Keeping Things in Perspective

CNN recently published a “Roundup” of sex abuse allegations. They covered not only Penn State, but Syracuse, The Citadel and Oklahoma universities as well as the Amateur Athletic Union (AAU). Though all the charges have not been detailed, most of the allegations involve male sexual abuse of boys or young men. (We’re still not sure where the Oklahoma charges will land in this respect.)
The CDC’s just-released survey, National Intimate Partner and Sexual Violence Survey, shines a spotlight on the entirety of sexual abuse in the United States. It’s a sobering study with unsettling findings.

  • Nearly 1 in 5 women (18.3%) and 1 in 71 men (1.4%) in the United States have been raped at some time in their lives.
  • Most female victims of completed rape (79.6%) experienced their first rape before the age of 25; 42.2% experienced their first completed rape before the age of 18 years.
  • More than one-quarter of male victims of completed rape (27.8%) experienced their first rape when they were 10 years of age or younger.
  • More than one-third (35.2%) of the women who reported a completed rape before the age of 18 also experienced a completed rape as an adult. The percentage of women who were raped as children or adolescents and also raped as adults was more than two times higher than the percentage among women without an early rape history.

As revolting as the university rape scandals are, the CDC study puts them into much-needed perspective.
FIRST, women continue to be raped at a higher rate than men. There is very little in the current media coverage that would give that impression. Perhaps it’s that the outrage is greater; not just that it’s male-male rape, but that the victims tend to be younger. Whatever. Females are as much as 13 times more likely to be raped than males.
SECOND, there is some indication that male rape may be under-reported. The CDC study notes that “Too few men reported rape victimization in adulthood to examine rape victimization as a minor and subsequent rape victimization in adulthood.” [p. 26] The lower rate of reporting may well be attributed to stigma as well as a lower rate of incidence; we routinely see victim reporting increase after allegations are made public.
THIRD, the impacts of sexual assault reach far beyond the incident itself. Men and women who experienced rape or stalking by any perpetrator or physical violence by an intimate partner in their lifetime were more likely to report frequent headaches, chronic pain, difficulty with sleeping, activity limitations, poor physical health and poor mental health than men and women who did not experience these forms of violence.
If there is one critical takeaway from Butcher, Baker, it’s that the chronic victimization of women tends to dull the responsiveness of key institutions. That is doubly so when the women involved happen to be topless dancers or prostitutes. The good news here is that a spotlight is now shining on the sexual violence against young men and boys. Thanks to the CDC, that light now shines across the entire landscape.
As the study concludes, “Sexual violence, stalking, and intimate partner violence can be prevented with data-driven, collaborative action.” The CDC has some data to back up that optimism.
We just hope they’re right.

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