High Prevalence of Sexual Victimization Detected Among Men; Similar to Prevalence Found Among Women in Many Cases

For Immediate Distribution
April 30, 2014

Laura Rodriguez, lrodriguez@rabengroup.com, (310) 956-2425
Donald Gatlin, dgatlin@rabengroup.com, (202) 587-2871

Researchers recommend moving beyond outdated assumptions about rape so as to better understand sexual victimization as it impacts both women and men

LOS ANGELES— A new study that analyzes a range of large-scale federal agency surveys finds that men experience a high prevalence of sexual victimization, in many circumstances similar to the prevalence found among women. The study, entitled, “The Sexual Victimization of Men in America: New Data Challenge Old Assumptions,” is co-authored by Lara Stemple, Health and Human Rights Law Project, UCLA, and Ilan H. Meyer, Williams Institute, UCLA School of Law.

In one of the studies included in the analysis, the CDC found that an estimated 1.3 million women experienced nonconsensual sex, or rape, in the previous year. Notably, nearly the same number of men also reported nonconsensual sex. In comparison to the large number of women who were raped, nearly 1.3 million men were “made to penetrate” someone else. Despite the use of these two different categories, the CDC data reveal that both women and men experienced nonconsensual sex in alarming numbers.

The study also included the 2012 National Crime Victimization Survey, which found that 38% of all rape and sexual assault incidents were committed against males, an increase over past years that challenges the common belief that males are rarely victims of this crime.

“These findings are striking, yet misconceptions about male victimization persist. We identified reasons for this, which include the over-reliance on traditional gender stereotypes, outdated and inconsistent definitions used by some federal agencies, and methodological sampling biases. For example, like most population studies, federal household surveys do not include incarcerated individuals,” said co-author Ilan H. Meyer, Williams Senior Scholar of Public Policy.

“While men and women both face sexual abuse behind bars, men are vastly disproportionately incarcerated. Because of new federal surveys mandated by the Prison Rape Elimination Act, we now know that men experience hundreds of thousands sexual victimization incidents behind bars each year, further challenging assumptions about who experiences sexual abuse in the U.S.,”  said co-author Lara Stemple.

Among men in prisons and jails, gay and bisexual men and other men who identify as non-heterosexual are at greatest risk of sexual victimization.  For example, the Justice Department’s National Inmate Survey of 2011-2012 found that among non-heterosexual prison inmates, 12.2% reported being sexually victimized by another inmate, and 5.4% reported being sexually victimized by staff.

Both inside and outside of prison, the authors noted that male victims are overlooked due to the stigma they face. “Gender and heterosexist stereotypes, such as the idea that all men are sexually insatiable or that gay male victims ‘asked for it,’ can perpetuate dismissive attitudes toward male victims. Yet such dismissal runs counter to evidence that men who experience sexual victimization report depression, suicidal ideation, anxiety, sexual dysfunction, and more,” said Stemple.

The article recommends changes that will help address sexual victimization of both women and men more comprehensively, including:

•    The need to move past the male-perpetrator / female-victim stereotype. Overreliance on it stigmatizes men who are victimized, risks portraying women solely as victims, and discourages discussion of abuse that runs counter to the stereotype, such as same-sex abuse and female perpetration of sexual victimization.

•    To bring greater attention to the full spectrum of sexual victimization, definitions and categories of harm that federal agencies use should be revised to eliminate gendered and heterosexist bias, so that all forms of sexual victimization can be understood.

•    Discussions of sexual victimization in the U.S. should acknowledge the now extensively well documented sexual victimization of incarcerated persons, a group drawn disproportionately from low-income and minority populations.

The authors assessed 12-month prevalence of sexual victimization from five federal surveys conducted, independently, by the Bureau of Justice Statistics, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, and the Federal Bureau of Investigation from 2010 through 2012. The review of these surveys provides an unprecedented wealth of new data about male victimization, challenging long-held stereotypes about the sex of victims.

Click here for the full study.