I applaud those who have joined the #MeToo campaign in recent weeks and have spoken out against sexual harassment. The abusive actions of powerful Hollywood producer Harvey Weinstein, which prompted the outpouring of stories, as well as the many other famous abusers who have been identified in the time since then, should be condemned, not just by women, but by men, too. Using any form of power or authority to abuse and take advantage of others is wrong and unethical.
Persons who experience sexual abuse rarely report it and that’s what’s so important about this moment. People are speaking out and perpetrators are being held accountable.
The revelation that “House of Cards” star Kevin Spacey sexually harassed 18-year-old Harry Dreyfuss and actor Antony Rapp when he was a teenager reveals that such behavior also can be experienced by men. Actor Terry Crews also recently revealed he never felt more emasculated than after he was assaulted by Adam Venit, who is head of the motion picture at one of the biggest agencies in the world. There is more limited data on just how many men face sexual abuse, in part because for most men it is harder and more difficult to talk about it. It is assumed they are the perpetrators rather than the victims. But there are some data suggesting the scope.
The U.S.-based organization 1 in 6 shows that at least one in six men have faced abusive sexual experiences before age 18. According to a literature review that studied the sexual abuse of American male college students, one study found that in the previous year, roughly 19 to 31 percent of male college students experienced some kind of unwanted sexual contact. In another study in which 51 per cent of college men said they had experienced sexual victimization since age 16, more of these men said women were the perpetrators than other men.
While men are most often the perpetrators, indeed, women can be as well, as detailed in the new paper Sexual Victimisation Perpetrated by Women: Federal Data Reveal Surprising Prevalence. It found that, “The form of nonconsensual sex that men are much more likely to experience than women, namely, being ‘made to penetrate’ someone else, is frequently perpetrated by women with 79.2 per cent of victimized men reporting abuse at the hands of female perpetrators.”
In the workplace context, the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission found that in 2016, about 16 per cent of the reported cases of sexual harassment were reported by men. Research conducted in Australia by Professor Paula McDonald from the QUT Business School and Professor Sara Charlesworth from RMIT, revealed that women were accused of sexually harassing men in 5 per cent of cases and men accused other men in 11 per cent of cases. "Men are overwhelmingly responsible for sexual harassment against women in the workplace, but men are also the targets of sexual harassment far more commonly than typically assumed by researchers or the community at large," Professor McDonald said.
Last year, several men shared their stories of sexual abuse on Reddit. One man shared how his colleague would routinely spank his butt while walking by when nobody else was around and talk inappropriately toward him. He felt she got away with her behavior because she was the manager's daughter.
I have experienced workplace sexual harassment, too. A few years ago, I was raising funds for projects to support youths and women and was meeting various potential supporters and partners. On one occasion during an event, a respectable businesswoman whose company operates in several countries approached me. I was of course keen to create a partnership that would benefit our organization’s projects. She invited me to a private clubhouse to meet her other executive. However, when I arrived, she was alone and after a while she started making inappropriate sexual advances. I tried to remain calm, but when it became too much, I stormed out of the room. A few months after the incident, she blocked another organization whose senior executive was her friend from signing a partnership with our organization.
This is not okay.
I didn’t talk about what happened with anyone for a long time. This is not unusual. Most men who experience sexual assault or abuse never reveal it to anyone because they fear being labeled unmanly, disbelieved, ridiculed or, in the case of heterosexual men if the perpetrator is male, being perceived as gay. According to ‘The Reporting of Domestic Violence and Sexual Assault by Nonstrangers to the Police,’ men rarely report such incidences to the police. This contributes to their experiences being overlooked.
Issues like sexual abuse and domestic violence are often labeled as “women issues” and many men feel they should neither pay attention nor identify themselves as victims. While women overall do face higher rates of abuse and often are not in the same positions of power as men, men cannot be excluded from the conversations. They are victims, perpetrators and witnesses to such forms of abuse and they are also the family and friends of victims and perpetrators.
We shall only truly effectively reduce sexual and domestic abuse if men and women come together with a recognition that all genders can be perpetrators, victims and solution-providers.
Evans Wadongo (@evanswadongo) is a social entrepreneur and development expert based in Nairobi, Kenya. He is an alumni of the Aspen Institute New Voices Fellowship.