I have written about the discrepancy between the categories and definitions used by the National Intimate Partner and Sexual Violence Survey (NISVS) and the uniform definitions the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) had published at that time (UD2009) which was a minor revision of the uniform definitions published in 2002 (UD2002).
I recently became aware that last December the CDC have published a new version of the document, “Sexual Violence Surveillance: Uniform Definitions and Recommended Data Elements” (UD2014), on their website. A panel of 11 experts which received comments from seven leaders in the field wrote this document. The panel started its work in October 2010 with this stated agenda:
The key issues discussed and considered by the in-person expert panel that were directly relevant to the SV definitions document were the following: 1) how and if to include unwanted non-physically pressured sex, 2) how and if to include sexual harassment, 3) whether or not to expand the meaning of “completed sex act” to identify who penetrates whom, and 4) how and if to update the Recommended Data Elements.
There is something strange with the timeline here. The CDC collected the survey data for the NISVS 2010 throughout the year 2010 and the survey included questions about penetration which identified who penetrated whom. Hence the panel started when the NISVS surveying was almost done.
It appears the team designing the NISVS had already decided to expand the meaning of “completed sex act” (from the 2002 and 2009 Uniform Definitions) into “victim being penetrated” and “victim being made to penetrate,” but where the 2002 and 2009 Uniform Definitions stated that all non-consenting “completed sex acts” were rape, the NISVS 2010 authors decided that “victim being penetrated” would be categorized as rape while “being made to penetrate” would not.
The new uniform definitions document (UD2014) acknowledges this by presenting the following findings from the NISVS 2011 in its introduction:
• 1 in 5 women and nearly 1 in 59 men have experienced an attempted or completed rape in their lifetime, defined as penetrating a victim by use of force or through alcohol/drug facilitation;
• Approximately 1 in 15 men (6.7%) reported that they were made to penetrate someone else during their lifetime;
This is how the NISVS presented its findings with its categorization of “being penetrated” as rape and “being made to penetrate” as not rape.
The documents define these terms:
- Consent: Words or overt actions by a person who is legally or functionally competent to give informed approval, indicating a freely given agreement to have sexual intercourse or sexual contact.
- Inabillity to Consent: A freely given agreement to have sexual intercourse or sexual contact could not occur because of the victim’s age, illness, mental or physical disabillity, being asleeep or unconscious, or being too intoxicated (e.g., incapacitation, lack of consciousness, or lack of awareness) through their voluntary or involuntary use of alcohol or drugs.
- Inabillity to Refuse: Disagreement to engage in a sexual act was precluded because of the use or posession of guns or other non-bodily weapons, or due to physical violence, threats of physical violence, intimidation or pressure, or misuse of authority.
In my view these definitions are pretty sound. The definition of “inabillity to consent” goes a long way in disarming some of the more common MRA arguments against the alcohol-facilitated categories. Being intoxicated is in itself not enough to make one unable to give proper consent — one has to be too intoxicated to the extent of being incapacitated, being unconscious or lacking awareness.
Sexual violence is divided into the following types:
- Completed or attempted forced penetration of a victim
- Completed or attempted alcohol/drug-facilitated penetration of a victim
- Completed or attempted forced acts in which a victim is made to penetrate a perpetrator or someone else
- Completed or attempted alcohol/drug-facilitated acts in which a victim is made to penetrate a perpetrator or someone else
- Non-physical forced penetration which occurs after a person is pressured verbally or through intimidation or misuse of authority to consent or acquiesce
- Unwanted sexual contact
- Non-contact unwanted sexual experiences
The document states that the ordering of these types is not intended to suggest a hierarchy of resulting trauma. Yet I’d argue that the NISVS categorization of which acts are considered rape and which aren’t in effect does exactly that. This document (UD2014) does not state which acts are rape and which are not. In fact the word ‘rape’ is largely absent from the document. It only occurs in the listed findings from the NSIVS and when it’s part of an organization’s name (e.g., Pennsylvania Coalition Against Rape).
Perhaps that is a good sign in that “made to penetrate” won’t be obscured by inclusion in the much wider supercategory “Other sexual violence” in future NISVS … although I have to say based on the response I’ve received earlier from the CDC on NISVS I suspect they will continue using the category ‘rape’ and continue to exclude a large number of male victims who’ve been made to have sex with a perpetrator.
The Really Bad
However, there was something which made me pause. And that is the change in the definition of coerced sex.
In NISVS it’s defined as this:
Sexual coercion is defined as unwanted sexual penetration that occurs after a person is pressured in a nonphysical way. In NISVS, sexual coercion refers to unwanted vaginal, oral, or anal sex after being pressured in ways that included being worn down by someone who repeatedly asked for sex or showed they were unhappy; feeling pressured by being lied to, being told promises that were untrue, having someone threaten to end a relationship or spread rumors; and sexual pressure due to someone using their influence or authority.
Although there is some ambiguity whether it includes men made to penetrate someone else by non-physical pressure when the definition uses the term “unwanted sexual penetration” it goes on to state “unwanted vaginal, oral, or anal sex”. In addition the actual question asked in the NISVS says:
Sometimes unwanted sexual contact happens after a person is pressured in a non-physical way.
How many people have you had vaginal, oral, or anal sex with after they pressured you by…
This gender-neutral language also resulted in 6% of men stating that they were a victim of sexual coercion and 83.6% of these male victims reported a female perpetrator.
The name and definition of this type in UD2014 however says this (italics are mine):
Nonphysically Pressured Unwanted Penetration
Victim was pressured verbally or through intimidation or misuse of authority to consent or acquiesce to being penetrated. Examples include being worn down by someone who repeatedly asked for sex or showed they were unhappy; feeling pressured by being lied to, or being told promises that were untrue; having someone threaten to end a relationship or spread rumors; and sexual pressure due to someone using their influence or authority (this is not an exhaustive list).
Here it explicitly constrains the definition to only include victims who are penetrated. There is no corresponding item for men who do not want to penetrate someone else, but who are nonphysically pressured to do so. With ‘how to include unwanted non-physically pressured sex’ being one of the four specific points up for consideration by the panel, I have a hard time believing that this omission was made by ignorance or ineptitude.
If future NISVS is implementing these new Uniform Definitions then CDC will erase as many as 6,806,000 male victims of sexual coercion from the statistics.
I have mailed the CDC with my concerns where I ask them what is the rationale behind this omission. I also ask whether they will amend their uniform definitions to include men who are nonphysically pressured to penetrate when they didn’t want to. If I receive any reply I’ll either update this post or make a new one.
This post has also been published on FeministCritics