Yes, men can be raped. For the first time since 1927, the US federal definition of rape was changed to include sexual violence against men, as well. The previous definition was narrowly defined to cover sexual violence against women only:
The old definition, in effect since 1927, said that “forcible rape” was “the carnal knowledge of a female, forcibly and against her will.” It covered only forcible penile penetration of a vagina. The new definition is “the penetration, no matter how slight, of the vagina or anus with any body part or object, or oral penetration by a sex organ of another person, without the consent of the victim.”
This is a late, but much needed change to account for the reality that men are raped. The New York Times featured an article two days ago on men as survivors of sexual violence. They include some troubling statistics, many which challenge the stereotypes and myths about sexual violence.
While most experts agree women are raped far more often than men, 1.4 percent of men in a recent national survey said they had been raped at some point. The study, by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, found that when rape was defined as oral or anal penetration, one in 71 men said they had been raped or had been the target of attempted rape, usually by a man they knew. (The study did not include men in prison.)
And one in 21 said they had been forced to penetrate an acquaintance or a partner, usually a woman; had been the victim of an attempt to force penetration; or had been made to receive oral sex.
Other estimates have run even higher. A Department of Justice report found that 3 percent of men, or one in 33, had been raped. Some experts believe that one in six men have experienced unwanted sexual contact of some kind as minors.
And, other research points to the role of certain social institutions, and how sexual violence intersects with race and ethnicity, poverty, age, and health status:
In one study of 3,337 military veterans applying for disability benefits for post-traumatic stress disorder, 6.5 percent of male combat veterans and 16.5 percent of noncombat veterans reported either in-service or post-service sexual assault. (The rates were far higher for female veterans, 69.0 percent and 86.6 percent respectively.)
A Pentagon report released on Thursday found a 64 percent increase in sexual crimes in the Army since 2006, with rape, sexual assault and forcible sodomy the most frequent violent sex crimes committed last year; 95 percent of all victims were women.
Some studies have reported that the risk of rape is greatest for men who are young, are living in poverty or homeless, or are disabled or mentally ill. The C.D.C. study found that one-quarter of men who had been raped were assaulted before they were 10 , usually by someone they knew.
Like sexual violence against women, such violence is vastly underreported and usually does not lead to arrest and criminal punishment. Sexual violence, as an expression of power over another person, is, at least partially, a manifestation of other systems of power, including racism, homophobia, ableism, ageism, and classism. And, some institutions (e.g., colleges, military, churches) are structured in ways that can promote, condone, or make invisible sexual violence. Unfortunately, however, the gendering of sexual violence shapes men’s exposure to, experience with, and willingness to report sexual violence in ways that leave them doubting or questioning their gender identity, sexual orientation, and strength:
But men also face a challenge to their sense of masculinity. Many feel they should have done more to fight off their attackers. Since they may believe that men are never raped, they may feel isolated and reluctant to confide in anyone. Male rape victims may become confused about their sexual orientation or, if gay and raped by a man, blame their sexual orientation for the rape.
The change in the legal definition of rape is a good start. But, we have a long way to go to challenge our narrow, problematic understanding of sexual violence, rife with myths, stereotypes, victim-blaming, and narrow focus on individuals rather than the role of communities, society, culture, and social institutions.