Does Gender Bias and Victim Blaming Put Both Sexes at Risk for Sexual Assault?

A friend recently brought an article to my attention about a seasoned sexual assault detective who, after years on the job, was sexually assaulted. Aside from the irony of the victim's profession, I read the article to see why else this story had attracted so much attention. It was not surprising to read that the officer-turned-victim experienced the same shame and anxiety that is common for most victims of sexual assault. Additionally, like 95% of sexual assault victims, the officer did not want to report the crime to the proper authorities. There was only one outlier in this story: the rape victim was an adult male.

When most people hear the term "rape victim," the image of an adult male is not what typically comes to mind. In cases of rape, men are usually associated with assailants rather than victims. Perhaps this is because 90% of rape victims are female, and the majority of rapists are male. These statistics do not make men immune from rape, in fact, 1 in every 33 men are sexually assaulted in their lifetime. In the US a sexual assault occurs every 2 minutes.

Why is it that most people think of women when they hear the term "rape victim?" Is it because of statistics, or has the media and culture accepted this as the status quo? Globally there are still many cultures that shun female rape victims. Victim blaming occurs, even in modern American society. Think back to two of the most common excuses made by victim blamers and rapist sympathizers: "She was dressed provocatively," and "She had a bad reputation." Both excuses not only sexualize rape crimes, but place the blame of rape on the female victim's sexuality.

Recently, I heard about an 11-year-old girl who was raped by 19 young men. The story gets worse as this little girl, who had just been gang-raped, became the target of victim blaming. The TV anchor quotes one of the rapists, who defends himself by saying, "She looked older than 11."

The victim's father says, "She may look older than 11, but she still has the mind of a child." It doesn't really matter what her father said because he shouldn't have to be on the defense. I still cannot fathom how these men could even attempt to blame this young girl, or why the media has given them a voice to do so. If the United States as a whole valued women as equal and worthy citizens, the validity of their rape claims would not be questioned, they would not be blamed for someone else's crimes, and the media wouldn't even consider giving rapists a pulpit from which to blame the victim.

In this country, rape is often a condition in which women are the cause and the blame. Perhaps the media and widespread victim blaming has actually confused the public about motivations for rape. Rape is not about sexual pleasure: it is about power, humiliation, and control. The rapist gains this control by using sex as a weapon. Perhaps few sexual assault victims speak up about their crimes because victim blamers often receive more validation than the victims themselves. Only 1 in 16 rapists will ever go to jail, and even the ones who serve time often get lenient sentences. The majority of rapists rarely serve time, and often commit several rapes before being reported or caught. Rape is a crime so personal, it often shames victims into silence. Even the sexual assault detective, a man familiar with the systems and procedures of reporting sex crime, avoided reporting his rape after he became a victim.

It is arguable that instances of male rapes, which account for 10% of rape crimes in the U.S. each year, often garner more attention than incidents of female rapes. Does male rape surprise society because of the gender stereotypes attributed to a man's strength and power? Or, perhaps in many cultures, including American, women are often considered the weaker sex, thus making them targets for rape crimes that perpetrators more often than not get away with.

Conclusively, these stereotypes put both sexes at risk. The statistic that 90% of rape victims are female paired with the male officer-turned-victim scenario illustrates that male rape happens less frequently. As a result, most men are unaware that they could one day be the target of sexual assault. Perhaps these dangerous implications keep men from taking precautions. Among rape victims, men are the least likely to report an assault. Though women continue to represent the majority of rape victims, societal misinformation puts both genders at risk. In the meantime, the cultural prevalence of taboos and victim blaming continue to inexcusably shame sexual assault victims of both genders into silence.

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