we live in a flawed world where violence and blame are more common than they should be. “There are well over one hundred uses of the term ‘violence against women’–defined to include sexual violence – in U.

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N. resolutions, treaties, general comments, and consensus documents. No human rights instruments explicitly address sexual violence against men” (Stemple, 2009). Rape is wrong, no matter who the victim is, but when the victim is male, many cultures who are semi-sympathetic to female victims, either don’t acknowledge the crime or question the man’s masculinity, victimizing him twice. In those cultures where homosexuality is forbidden, the crimes perpetrated by men on men are unreported for fear of being accused of a capital crime because they couldn’t fight off their attacker. Even in some western countries, being raped by a woman is not considered the same crime as a male raping a female. In seeking to understand how best to assist victims, anthropologists look at the laws of different countries, the type of treatment victims receive and the perception of the act by the culture. Medical anthropologists use this knowledge to help craft better legislation, change procedures, and assist in pointing out the shortcomings of treatments. This paper I will attempt to show that male rape is real, underreported and traumatizing.

Aliraza Javaid, PhD says in “Feminism, masculinity and male rape: bringing male rape ‘out of the closet,’” published in Journal of Gender Studies, “The view that men cannot be the victims of sexual violence by women is prevalent in many societies (and consequent lawmaking), but it does not resonate with lived social reality” (286). His words introduce this section because they ring true and because Dr. Javaid has written several papers on the differences in how societies view rape of women verses men. For many years rape was seen as a feminist issue because scholars with that focus were the ones leading research. However, they tend to put their emphasis on how women are viewed and how societal systems put greater emphasis on male power.

“There is strong evidence that men can be, and are, raped by women. For example, in Weiss’s (2010) recent study, it was found that 46% of men had been raped by women. This challenges historical and cultural stereotypes that present females as subordinate and passive, both sexually and physically, along with the idea that men are solely the offenders in sex crimes” (“Feminism, Masculinity and Male Rape” 286).

This statement shows that rape happens to both women and men, and shockingly, in substantial numbers for men too. Why, then is it so hard for people to believe men can be the victims of rape at the hands of women? Some of the blame, surely, goes to the cultural view of men as stronger and capable of overcoming a woman in physical confrontation. This view not only minimizes the trauma suffered by those who have been assaulted but also blames the victim for the rape. This type of rape is not acknowledged by many legal systems nor discussed by many scholars, further victimizing the man (Levy & Adam 579). In fact, the United Kingdom does not have a law against female rape. Indeed, their statutes specifically use the words penetration of the vagina, anus or mouth with a penis, to define rape. This means a man who is forced to perform oral sex on a woman cannot be seen as a legal victim of rape, unlike a woman who is forced to perform the same act on a man. In fact, with the statutes wording, the male who is forced to use his penis to penetrate a woman’s vagina is the one committing the crime (“Moving Through Shadows” 1005). However, Dr. Javaid also points out that the law requires that party B doesn’t grant consent to party A penetrating with penis or object, so a decent lawyer would be able to get the charges dismissed (“Moving Through Shadows” 1006).

In the United States, the law is not dissimilar to that in the United Kingdom. Our national codes are gendered and in need of updating. One reason this isn’t happening is the perception by some that acknowledging male rape victims of female abusers, puts women further down the victim hierarchy (Rumney 489), which pits male and female victims against one another for legal and therapeutic help. This approach doesn’t help the cause of either group. Instead, acknowledgement that both sexes encounter violence that needs to be prosecuted and services need to be developed and offered to both that address their unique needs. Figures for male rape vary widely depending on the source and how they gathered their information. From police reports, the figures are remarkable low but if your source is anonymous surveys, the numbers jump. “Similarly, studies mostly refer to male rape as an act of penile penetration, thus excluding female-on-male rape from academic and public discourse” (Levy & Adam 579). Surely, this is an area anthropologists would view as worthy of scholarship as its long-term affects can be devastating and attitudes of those making and enforcing laws could be informed for better results. More research needs to be done as, in the words of one researcher, male victims of assault are nearly two decades behind their female counterparts in their struggle for acknowledgement and assistance (Rumney 233).

Women are, of course, not the only ones to victimize men. Once believed to take place only in jails and between gay men, male-on-male rape also exists. “Documented research con?rms that men do rape other men as a way to boost, preserve and execute ‘hegemonic masculinity’; that is, the male sexual offender seeks power and control over their subordinate, powerless victim” (“Feminism, Masculinity and Male Rape” 284). Contrary to popular belief, not all victims of this crime are gay and the majority of these crimes are classified as acquaintance rape, not unlike women. Davies, et al., claim that male rape myths and sexism have a great deal to do with reporting and prosecution of this crime and that gay male rape victims tend to prompt greater negative outcomes than do heterosexuals (2811). Police officers often treat victims as if they are the offender when faced with reporting of this crime. Several examples can be seen in Rumney’s work where police turn questions around on the victim and say things like “so you wanted it” (Gay Male Rape Victims 238.) This victim blaming is worse for acquaintance rape than for stranger rape and it appears this is considered “real rape” by many. “By reducing the range of what is considered a genuine rape complaint, these stereotypes are a contributory factor in the justice gap” (Gay Male Rape Victims 234). One such stereotype is that gay men enjoy rape. This stereotypical response stems from homophobia and ignorance.

There has never been any evidence to support this belief but there is plenty of evidence that “othering” gay men helps heterosexual males defend their beliefs about what “real” men are (Schneider, et al. 412). A small amount of sympathy can be found for men who have undergone “real rape” because they didn’t know their attacker and can’t be seen to have done anything to have drawn the rapist’s attention. However, for the victim, both types of rape are emotionally damaging. “The feeling of not being able to fight back or protect oneself is a particularly pertinent issue for male victims of rape, not only in terms of their recovery but also in how people perceive men who are judged not to have fought back against their rapist” (Davies, et al. 2818). The perceptions of those who work with rape victims and of family and friends are important to their recovery. When those perceptions are tainted by outmoded information or bias, the recovery of the victim is jeopardized.

“The implication here is that secondary victimization— which is often severe, long lasting, and detrimental to victim recovery—may take a variety of forms, reflected in the types of negative attitude rape victims often experience and perhaps even come to expect” (Davies, et al. 2820). In contrasting laws in the United States and the United Kingdom, the biases are evident. In the United Kingdom. until 2003, the term buggery was used to describe male-on-male rape and the punishments were less severe than for female rape (“Moving Through Shadows”, 1005). In the United States, the definition of rape included gendered terms of “carnal knowledge of a female” which totally precludes male victims. In 2012, the language was changed to “penetration without consent” (“An Updated Definition of Rape”). There is some study of male-on-male rape and there are moves to make its acknowledgement by both lawmakers and law keepers more visible. However, anthropologists could make real impacts here as well.

Anthropologists study humans. This is the simplest definition but it covers a huge amount of ground; everything from physical aspects of humans to their cultures. With their perspectives on evolution and culture, anthropologists can use these lenses to help design studies that would bring better understanding of the causes and impacts of rape. At this point, the majority of studies have been focused on women as victims, understanding their plight through the lens of feminist language that frames the attack in terms of subjugation and power. Very few sources could be found for research into this field but the majority of those that were found focused on the legal aspects with impacts to victims taking a back-seat.

In the 1980’s the phrase “you can’t rape the willing” was bandied about a lot to describe women who were promiscuous. Today, that phrase could be used to demonstrate the outmoded view that men are always desirous of sexual encounters so they can’t be victimized. In a causal survey in our college commons, ten random students were asked if men are always the rapist. There were no follow-up or clarification questions from either the respondents or the surveyor. Of the ten asked, seven responded “yes,” men are always the rapist and three said “no,” men are not always the rapist. Students were thanked for their time. The graph of their answers follows.

Reviewing the data, it is very easy to see that the myth that only men can be rapists is alive and well, even on a higher learning campus. We’ve done an excellent job making people aware of the intolerable problem of rape on campuses but we’ve only focused on one sex of victims.

“The rights, dignity and respect of male rape victims are being ignored, overlooked or neglected (Moving Through Shadows, 1004). Everywhere from the United Nations to Red Rocks Community College, the needs of female rape victims are established and decried. Slut shaming is understood to be part of the denial built around the “real rape” myth and is not accepted by most. The real struggle for both applied anthropology and for our community at large is learning to accept and to advocate for male rape victims who, more than their female counterparts “are blamed more for not escaping, fighting back, or resisting the attacker” (Levy & Adam, 579). Rape is not an acceptable form of sex. It is not consensual and does not reflect the gay community’s lifestyle. No one should have to go through the trauma of being raped or the second victimization of being shamed for being unable to fight off the attacker, nor should they be treated as a perpetrator for attempting to report the crime committed against them. There is a place for anthropologists in designing studies, interpreting the results, learning from the anecdotes of victims and initiating discussions with those in position to change the laws in states that don’t yet have gender neutral wording. Educating law-enforcement about the proper ways to approach victims would also make a huge impact. The causes of rape are important but changing attitudes about its acceptability is a step toward eliminating the problem. This is a great time to use the skill-sets and discipline of anthropology to make real-world changes that would improve our community and our future.

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Trauma of Rape of Men and Women. (2021, Apr 29). Retrieved from