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Here is a conundrum worthy of attention from Detective Stabler and Benson from Law & Order: Special Victims Unit: Is it really rape when a woman is the perpetrator and the victim is a man?

In fact, I am pretty sure I have seen this episode before. It involved one male exotic dancer, a bachelorette party and three high powered professional women. The answer was yes, however that was television and this is real life. From Dan Savage, by way of Jill from Feminste,

“I accidentally raped my boyfriend. What happened was I awoke to find my boyfriend rubbing up against me. After a little while, he pulled my hand, motioning for me to get on top of him to have sex, as he has done many times before. I obliged, and all was well, until he apparently woke up and pushed me off of him. I did not have any indication that he was asleep, since he was an active participant the entire time and was NOT lying there like a dead fish. In the morning, he expressed his displeasure about being woken up with sex. He said that he felt really violated. I apologized and explained my understanding of the situation. Now he says he feels really weird about what happened and he can’t stomach me touching him. What should I do?

Reeling After Problematic Intimate Sex Transgression”

In Savage’s column, he writes that the anonymous writer, known as Reeling After Problematic Intimate Sex Transgression (or Reeling for short) is indeed a rapist, and goes through great length to call her one throughout his advice. But he also says that her sexual assault was a mistake rather than an intentional kind. He also advises that Reeling should not “dump the guilt-tripping, blame-shifting motherfucker,” especially since he is a sexsomniac, which is a person who initiates sex in their sleep.  Jill of Feminste too doesn’t know what to make of it but takes the same approach as Savage. She acknowledges that it is sexual assault, whether she intended it to be or not, however “It doesn’t make her a bad person or a rapist…”

It is true that the lines of consent with a sexsomniac might be blurred. Heck my first reaction was to say, “get out of here, you can’t rape a dude.” However, the more I thought about it, the more I began to understand my prejudice and the less I felt comfortable with dismissing sexual assaults as “mistakes” especially since it was made clear that what she did was basically sexual assault.  And some in the comment section of both columns agree, particularly imisslincoln, who writes:

“Actually disagree on the advice to RAPIST. While I don’t disagree that what happened was not rape in the way I’m comfortable defining rape, what happened was certainly traumatic for the man in question. Do we discount this? Do we ignore his embodied experience of violation? I agree that if he remains completely unwilling to see his partner’s side of things, then the relationship should probably end, but perhaps he just needs some time to process what happened and recover.”

And Jadey, who wrote on Feminste: “If this guy feels that he was raped (and he may not be comfortable describing himself that way for so many reasons), I wouldn’t say he wasn’t. Her intentionality doesn’t matter to his feelings of violation. I would feel the same way regardless of the gender IDs of the people involved, which is not to ignore larger social trends in sexual violence and who is most vulnerable to such violence (women and girls, yes, but also people marginalized in many ways, including the economically and racially marginalized, disabled, etc., of all genders), but to recognize that in a given individual instance, men can be and are raped and their consent matters and just because they have had sex with someone before, even in the context of a long-term sexually-active relationship, does not mean their consent can just be assumed or that they are a “guilt-tripping, blame-shifting motherfucker” for feeling violated.”

The traditional notion of rape is reinforced by various misconceptions about male victimization as well as social stigmas.  For instance, many people believe that it is impossible for a woman to rape a man because they believe that a man has to sort of function to complete the task. And if there is there an erectile reaction, well then, that has to be voluntary.  It is a reasoning, which appears to be backed up statistics from the U.S. Department of Justice, which says that an estimated 99% of offenders of sexual assault are described as male.

Thus stories about men, who have claimed to have been sexually assaulted by a female assailant are usually shrugged off or viewed from a comedic lens. Take for instance the recent story of female Zimbabwe rapists, who would troll the highways in search of male hitchhikers, in order to harvest their sperm. The assailants have so far evaded capture however the story has made its rounds around the news cycle, not in hopes of drawing attention for the purpose of arrest of said preps’, but for clearly pure amusement. Heck, even the perpetrators have been christened with the cutesy name, the Zimbabwe sperm hunters, by the mainstream media. Imagine a seeing a news report about a male serial rapists known as the ovaries stabber? Not so funny now, is it?

But that hasn’t stopped the majority of the comments accompanying the stories from running the gamut of questioning the male victim’s sexuality (because what man doesn’t want it, right?) to accusing the men of having ulterior motives (because they had to be asking for it, right?) Of course, any physical contact with genitalia can stimulate arousal if not ejaculation. This too is a common occurrence among female victims of sexual assault, but we can’t let that get in the way of a good “beautiful women, free sex? I need a one way ticket to Zimbabwe” joke.

The thing about sexual assault is that it is not just reserved for the overpowering physical superior perp we are used to seeing in movies. Sexual assault does cover a wide range of crimes including sodomy, insertion of a foreign object and statutory rape too.  And yes, women do commit many of those crimes against men. In fact, the frequency of news stories we read about school teachers engaged in sexual assault and misconduct against underage boys should let us know not to treat this as some sort of freakish occurrence worthy of amusement and ridicule.

According to the National Alliance to End Sexual Violence (NASV), a Washington based association working to end sexual violence; about 14 percent of reported rapes in the US involve men or boys. This equates to one in six reported sexual assaults is against a boy and one in 25 reported sexual assaults is against a man. That just accounts for those brave enough to report it. And that’s the most problematic part of making lightly, or casually dismissing sexual assault against men, is that we create a climate of fear, compounded guilt and shame for male victims to speak publicly or even report about their experiences to the proper authorities. And this is important as sexual assault is not just about sex. It’s about the expression of power, dominance and control over a victim. And whenever we dismiss or make light of male victims of sexual assault because they happen to be the less effected gender, we make it easier for folks to lessen the severity of the crime, regardless of gender.

Photo courtesy of Shutterstock.com.

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