When you hear the term “rape,” do you visualize a female offender? Probably not. Yet they exist. While according to statistics, most sexual offenders are men, I have prosecuted numerous women for sexual assault—against children, as well as adults. Research corroborates this reality.
Women Victimizing Men
Research indicates female perpetrators are more common than once believed. In a Scientific American article, Lara Stemple and Ilan H. Meyer (2017)[i] note that surveys conducted by large-scale federal agencies reveal that women are often the perpetrators of sexual crimes. They refer to a study they published in 2014 finding that men were sexually victimized more often than most people would expect. Regarding the identity of the perpetrators, they analyzed surveys conducted by the Bureau of Justice Statistics (BJS) and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), and found that over a one-year period, both sexes were similarly likely to be subjected to nonconsensual sex, and most of the male victims reported being victimized by female perpetrators.
Stemple and Meyer also found that 79 percent of men who during their lives were “made to penetrate” someone else (which they note most researchers include as rape) reported female perpetrators. Likewise, most men who experienced sexual coercion and unwanted sexual contact had female perpetrators.
Stemple and Meyer acknowledge that gender-based stereotypes, such as the notion that men are “sexually insatiable,” might prevent effectively responding to male victims. They note that some men who are aware of this common misconception are ashamed to report their own victimization, and if they do, their experience is often minimized with the assumption that they suffered no harm. Research corroborates this unfortunate truth as well.
Sexual Coercion and the Perceived Responsibility of Male Victims
Regardless of the gender of the parties involved, nonconsensual sex is sexual assault. Yet this is not usually the perception when the perpetrator is female, and the victim is male.
Gender stereotypes impact the perception of sexual coercion: pressuring or persuading an unwilling sexual partner into engaging in sexual activity. Men who are persuaded to engage in sexual relations due to sexual coercion are often seen as more responsible than women put in the same circumstances.
Jennifer Katz et al. in “Verbal Sexual Coercion and Perceived Victim Responsibility” (2007) studied perceptions of victim responsibility when exposed to sexual coercion.[ii] They defined verbal coercion as involving “unwanted sexual penetration compelled by psychological pressure.”
Study participants who were exposed to hypothetical scenarios of sexual coercion perceived verbal coercion as more controllable than rape in scenarios with a male dating partner; they thus perceived victims as more responsible for their fate. When the gender roles were reversed, however, they reached different conclusions. Study participants viewed female-to-male coercion as more controllable than male-to-female and thus attributed greater responsibility to a man who was verbally coerced into sexual relations.
Not only are men in such scenarios seen as more responsible, research indicates their victimization is taken less seriously.
Male Sexual Coercion Victims are Taken Less Seriously
A Dutch vignette study (2016) examined how sexual coercion is perceived differently when a perpetrator is a man coercing a woman versus a woman coercing a man.[iii] Study participants consisted of 583 Dutch citizens ranging in age from 16 to 86 years, 59.7% female. The sexually coercive scenarios they reviewed, in which the sex of the perpetrator and victim varied, included verbal coercion, force, and purposeful intoxication.
Results indicated that sexual coercion of men is not viewed as seriously as sexual coercion of women. This perception was found to be particularly true among Dutch men. The majority of differences between participant attitudes towards victims based on gender, however, were found only in the scenario involving physical force.
Achieving Justice for Victims
Research indicates the need to acknowledge that men are also victims of sexual assault and sexual coercion and female perpetrators are subject to the same laws, and punishment as men. As more men feel comfortable reporting their victimization, we will be better able to understand the scope of the problem, and ensure that justice is done.
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[ii]Katz, Jennifer, Jessica A. Moore, and Sherri Tkachuk. 2007. “Verbal Sexual Coercion and Perceived Victim Responsibility: Mediating Effects of Perceived Control.” Sex Roles 57 (3–4): 235–47. doi:10.1007/s11199-007-9253-x
[iii]Huitema, Anneloes, and Ine Vanwesenbeeck. 2016. “Attitudes of Dutch Citizens towards Male Victims of Sexual Coercion by a Female Perpetrator.” Journal of Sexual Aggression 22 (3): 308–22. doi:10.1080/13552600.2016.1159343.