By Lizzie Zakaim
I’m sure everyone has heard the story before: A guy takes a girl home from a party. She’s drunk. They do something to which she did not consent. This story has many names: molestation, sexual assault and date rape to name a few. What many don’t know is that sexual assault on college campuses is as serious an issue for male victims as it is for female victims. Incidents of sexual assault against male victims are quite under-reported compared to those of female victims. It is important to shed some light on the issue of male victims of rape on college campuses and why the disparity exists between the two genders.
A CNN article from Sept. 22, 2015, reported on a survey conducted in that same year by the Association of American Universities that focused on sexual assault on college campuses. More than 150,000 students participated from 27 universities.
The results of the study showed that 23 percent of female college students experienced some form of unwanted sexual contact, according to the same CNN article. This includes anything from kissing to rape, carried out by force or the threat of force, or while incapacitated due to alcohol and drugs. Nearly 11 percent of those women said the unwanted contact included oral sex or penetration.
These statistics are shocking, and what’s worse to hear is that many of these cases go unreported. According to CNN, “More than 50 percent of the women who reported some of the most serious incidents, including forced penetration, didn’t report it because they didn’t think it was ‘serious enough,’” according to the survey. Others said they didn’t come forward because they were embarrassed, ashamed, thought it would be too emotionally difficult or they didn’t think anything would be done about it.”
But this is still just one side of the story.
Imagine the tables were turned and the genders switched. A boy is drunk at a party. A girl, stone cold sober, asks to go home with him to his apartment. He wakes up in the morning to find a naked girl in his bed and no memory of the night before. He kicks the girl out and makes her swear not to tell anyone because he has a girlfriend who would not be happy to about this.
Is this story as easy to label as the one in the first paragraph? Is this a story of a guy getting messed up and cheating on his girlfriend? A guy hooking up with a random girl at a party? Or can this be considered rape?
Sexual assault of males on college campuses has fallen to the wayside when compared with female victims. When we think of rape, we generally assume the victim is female, when in fact, according to Lester J. Manzano, a research student from the University of Vermont, “one in six college men are victims of sexual assault. Further research found that anywhere from 12 to 16 percent of male college students were forced into sexual intercourse by dating partners, and from less than one to seven percent of men reported being physically coerced into sex by dating partners.”
It’s clear that based on these statistics alone, women seem to be the victim of sexual assault more commonly than men. But as Manzano said in his report, “Men Raped: Supporting the Male Survivor of Sexual Assault on the College Campus,” rape is not primarily a crime of sex, but one of violence.
Statistics, though generally accurate, do not tell the whole story. Yes, 12 to 16 percent of college men were victims of sexual assault, but those numbers only represent the cases that were reported. There may very well be men out there who have been raped and have not come forward with their story. Why? Because perhaps men are too uncomfortable admitting they were victims of sexual assault, or perhaps because they themselves don’t recognize that they were even assaulted.
This misunderstanding stems from how we may view rape as a crime not of sex, but instead as a crime of gender. If the male college student in the above scenario were a girl, we would have no problem labeling her as a victim.
Is this because of the generalized gender roles that society has defined for us?
Manzano explains that “Sexual assault, in general, is a rarely reported crime. Male sexual assault is even more under-reported. Much of this is a result of the myths about such incidents. College students’ beliefs such as ‘It can’t happen to men’ or ‘Men are able to handle such a situation’ contribute to stereotypes, prejudices and disbelief when it comes to reporting an incident of male sexual assault.
“Society believes that men are emotionally strong, and many people assume that male sexual assault survivors are able to cope with the experience,” Manzano continued. “However, men are more likely than women to blame themselves for not being able to resist the attacker.”
Men react differently to rape than women because of the way they view their gender roles in society.
“These differences in male and female responses to sexual assault may be seen as a reflection of sex-role socialization,” Manzano said. “Emotional expression in men is perceived as a sign of weakness and vulnerability, both of which are evidence that they are less than ‘real men.’ However, most findings suggest that male victims of sexual assault experience very similar responses to those of females.”
I believe that the image we have of men and women, as well as the images men themselves reinforce in typical scenarios of sexual assault, makes it harder for us to see their roles reversed. Since we are so often exposed to the portrayal of women as victims, not just in sexual assault cases, but in general, we are less likely to put men in the same position.
We cannot allow our preconceived notions of gender to cloud our perceptions of serious situations such as sexual assault. Victims of rape, whether male or female, are victims just the same and deserve all the support they can get from people who understand the severity of what they went through.
Students share opinions around campus
More awareness for male victims?
“Yeah, definitely… It’s an important issue for everyone, regardless of gender.”
“Yes… We should be educated equally on the dangers that both genders face.”