Can You Rape a Man? Federal Definition of Sex Crimes Expanded

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Guest blogger Margo Mullinax explores the implications of the FBI's updates to the Federal definition of "forcible rape."

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Photo: Estate of George Platt Lynes

Male rape has been long ignored on the federal level.

It is hard to say the phrase “carnal knowledge of a female” in anything but a dramatic tone of voice, and the images that come to mind are from a bad romance novel or old black and white movie.  Until recently, though, this wording has been the root of the federal definition of rape.  Thanks to the Obama administration’s response to pressure from women’s rights and gay activists groups, the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) has expanded their definition of sex crimes, which has remained the same since the 1920’s (!).  This new definition is meant to gather more accurate data on rapes (whereas legal prosecution is based on individual state definitions).  This is important, because having statistics helps to fund programs for victims of sexual assault and to direct prevention efforts.  In recognition, I would like to dedicate a series of blog posts to the topic of ‘sex crimes.’

Male Rape Is Not a Myth

So who and what are included under the new definition?  Men, for starters.  The fact is there is an overwhelming silence around the idea of men as victims of sexual crimes, both in popular discourse and academic research.  The adult rape of men is considered a myth by many.  While women are disproportionately affected, the truth is an estimated 5-10% of rape cases are men, according to the National Center for Victims of Crime .  Some research shows that men are more likely to be victims of gang rape, and that physical injury is more likely to occur during the rape of a man versus that of a woman.  The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) states that nearly 1 in 71 men have been raped in their lifetime, 1 in 7 men experienced severe physical violence by an intimate partner, and 1 in 19 men have experienced stalking in their lifetime.

Keep in mind that most rapes go unreported, and men may have even more reasons than women NOT to report sex crimes.  Men who do report rape are often blamed harshly for failing to fight back or appearing scared.  Men who are victims of female perpetrators are often completely discredited.

Oral and anal sex are also now included in the FBI definition, as well as penetration by “any body part or object,” “no matter how slight.”   If you don’t think that oral sex is a form of rape, I recommend you pick up The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo by Stieg Larsson.   Research shows that men are more likely to be penetrated anally and/or orally than women during a sex crime.

So, the next time you hear the words ‘rape’ or ‘sex crimes,’ stop a second before making assumptions.  This is the perfect time to start an open and honest conversation about sex crimes in our society, a conversation that includes both men and women, equally invested in stopping acts of sexual violence.

In closing, another area of improvement in the new FBI definition is the removal of the wording “forcibly and against her will.”  The issue of consent is important, especially with men who may become involuntarily erect during a rape, which will be the topic for next time.

For more information, please see the Kinsey Confidential resource pages on sexual assault.

Margo Mullinax, MPH, is currently an instructor at Indiana University, while working towards her PhD in Health Behavior.  She is also a project coordinator for the Center for Sexual Health Promotion.  

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