Men as Victims of Rape and Intimate Partner Violence

The following is a reworked article I wrote for a university course I took on “The Philosophy of Love and Sex”.  As such, I apologize for its academic length (I got a 30 out of 35, for those wondering how well it was accepted by my professor):

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Men as Victims of Rape and Intimate Partner Violence

Sexual criminal behaviour, hurting someone in order to gain intimacy from them, be it a complete stranger or someone you are already intimate with, has been around since prewritten history.  Though there are no recorded incidents of this,, being the pre-historical age, there is the modern image of the caveman clubbing the cavewoman over the head and dragging her back to his lair by her hair.  This longstanding image of the male as the sole perpetrator of sexual violence and other transgressions has held until modern times.  When someone mentions intimate partner violence (IPV), the image that is conjured in one’s mind is that of a male dominating over a victimized female.

Mike Martin makes an assumption, as do to the majority of authours on sexual harassment, rape, and other incidents of sexual abuse, in assuming that sexual violence is the same for men and for women in regards to why it happens.   In his paper, “Rape and Sexual Harrassment” (found in his book, “Everyday Morality”), Martin writes that a rapist’s motives arise out of viciousness, in order to hurt the self-esteem and humiliate an innocent victim.  Mr. Martin also asserts that sexual harassment (as well as sexual assault) involves intimidation, coercion, and/or unfair sexual conduct; though he does not go on to define what “unfair” sexual conduct entails.  The biggest fallacy I find in Mr. Martin’s paper is where he states that homosexual rape and harassment, as well as incidents where the male is the victim of a female, are “comparatively rare” and so he will be referring to the “rapist” solely in male pronouns.

By acknowledging homosexual and female-on-male rape, thus including them in the discussion, while still choosing to only use male pronouns in reference to perpetrators, Martin also implies that the dynamics in these “comparatively rare” instances are the same as those in male-as-perpetrator and female-as-victim instances.  I disagree with this notion, and it will be the focal point of my arguments based on instances in which I have been raped, assaulted, and sexually harassed by females in my life as a male.  I will also use his arguments for the motivations behind sexual abuse to highlight how often men are abused, based on the same criteria he lays out.

One of Martin’s definitions of cruelty associated with this kind of behaviour is unintended cruelty that arises out of some other purpose.  One can argue that cruelty is in the eye of the beholder.  If I go on a dinner date with a vegan, for example, and I decide to order a veal cutlet, would I be considered to have committed a cruel act towards my date?  This single act could cause her to never go on a dinner date again, knowing her morals can be so horribly undermined by the food order of her date.  Maybe she will go on to carefully screen her dates to make sure they are not meat eaters beforehand.  As Mr. Martin also points out, one must respect the other’s autonomy and self-determination.  Would I be just as right to have felt harassed were my right to order the food I desire stifled by her opposition to eating meat?  A woman could easily exert power over a man in that regard by implying he would not receive anything from her in the future (a second date, a good night kiss, the hope of intimacy) if he does not abide by her moral standards

Reporting Abuse

One of the first statistics that Mr. Martin states, with no empirical data to support it, is that it is believed that 1 in 3 women will be the victim of rape, and that only 1 in 10 rapes are reported to the police.  Why does he not quote statistics for the homosexual and male-as-victim incidents he acknowledges exist?  How can he claim this is a rarity without numbers to back this up?  If 1 in 10 women who have been raped will not report the crime, what is the ratio for men, regardless of the sex of their perpetrator?  According to Martin, women, who are acknowledged as often being victimized by men, who have social supports in place to help them leave abusive relationships, and who are believed when they speak of being victimized by a man are still, despite all of this, grossly under-reporting incidents of abuse.  If this is the case for women, what are the statistics of men not reporting who have none of these social supports in place?

A man who has been assaulted by another man is not likely to report the incident, and even less likely if he was raped or sexually assaulted by another man.  Martin says rape between men is common in prison, but in prison there is also a ‘no snitching’ mentality, so how often does it also go unreported in prison?  Part of the culture of masculinity is to not appear weak, so a man is less likely to report being victimized, as doing so would be admitting weakness.  If the abuse were to occur within a relationship, there is also the social stigmatization towards homosexuals, male and female alike, and so they too have even more societal barriers to reporting.

A man being assaulted by a woman, supposedly the weaker sex, is less likely to report due to the stigmatization of being assaulted by a woman as well as the emasculation he would feel as a result.  Should he show the courage to report a case of abuse, there are no safety supports for men.  In Toronto, there are several locations for women leaving abusive relationships (e.g. red door shelter, red wood shelter), but there are no similar locations for men.  A homosexual friend of mine was abused by his partner one night, and out of a fear of being at home, he resorted to staying in a bathhouse till the next day; hardly the most hospitable place for someone who is the victim of domestic violence.

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One of my clients told me about having previously been in an abusive relationship with another man.  He told me that he finally felt he had to get out of there and got up the courage to go to the police for help.  They facilitated his exit from the home by referring him to the Salvation Army’s Maxwell Meighen shelter at Queen and Sherbourne.  He got his teeth kicked in again that night by another resident.  Homeless shelters are not the most hospitable places, but they are even less hospitable if you are fleeing abuse, especially as an openly gay man such as my client was.

When I was 16, I was going through a bad time and drank so much one night that I blacked out (the only time I’ve ever done so), and the last thing I can vividly recall from that night was wandering down an alley to be alone for a bit.  It took me a week to piece together my evening from the stories of friends.  A friend told me that at one point he wandered down the alley to relieve himself and saw another friend, a 13 year old female, performing oral sex on me while I was essentially passed out in a nook of a neighbour’s backyard.  This to me was a rape, though I did not feel it was as severe an incident as rape can be, and is often envisioned.  I have told this story to other men in the past and gotten a variety of responses from attempted high fives to “cool”.  This incident actually gave me a kind of social power, though empowered was the furthest thing I felt.  I wonder if some men treat it as a source for praise to downplay dealing with the seriousness of the abuse.

There are also social structures in place to keep someone from reporting on top of the stigmatization that goes along with it.  To highlight the lack of power I actually had in the aftermath of the situation, what would happen were I to have reported the incident to the police?  Being male, it could easily have been turned back on me, especially considering it could easily have been viewed as statutory rape on my part due to the girl’s age.  This is especially true if, when faced with the law, in an act of defence she turned around and accused me of raping her.  Whose story do we think the police would have more strongly believed, considering the societal view of rape as male perpetrated / female victimized, which Martin continues to perpetuate by undervaluing male victims in his paper? Another barrier for men is that to report a crime, one must go through police services, which is a very masculine system.  Going to such a place to report that you’ve been victimized by a woman would just exacerbate what already feels highly emasculating within the culture of what it is to be a man.

Power Imbalances

Many papers, including Martin’s, speak to the power imbalance of the world in regard to men and women, unequivocally supporting the idea that this imbalance is always in favour of men.  This is viewed as a systemic and structural imbalance as well as a physical one.  Physically, men are viewed as inherently stronger than women, though this is not always the case.  The structural imbalance has been evening out, though there is still a ways to go on both sides, but a person does not actually have to be in a position of power in order to commit sexual assault.

I work as a social worker and am currently employed with an emergency shelter.  While still a placement student at the organization, a client squeezed my ass as she walked past me.  I was somewhat shocked and was not entirely sure what I thought happened actually had happened, as my back had been to the doorway she came through.  However, when I turned to see who it had been, the woman gave me a big exaggerated wink and disappeared around the corner.  I was flabbergasted, and turned back to my colleague with whom I had been talking.  The woman came back around the corner and started to loudly slap the wall to get my attention and, once she got it, gave me another suggestive wink and then kissed the air in my direction.  I had the power in this relationship, supposedly just for being a man, but also as a staff member and her being a client, as I could have barred her from the agency for her actions.  It was not something over which I was going to kick someone out into the cold though, even if I was just a student at the time and not an actual employee.

Afterwards, I told another employee about this incident.  This other employee also worked at a shelter for female victims of domestic violence, and has been in the violence against women sector for years.  I have spoken to her about the imbalance I see in the domestic abuse sector and she and I have a good relationship.  When I told her the story, she jokingly said “oh, you asked for it!”  She and I have this kind of jocular relationship, but had it been one of the male clients who had grabbed another female staff member’s butt and then acted overly flirtatious with her, I think my colleague would have taken it more seriously.  This, however, highlights the difference when a man is victimized by a woman versus a woman being victimized by a man.  It is assumed that a man is okay with it and, if not, he should just “man up”.

Masculinity and Intimate Partner Violence

The culture of masculinity does not just apply to men and their perceptions of themselves.  The culture of what it is to be a man also applies to the perspectives that others, male and female, have of men.  On the ABC program “What Would You Do?”, they conducted an experiment where they had a man assaulting a woman in public on a park bench.  Time after time, people stepped in to defend the woman and reprimand the man.  It was clear that the majority of people felt what he was doing was wrong and that, for the woman’s safety, they were almost obligated to step in and try to stop the situation from escalating.

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The program decided to turn the tables and see what would happen when it was a man being publicly assaulted by a woman.  Over 100 people walked by the ongoing assault without coming to the aid of the man.  Comments that came afterwards were along the lines of “I did not think she was doing any real damage to him” or “he should be able to take care of himself.”  One woman who witnessed the incident started shadow boxing the air and later commented that she thought “good for her, I felt I should have done that more myself in situations.”  It is unclear what situations she is referring to, as all she saw was a woman screaming at and pummelling a man. The most consistent consensus was that he must have done something wrong to deserve the abuse, such as having cheated on her.  I doubt that people would ignore a woman being pummeled by a man even if they knew for a fact that she had cheated on him.  If anything, they would justify why she must have cheated on him.

Only one group of women on the show decided to approach the issue of the couple’s dispute.  After deliberating about it while he was being hit and verbally berated, one woman approached and said she was going to call the cops on both of them, not just the woman, even though the man was just sitting there suffering the abuse being venomously hurled at him.  Eventually one of the women did carry through on this threat.

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Despite this woman calling the cops to deal with the situation, as stated earlier, the police system is a very masculine oriented organization.  One of the men who passed by, and did nothing, later confessed to being a cop.  He said they were just “having a little tiff”, but that if it had been the other way around, with the man abusing the woman, he would have intervened “without a doubt”.  As with many people, he said he was raised to believe it was wrong to ever put his hands on a woman in an aggressive manner.  This begs the question, if a man is being assaulted by a woman, how is he expected to defend himself if he cannot strike back?  Physically defending himself would likely exacerbate the situation for him knowing that his reaction, though defensive, would still be viewed as wrong.  If he shares the same view as that officer of the peace (who felt everything was peaceful as long as he wasn’t hitting her), it further instills in him the mentality that he should just “man up” and take the abuse, and the cycle of abuse continues to turn.

Whose Gender is More Important?

Another very gray area in the realm of sexual abuse is that surrounding people who identify as transgendered.  While I was out on a break while doing a shift at the shelter at 3 in the morning, I had a car pull over to ask me for directions.  I bent down to the window to talk to the person and saw it was a transgendered woman.  I pointed her in the right direction, and she asked if I was headed that way as well, implying that she would give me a lift.  I said thanks, but no, I was just going to the Tim Horton’s at the end of the block.  With a squeal of her tires, she made a U-turn and sped off.

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After getting my coffee I headed back to work, crossing over Queen Street to a more deserted and isolated area, which was of course completely void of people now because of the time.  At this point, the same car pulled up beside me and the woman started a conversation again.  She said she saw I had gotten my coffee, asked where I was going, and finished by asking if I wanted my dick sucked and “aren’t you horny?”  I politely said no and that I had to get back to work.

Numerous questions have come up for me over this incident.  Did she wait for me as I got coffee and then followed/stalked me till I got away from any public areas or did she just see me again as she looked for some young man to try and lure into her car?  Would the law view this as a man stalking a man, or a woman stalking a man, as I would?  How much more seriously would this story be taken if it had been a woman being followed, and if it had been by a transgendered man?  What is a bigger societal determinant of the seriousness of these incidents, the sex/gender of the victim or the sex/gender of the perpetrator?

Intimate Partner Violence Against Men is Often Ignored

Martin’s assumptions are not new.  He is, however, the first academic I have read who at least acknowledges why he uses the male pronoun for abusers, and female for victims, based on what he believes to be a huge disparity between men and women as perpetrators/victims, while at least pointing out that rape and intimate partner violence also happens to men.  His choice of words is not new, but most authors write as if the thought of a male being abused did not even cross their minds and do not address it, as if a male being abused were impossible.

In a class I took in high school, “Families in a North American Perspective”, we had a text book containing a section on intimate partner violence.  A pair of pages in this chapter, side by side, had questions on the left to ask yourself to find out “are you an abuser?”  Every single question on this page used male pronouns.  The opposite page had questions to find out “are you a victim of abuse?”  This side of course used female pronouns for all of its questions.  This was two years after my blackout and obviously upset me, as I had seen these societal patterns of thoughts for a number of years, even before they affected me personally.  Already a staunch supporter of the notion of equality, I did my final assignment on this subject and on the idea of women as abusers and males as victims.

After I did my presentation for the class, it was time to go home for the day.  My teacher, an elderly woman, asked me to wait so she could speak with me.  After the other students had left, she asked me if I was being abused at home.  I told her no, and then began to tell her about the incident from a couple years earlier.  I believe I got as far as “while I was passed out a girl…”  She then flapped her arms and told me she just needed to know that it wasn’t going on at home and ushered me out of the class.  The frame of reference that comes to mind today is Stuebenville, and maybe I should be thankful I was in high school before camera phones became commonplace.  This was the support I got from the first authority figure I opened up to about the incident; a female in a position of power, a teacher, stifling the voice of a sexually assaulted male student talking about his incident for the first time.

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Is This a Change of the Times?

In the year 2000, the United States Department of Justice released a report on violence against women which stated that approximately 1.3 million women and 835, 000 men are physically assaulted every year in the United States.  As this report is from 11 years after Martin’s essay, one may think that spousal violence to men has only recently begun to escalate.  However, Straus and Gelles reported back in 1986, in their examination of family violence between the years 1975 to 1985 that 1.8 million women suffered assault from their husbands or boyfriends while 2 million men reported having been assaulted by a wife or a girlfriend, 200,000 more than women reported.  More recently, and closer to home, the 2004 Statistics Canada General Social Survey reported that 6% of men and 7% of women in Canada had been victims of spousal abuse in current or past relationships.  There are also literally hundreds of other studies that refute the societal view that men are exceedingly more likely to abuse women than women are to abuse men.

One could try to make an argument that rape and sexual violence are in a completely different category from one another, but Martin, and others who write on the subject, feminists and experimental psychologists alike, say that rape is not about sexual gratification; it is about maliciousness and intentionally cruel acts of violence towards another.  The end sought is not the sexual satisfaction, it is the satisfaction derived from the violence and the pleasure of boosting one’s own self-esteem derived from power over the victim.  If it is not about the sexual nature, but rather the assault and the power felt, what differentiates the two?  Martin states that when a man feels this power over a woman, it is akin to him feeling it over all women.  If men are said to have the power in society, ergo they are more powerful than women, then do women not derive greater pleasure from placing themselves in a position of power greater than that of a man?  Is their transgression not greater if they reap a bigger reward for themselves?  Is the cruelty behind it not also greater if the crushing of a man’s self-esteem for being hurt by a woman is felt more harshly due to the societal view that a man should be not just strong among his peers, but also unquestionably stronger than a woman (whereby being weaker than a woman puts him beneath all other men, not just the woman who has assaulted him)?

Violence Against Men in the Media

One of the largest issues is that it is also viewed as perfectly acceptable for a woman to hit a man.  This viewpoint is proliferated regularly throughout the media. In countless movies, women are slapping men, kicking them, throwing dishes at them, or committing other forms of physical and emotional abuse.  These are rarely portrayed as the abuses that they are, and are more often used as a cheap trick for laughs.

As stated earlier, many of the women questioned on ABC’s “What would you do?” felt the man “deserved” to be assaulted because he probably cheated on the woman.  “Probably”.  This excusing of female violence towards men is exemplified in Carrie Underwood’s song “Before He Cheats”, she describes in detail how she wrecks her boyfriend’s car:       

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     “I dug my key into the side of his / pretty little souped up 4 wheel drive, / carved my name into his leather seats. / I took a Louisville slugger to both headlights / slashed a hole in all 4 tires”

Many women think this is a great song and speaks to the power of women.  They find it perfectly acceptable that she would commit such destructive acts of cruelty to someone else’s personal property because he cheated on her.  The song is titled “Before He Cheats”, because her actions are supposed to make him think before he cheats again.  However, the lyrics to the song never mention that he actually cheated on her.  The song opens with the lyrics “right now he’s probably slow dancing with a bleached-blonde tramp / and she’s probably getting frisky.”  There’s that word again, “probably”.  The title of the song is more applicable to what she is doing before he cheats, not the thinking he would do beforehand next time.  This still does not justify her actions in any way, and her thinking that he’s cheating removes any credibility the listener may try to give her.

Violence Happens to Everyone

Martin’s arguments do not hold water due to his obvious lack of insight and research.  They did not hold water in 1989, as the 1986 study by Straus and Gelles shows, and they still do not today.  By failing to look at the abuses being carried out towards men, or those in LGBT relationships, he failed to acknowledge a large portion of the sexual and relationship transgressions which occur each year.  In doing so he not only ignored how widespread these instances are, but he also cannot blindly attribute the same reasons men assault, harass, or rape women to those incidents in which men are the victims that he himself deems to be “comparatively rare”, which as I have shown are anything but, to female perpetrators.  Furthermore, if one does apply his reasons why a man commits abuse to a woman, the data shows a similar number of instances of those transgressions also being carried out by women to men.  This would lead one to think he could just as easily reverse his choice of sex pronouns, though I would rather see them neutralized.

One can argue that a male may not be as easily dominated and entered in the way that a woman is during a physical rape.  However, the reasons laid out by Martin for why rapists commit these acts, and why they are cruel, are on par with the assaults that men are also dealing with in equivalent numbers by their female partners.  Furthermore, societal views keep people from feeling the need to aid men, or for victimized men to seek help for themselves.  This leaves men having even more power taken away from them and a deeper sense of shame and loss of self-esteem.  One should not just blindly attribute the actions of some (male perpetrators) to those of all (female perpetrators), especially not when there are inherently large differences among them.  Neither should they sweep such a large portion of victims under the rug because of a pronoun preference.

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