When Lara Stemple, a researcher at UCLA looked at the latest National Crime Victimization Survey, she was shocked to see that men experienced rape and sexual assault almost as frequently as women, and that women were often the perpetrators. Once the definition of rape was expanded to include more than just penetration, it became clear that men and women were equally likely to be raped, and more importantly, equally likely to be rapists. Researchers from the University of Missouri got the same results, finding that “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.”
Sexual assault on college campuses and how that is handled has been all over the news lately, with even the President taking time to address the issue. But almost without exception, all the cases given as examples involve women as victims and men as perpetrators. Yet the survey and the confirmation from independent researchers indicates that men are often the victims and women the perpetrators.
So yes, let’s teach men what sexual consent means and how to obtain it. But let’s teach women that, too, because there are apparently a lot of women who do not understand the concept very well. Let’s teach men that women can be assailants and that they are under no obligation to accept or remain silent about unwanted sexual aggression from women. If consent is indeed “sexy”, then it needs to be applied equally. Current campaigns to encourage enthusiastic consent almost always target men, which is why I find them so irritating. It’s not the consent part that annoys me, it’s the fact that the campaigns imply that only men need to be certain they have on-going, enthusiastic agreement to sexual activity. This plays into the stereotype that men are little more than animals, willing to have sex at all times, with any willing or unwilling partner. I hope we can all agree that this is, indeed, a stereotype that is deeply insulting and dehumanizing. If we recast consent to include both men and women, we can accomplish two things simultaneously: we can get both men and women to understand that unwanted sexual behavior is assault whether it comes from men or women, and that women are equally capable of being the perpetrators.
Given my previous column about men’s reproductive rights and the fact that they effectively do not have any, and can be forced into parenthood, it seems particularly compelling that we teach men to understand unwanted sexual behaviors from women as rape and assault because a rape that ends in a pregnancy can mean a lifetime of consequences for the man who was raped. He will still be liable for any child that results from the encounter, whether he participated willingly or not. Think that is a joke? It’s happening already. Women who become pregnant after statutory rape can and do sue the boys they raped for child support. When Jane Crane raped a 15 year old boy in Ohio, she was charged with a felony and awarded child support. From her victim. Even when the rape is more physically aggressive, the woman will still be awarded child support from the man she raped. Jessica Fuller aggressively raped Kris Bucher and was awarded support for the child that resulted.
How can women aggressively rape men? It’s very simple: men do not fight back because they will be the party arrested, as specified under the Violence Against Women Act, which has a mandatory arrest clause that almost always means the man will be arrested, no matter who the primary aggressor happened to be. A man who physically, violently resists unwanted sexual behaviors or any other physical attack from a woman will be arrested, and most men know that. That is why Solange felt perfectly safe slapping, kicking and punching Jay Z. If he lifted a finger in his own defense, he would be the one arrested.
Given that men have no reproductive rights, and given that men will be arrested if they physically resist unwanted sexual aggression from women, it is even more vital that we begin educating men about consent and victimization. But there is no point educating men if we are not going to educate women at the same time. A popular poster campaign suggests that we need to teach men not to rape. Well, okay. As long as we teach women not to rape, too. All rape is bad. No matter who the victim is, no matter who the assailant is. It’s not okay.
And we especially need to teach men that when it comes to being the victim of rape, they are the ones with the most to lose.