Men and Sexual Assault

Why are men committing 90% of sexual assaults?

You’re not supposed to be scared of checking your emails.

I mean sure, you may be anxiously awaiting news of a package delivery, or whether your professor is going to respond to your email before class starts, but these are rarely reasons that inspire true fear when you see a new message in you inbox.

And yet, for the last couple of weeks I’ve always felt a moment of dread as I’ve waited for my email home screen to load – although we’ve only been in school for a couple of weeks, I’ve already received three email alerts that a sexual assault has taken place on campus.

Although I’ve received these alert emails since starting at the university, this large amount in such a short time is shocking – the Collegian even published a brief article about it.

The emails themselves are pretty straightforward – vague information, a list of resources/people to contact with any additional issues or concerns, but it’s proof of a dramatically increasing problem with sexual assault in the United States, especially on college campuses.

Before we get into this though, we’re going to play a little game called two lies and a truth. I’m going to say (well, write) three commonly held ideas about sexual assault, two of which are false, one of which is true.

Let’s see if you can figure it out.

1) A lot of sexual assault reports turn out to be lies once they’re reported
2) You probably know someone who has been a victim of sexual assault, whether they’ve told you or not
3) Only women are at risk of sexual assault

Figure it out?

Let’s see. The first statement “A lot of sexual assault reports turn out to be lies one they’re reported” is a big, fat, LIE.

The number reports of sexual assaults that turn out to be false is estimated to be between 2-8%, which is the same number of other falsely reported crimes, like arson and theft.

Genuine cases of sexual assault are actually drastically under-reported – according to the American Civil Liberties Union, 95% of sexual assaults that occur on college campuses alone go unreported.

So the first statement is a lie.

This is very important to remember, since sexual assault victims and survivors often suffer from being blamed/not believed when they report the crime to either law enforcement or a confidant.

Lie number two was the third statement, “Only women are at risk of sexual assault.” Any member of society, regardless of sex, gender, class, race, etc., is at risk for sexual assault.

However, there are two things worth noting.

The first is that sexual assaults against men is an even more taboo subject than sexual assaults against women.

Statistically, 1 in 6 men will be victims of sexual assault; however, some speculate this number is actually higher, but the larger number of under-reported sex crimes from male victims keeps this statistic lower.

Why is it a more taboo/under-reported issue?

It ties back into social views on masculinity. Real “men” aren’t supposed to be victims, especially in a sex crime, a crime that is so often associated with female victims.

Also, there is the added stigma of the sex of the abuser. If it was a man than the victim also faces internalized and externalized homophobia. If the abuser was a woman than the man is also placed in the traditionally “female” role of an abusive relationship.

In both cases, men will intentionally remain silent about being victims of crimes because they fear it will negatively impact the way society views them as men.

So the third statement is also a lie – this is important to remember since the “traditional” victim of a sexual assault is a woman and assuming otherwise can have negative consequences on male victims.

Now, let’s look at the true statement, “You probably know someone who has been a victim of sexual assault, whether they’ve told you or not.”

I freely admit that had I been playing this game two years ago, I would have assumed that that was one of the untrue statements.

Statistically though, you probably do know a victim and a survivor.

The White House Not Alone report states that 1 in 5 women is sexually assaulted in college, while the world wide statistic for sexual assault against a woman in her lifetime is 1 in 4.

You can imagine how scary those numbers can be when I hang out with four female friends in my college’s dining hall.

This true statement is probably one of the most important things to recognize of the three, since I think there is a lot of “oh that only happens to other people” mentalities when it comes to sexual assault.

It doesn’t. And being aware of this helps protect yourself and the people you come into contact with, whether it’s preventive or reactionary.

So who is the cause behind all of these sexual assaults whether on the UR campus specifically or in society in general?

Statistically, it’s a man.

Although I think awareness of sexual assault in our society is essential and necessary, identifying the “cause” is the part I like the least, since it feels like we’re saying that an entire sex is a problem, not the abusers themselves.

But just bear with me for a second.

According to the University of Michigan’s Sexual Assault Prevention and Awareness Center, nearly 99% of abusers in single victim sex crimes were men.

This follows closely with the more widely stated statistic that men are committing 90% of all sexual assaults, whether single victim or serial.

It is important to note though that this is not saying that all men are the problem.
In fact, it is only a small percentage of men who are actually the abusers, and we should never forget that 10% of the abusers are women too.

However, with a number as high as 90%, there seems to be an issue that is specifically driving men towards this crime.

What is it?

In short, it’s the man box.

The man box includes a lot rules and regulations regarding how men are supposed to have and treat sex.

They are supposed to have sex with as many women as possible, are entitled to sex, and are encouraged to be aggressive and assertive in order to get it.

Don’t believe me?

Porn, which is the only sexual education curriculum most pre-teen boys have access to, has an increasing number of videos that show that sex with a woman should aggressive and demeaning to the female partner.

This teaches that sex is linked with violence and aggression (a message also supported by everything from advertisement to music videos, see Maroon 5’s “Animal” music video) and it has been linked to a rise in uncomfortable and often dangerous sexual relationships between young teenagers.

Of course, this type of behavior doesn’t just disappear as they enter college, and the added addition of alcohol can both aggravate this behavior as well provide an easily accessible victim pool.

That being said, it is important to remember that alcohol does not excuse this behavior, nor does it make the victim responsible for the crime.

Men are committing 90% of assaults because they are raised to believe that they are entitled to sex and encouraged by media to seek sexual gratification through aggressive and violent means.

The rise in attacks on college campuses specifically can often be linked to alcohol, although there are plenty of cases as well where neither the victim nor the abuser were drunk.

(For more information regarding sexual assaults on college campus, please attend the documentary screening of “The Hunting Ground” next semester – it is a documentary that specifically investigates sexual assaults on American college campuses.)

So what does this mean?

It means that, as these blog posts have already made very clear, that American masculinity is a breeding ground for many dangerous behaviors, including sexual assault.

That being said, it is only through the work of both men and women that the causes of sexual assault can be identified and prevented.