Writing in Time, Cathy Young notices something interesting in the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention figures on rape: Women rape a lot more than people think.
If the CDC figures are to be taken at face value, then we must also conclude that, far from being a product of patriarchal violence against women, “rape culture” is a two-way street, with plenty of female perpetrators and male victims.
How could that be? After all, very few men in the CDC study were classified as victims of rape: 1.7% in their lifetime, and too few for a reliable estimate in the past year. But these numbers refer only to men who have been forced into anal sex or made to perform oral sex on another male. Nearly 7% of men, however, reported that at some point in their lives, they were “made to penetrate” another person — usually in reference to vaginal intercourse, receiving oral sex, or performing oral sex on a woman. This was not classified as rape, but as “other sexual violence.” And now the real surprise: when asked about experiences in the last 12 months, men reported being “made to penetrate” — either by physical force or due to intoxication — at virtually the same rates as women reported rape (both 1.1% in 2010, and 1.7% and 1.6% respectively in 2011).
In short, men are raped by women at nearly the same rate women are raped by men.
According to a recent study from the University of Missouri, published by the American Psychological Association, male victims of sexual assault are often victimized by women: “A total of 43% of high school boys and young college men reported they had an unwanted sexual experience and of those, 95% said a female acquaintance was the aggressor, according to a study published online in the APA journal Psychology of Men and Masculinity.”
This shouldn’t be so surprising. Back in the old days, when talk of “rape” or “sexual assault” generally meant forcible penetration at the hands of a stranger, rape was unsurprisingly pretty much a male-committed crime.
But feminists pushed for a broader definition of rape, going beyond what Susan Estrich, in a very influential book, derisively called Real Rape, to encompass other forms of sexual coercion and intimidation. And so now the term “rape” as it is commonly used encompasses things like “date rape,” sex while a partner is intoxicated, sex without prior verbal consent and even — at Ohio State University, at least — sex where both partners consent, but for different reasons.
Unsurprisingly, when the definition of rape — or, as it’s often now called in order to provide less clarity, “sexual assault” — expands to include a lot more than behavior distinguished by superior physical strength, the incidence of rape goes up, and behavior engaged in by women is more likely to be included in the definition. (At juvenile detention centers nine out of 10 reporters of sexual assault are males victimized by female staffers.)
Thus, as Young points out, the CDC finds that men make up over a third of the victims of “sexual coercion,” which can include such things as “lies or false promises, threats to end a relationship or spread negative gossip, or ‘making repeated requests’ for sex and expressing unhappiness at being turned down.”
Critics tend to dismiss these as trivial, suggesting that the men involved should just “man up.” But, of course, there’s no reason to think that such coercion is any more trivial where men are concerned than where women are concerned, unless you believe that women are such fragile flowers that they cannot possibly withstand things that men are supposed to ignore.
It will be interesting to see how college disciplinary boards handle this. If, in light of the data, women exhibit a similar predilection for sexual misbehavior to men, then surely the colleges should be punishing roughly as many women as men for such conduct. If they are not, the only possible explanation is some form of institutional sexism. That should be good news for Title IX attorneys, at any rate.
Finally, all this talk of rape on campus must be making college enrollment officers —already having trouble filling seats — even more nervous. Telling female students that they have a one-in-five chance of being raped (even if it’s not true) isn’t going to make them, or their parents, more likely to spend six-figure sums sending them to college. It might even push them toward online alternatives, as a YouTube parody video suggests.
With rape rates actually falling sharply, the current moral panic over campus rape seems more like political agitprop and mass hysteria than anything else. Like all such, this, too, will pass. But it will also do damage along the way. May reason assert itself sooner, rather than later.
Glenn Harlan Reynolds, a University of Tennessee law professor, is the author of The New School: How the Information Age Will Save American Education from Itself.
It’s a detailed look at what I think is the sexes’ most alienating and destructive behavioral difference, which is responsible for much of what is called sexual assault of women.