Male victims ignored again: Estimating the Incidence of Rape and Sexual Assault by The National Research Council

A while ago I wrote a post about a Salon article titled “America still doesn’t know how to talk about rape” where I pointed out how that article somewhat ironic considering it’s title failed at talking about male rape. That article and another article I mentioned were based on the publication of a document titled “Estimating the Incidence of Rape and Sexual Assault” authored by The Panel on Measuring Rape and Sexual Assault in Bureau of Justice Statistics Household Surveys. I promised I would look further into that 266 pages long document.

Now I have read it in full and it seems the prospects of getting accurate statistics on male victimization of rape and sexual assault continues to be bleak.

The NCVS (National Crime Victimization Survey) has been criticized in a number of ways for not giving accurate enough statistics on rape and sexual assault. Compared to other surveys the NCVS appears to under-report the number of rape victims – NCVS only found about 15% of what the NISVS 2010 did for the year 2010 (the last 12 months).

I’ll take a look at some of the problems the authors see with the NCVS and at their proposed solutions and evaluate those in the context of male victims.

Sampling strategies

One problem identified in the document is how a low incidence rate of rape (and sexual assault) makes it difficult to get a greater precision in victimization rates. I’ll let the authors describe a possible solution they recommend looking into (page 163):

The proportion of a population with a specific attribute (in this case, having been
victimized by rape or sexual assault) can be estimated with greater precision by isolating
population subgroups with relatively higher attribute rates and then sampling those
subgroups more intensively than the rest of the target population. The higher the attribute
rate in a subgroup, the greater potential gains in precision. The first challenge in this
approach is to identify subgroups of people who are at higher risk of rape and sexual
assault criminal victimizations than the general population.

So let’s look at the additional frames they suggest (p.163):

This general purpose frame would be enhanced with one or more additional
frames that would focus on specific subgroups that are at higher risk for sexual assault
but are broader than a list of known sexual assault victims. Sources that might be used as
a sample frame include, but are not limited to:
• lists of female college students,
• women who use Indian health service facilities,
• assault cases known to law enforcement,
• people treated for trauma in hospital emergency departments,
• people who have filed a police report for any type of serious violent crime,
• residents of shelters for abused and battered women, and
• outpatients from mental health clinics.

To be fair they state that this  is not  an exhaustive list, but I think a clear bias is evidenced by the genderization of this list.
Considering that multiple studies have found quite a high victimization rate for sexual assault among male college students as well one wonder why they suggest to only use lists of female college students as a frame. The fact that there are no frames listed which looks at specific subgroups of men who are at higher risk of sexual assault is also jarring.

Examples that come to mind are:

  • Present or former jail and prison inmates
  • People who have been or are in juvenile detention
  • Homeless people
  • People in the armed forces

This bias is apparent later in the document as well. The authors note the current problem with NCVS not being private. All household members are interviewed (so everyone knows which questions are asked – which may make it harder for someone to report for instance incest or spousal rape) and no steps are taken to ensure that other household members can’t overhear the interview. One suggestion made is to select one member of each household to interview.
Here’s one section on this (p.170):

The selection of a single respondent within a household should not be made with
equal probabilities of selection. Instead, individuals whose demographics would put them
at greater risk for sexual criminalization (females, certain age groups, etc.) would have
higher probabilities of selection. This would be straightforward in a survey specifically
designed for measuring rape and sexual assault.

Definitions

The authors note that for the NISVS 2010 include inability to consent in its definition of rape and sexual assaults and recommends that NCVS update their definition of rape to also include inability to consent. The new suggested definition of rape is (box 10-2 p.172):

Rape – Forced sexual intercourse including both psychological coercion, as well as
physical force, and the victim’s inability to consent. Forced sexual intercourse means
vaginal, anal or oral penetration by the offender(s). This category also includes incidents
where the penetration is from a foreign object such as a bottle. Includes attempted rapes,
male as well as female victims, and both heterosexual and homosexual rape. Attempted
rape includes verbal threats of rape.

Disappointingly, but yet unsurprisingly, the proposed new definition of rape does not include made to penetrate. In other words, a man forced to have his penis inside another person’s mouth, vagina or anus is not considered being a rape victim.
I also question the decision to include verbal threats of rape as rape attempts although this part is not new and is a part of the current definition of rape in use by the NCVS.

That would mean that a woman undressing a sleeping man, fondling his genitals to get an erection and then attempting to put the sleeping man’s penis inside her own mouth, vagina or anus, but not succeeding because the man woke up and pushed her off would not be a rape attempt.  If the man however, also yelled “Stop or I’ll fucking ram my fingers up your arse!” then it would be a rape attempt perpetrated by the man against the woman.

And threats like “I’ll fuck you while your asleep and can’t stop me” is considered rape attempts if uttered by a man while they are not when uttered by a woman.

The proposed new definition for sexual assault is (box 10-2 p.172):

Sexual Assault – A wide range of criminal victimizations, separate from rape or
attempted rape. These crimes include attacks or attempted attacks generally involving
unwanted sexual contact between victim and offender. Sexual assaults may or may not
involve force and include such things as grabbing or fondling. Sexual assault also
includes verbal threats and situations where the victim does not have the capability to
consent.

Which is pretty much useless in its vagueness. Presumably made to penetrate would be included under “sexual assault” together with grabbing or fondling. Although whether the survey will count victims of being made to penetrate at all would very much be dependent on the questions asked in the survey. Being forced to have vaginal, oral or anal sex where one’s genitalia was put inside the perpetrators body isn’t something I would describe as being grabbed or fondled and I suspect I am not the only victim thinking that.

There are recommendations put forth that I agree with – although they don’t amount too much for male victims considering the above mentioned points. Here are one of them:

The NCVS is only one of several large household surveys conducted by the
Census Bureau. The new survey may work better as a supplement to one of these other
surveys rather than to the NCVS. For example, the American Community Survey (ACS)
may be an appropriate vehicle. Because of the panel design of the ACS, the Census
Bureau could select individual household members (by appropriate demographic and
geographic characteristics) who are at higher risk for rape and sexual assault. Using the
ACS as a base for the new survey would avoid the context of a “crime.”

The suggestion to decouple questions about sexual assault and rape from the NCVS I suspect would among other things capture more male victims who at the time does not consider what happened to them to be a crime and/or perhaps not even consider themselves a victim (for instance Chris Brown). As the authors themselves states:

Concern about the context of crime in the NCVS and the use of terms such as
“rape” and “sexual assault,” and their potential effect to inhibit the reporting of incidents
of rape and sexual assault, are discussed in depth in Chapter 4 and 8. Some respondents
may not view their victimization as a criminal. Or they may have decided not to report
the incident to police as a crime and now have concerns about reporting it on a
government crime survey. When asked specifically about “rape” and “sexual assault,”
survey respondents may not consistently or accurately understand those terms. Research
has shown that a change to behaviorally specific questions increase reporting of the
criminal victimizations (Fisher, 2009). As detailed in Chapter 8, the context of a crime
survey is likely to inhibit positive responses (Conclusion 8-5 in Chapter 8, and the use of
behaviorally specific questions would likely lead to more accurate responses (Conclusion
8-4 in Chapter 8.)

All points which we know is especially valid for male victims. How it plays out however depends very much on which specific questions are
included and which are excluded. And given the suggested definitions of rape and sexual assault I don’t remain optimistic about this will have any impact on the accuracy of counting male victims.

Speaking of questions, the document suggest using “behaviorally specific” questions because they explicitly describe a set of behaviors rather than using terms like “rape” and so on which may have different meanings for different respondents (seeing as that term has different legal meanings in different jurisdictions for instance). Using behaviorally specific questions would also benefit the accuracy of counting male victims – but that of course is dependent on them being specific for they ways male victims are victimized, like made to penetrate, and I see no sign that the authors have paid any attention to that at all.

The document looked at 5 (8) other rape and sexual assault surveys (including NCVS) – most of them heavily biased towards female victims:

  • National Crime Victimization Survey
  • National Women’s Study
  • National Violence Against Women Study
  • National College Women Sexual Victimization Study
  • National Intimate Partner and Sexual Violence Survey

And an additional three surveys not discussed in chapter 5, but included in appendix D:

  • National Survey of Inter-Gender Relationships
  • National Women’s Study: Replicate
  • Campus Sexual Assault Study

They included NISVS 2010 which at least did explicitly count male victims of made to penetrate although it didn’t categorize that as rape. The NISVS is described and discussed in chapter 5 (p.86) and there is also a summary of the NISVS in appendix D (p.).

As a curiosity I’ll mention that for NISVS 2010 the category “Made to penetrate” was listed in chapter 5 (box 5-1 p.91) while it wasn’t mentioned at all in the section on NISVS 2010 in appendix D (table D-9 p.233) even though this table included all other sexual violence categories used by the NISVS 2010 including the “Noncontact unwanted sexual experiences” one. No other mention of this particular type of sexual violence victimization were found in this document.

Considered not important, swept under the carpet or just cut out to make the table fit on one page is anyone’s guess, but it reflects perfectly the amount of considerations towards getting more accurate statistics on male victims in this report: nil.

3 thoughts on “Male victims ignored again: Estimating the Incidence of Rape and Sexual Assault by The National Research Council

  1. I see your posts are very elaborate, so elaborate it would take hours to completely understand them.

    It would be good if you had short abstracts on top, that say your main theses.

    I am sure we agree on some points, and might disagree on others.

    Help! My 18 year old girl friend has raped me 298 times http://wp.me/pAecx-Hb

    http://human-stupidity.com/stupid-dogma/human-rights/feminist-rape-laws-dont-apply-to-male-prison-rape-victims

    You probably heard of Eivind Berge. He, the antifeminist.com and me are the only rare bloggers that are against most of the sex hysteria regarding *consensual “rape”. Who would want to get rid of most laws against consensual sex, and don’t see a point in extending them to women. (except for purely equality purpose, so they would join the fight to abolish them)

    I understand that Eivind Berge goes a little overboard in citing certain criminals and also in his categorical denial that men can never be raped (by a woman?).

    Come over to comment at human-stupidity.com Please ignore issues you don’t agree with and focus on the communalities.

    Unfortunately, I have many topics, and everyone will find a taboo topic where I offend him/her. Please ignore those

  2. Pingback: FBI Clarifies Definition Of Rape | Tamen's writings
  3. Pingback: rape of men about as prevalent as rape of women

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