Metoo Movement And the Sexual Assault of Males
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The #Metoo movement has fostered a space in society where women are feeling more comfortable with speaking out about their sexual assault experiences. However, as society continues to grow, it is important to recognize and hear the cries of those that are suffering in silence. The phenomena of a male being sexually assaulted is seen as nonexistent to many due to the long perception of a male perpetrator and a female victim. Thorough research on male sexual assault had not be conducted until recently as it was not until the early 1980s in which the effects of male sexual assault had been addressed in the community (Tewksbury, 2007). In 2013, the National Crime Victimization Survey conducted a survey on 40,000 households in the United States in which they found that 38% of men had experienced rape or some form of sexual violence (Rosin, 2014).
The history of male sexual assault can be traced all the way back to Greek mythology as there were stories in which males were abducted or sexually assaulted by other males or gods. Such as the story of Chrysippus, in which he was kidnapped and raped by his tutor, Laius (Chrystal, 2016, p. 7) and even Zeus who had raped Ganymede (Chrystal, 2018, p. 53). During times of war the sexual assault of males and females were tactics used to humiliate and terrorize individuals, such as during wars in Liberia and Uganda (Chynoweth, 2017).
Social norms about masculinity play a detrimental role in the recognition and handling of male sexual assault victims. There are many misconceptions of sexual assault when it comes to males due to the lack of education on the issue. Many people believe that the sexual assault of males usually occurs between homosexual males and that women cannot be the perpetrators. As well as those individuals who exhibit any physiological responses such as an erection is an indication of consent. All of these myths and misconceptions are, however, false. Sexual assault is an act of power and control and does not have to involve the perpetrator being attracted to the victim. This means that an individual does not have to identify as a homosexual male in order to sexually assault another male. Women are also not innocent in this crime either as they can also be the perpetrator of sexual assault. When a male exhibits physiological responses during a sexual assault that in no way means that they are consenting to the act that is taking place. Such responses may be present from physical contact or even stress (The University of Tennessee Knoxville, n.d.).
Sexual assault is an issue that can happen to anyone no matter one’s age, race, sexual orientation, or sexual identity. In fact, one in every six males are likely to have been sexually assaulted before the age of 18 (Grinberg, 2016). These victims lack media representation, appropriate response services, and are subject to gender stereotypes which hinders reporting rates that could provide insight on the needs of male sexual assault victims.
Gender stereotypes placed on men make it hard for them to express their vulnerability and report their sexual assault experiences. Men are viewed to be strong, brave, not possess any feminine qualities, and to always be in control. They are taught to constantly suppress pain, fear, and any signs of weakness. Seeing men as victims of sexual assault exposes their vulnerability, challenging social stigmas that are hard for people to look past.
Consulting with Jennifer Knowlton, a sexual assault nurse examiner, was able to provide a professional’s view on the topic of male sexual assault. The scope of her job is to conduct an exam on an individual in order to collect and document any physical findings associated with sexual assault. Due to her interactions with sexual assault victims, she was able to answer questions that provided a more indepth view on the struggles that male victims face.
Knowlton believes that the view society has on male sexual assault plays a major role in the rate of reportings. Men fear the scrutiny that they may face for coming out and talking about their experience due to the idea that many people have of sexual assault being a woman’s issue. Social movements, such as the #metoo movement, have opened up the conversation of sexual assault; however, it is important to provide more male representation in the media. As her job is a free service provided to sexual assault victims, funded by the government, community awareness of the resources available are viable to her job. This is on the grounds that there is only a small window available for evidence to be collected as an individual’s body is naturally cleansing itself. From legislation, to societal view, and knowledge on available resources there are many barriers that contribute to the reportings of male sexual assault (J. Knowlton, personal communication, November 4, 2018).
When males experience sexual assault, they have to face a variety of effects that hinder whether they will come out and report what occurred. Victims may fear that they will not be believed by the authorities or other close individuals about the assault that they have experienced. The lack of education about the issue and resources available to them will cause them to feel isolated and not seek the help they need. Victim blaming from themselves and others cause them to experience gender shaming, having them question who they are as men and even their sexual identity. By falling outside of gender norms, men fear judgement of their sexual identity and masculinity which overshadows the violent crime. Victims may result to a state of denial, leading to them not reporting the issue.
The varying definition of male sexual assault causes differing interpretations of how the issue should be handled. By not providing a clear, uniform definition of the issue, male victims struggle to get proper justice. In prior years the FBI had defined rape as “the carnal knowledge of a female forcibly and against her will.” In 2012 this narrow definition has since been abandoned and have been given a more gender neutral definition (Rosin, 2014).
Depending upon the state, there is a more wide or narrow definition of rape and sexual assault in the United States. Rape, sodomy, forced acts of sexual penetration, oral copulation, and sexual battery are each defined differently or not at all in different states of the U.S. The states of Virginia, California, and Texas provide examples of these varying legal definitions.
Rape is defined differently in each of the states. In the state of Virginia, rape is defined as “engaging in sexual intercourse with a victim, whether or not his/her spouse, or causing a victim, whether or not his/her spouse, to engage in sexual intercourse with any other person..” (RAINN, 2017). In the state of California, “an offender commits the crime of rape by engaging in sexual intercourse with another person who is not the offender’s spouse..”(RAINN, 2017). The state of Texas does not define rape, however, it does define sexual assault as “intentionally or knowingly causing penetration of the anus, mouth, or sexual organ of another with that person’s consent. Or the sexual organ of another person, to contact or penetrate….of another person, including actor, without consent¨ (RAINN, 2017). In addition, Texas also defines aggravated sexual assault which is sexual assault that causes injury, uses a weapon, or threatens to put the victim into prostitution or be trafficked (RAINN, 2017).
Sodomy is another crime defined differently in each of the states. In the state of Virginia, forcible sodomy is defined as “engaging in cunniligus, fellatio, anilingus, or anal intercourse with a victim or causing a victim to engage in these acts, whether or not his/her spouse, without consent” (RAINN, 2017). California defines sodomy as “the contact between penis of one person and anus of another person without consent” (RAINN, 2017). Texas had originally defined sodomy as “an offense if he engages in deviate sexual intercourse with another individual of the same sex”(RAINN, 2017); in 2003 this law was found to be unconstitutional.
California also defines forcible acts of sexual penetration as “an act of sexual penetration with the consent of the victim” (RAINN, 2017). Oral copulation is defined, under California law, as “copulating the mouth of one person with the sexual organ or anus of another” (RAINN, 2017). Lastly, sexual battery is defined as “touching an intimate part of another person or forcing the victim to touch an intimate part of the offender without consent” (RAINN, 2017).
Varying differences in the way states define legal terms can cause inconsistencies on the way cases are handled in the United States. The wording of legislation can be detrimental to sexual assault cases for males due to the fact that small differences in the wording can have major effects on the sentencing of the perpetrator.
Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 states that, “it shall be an unlawful employment practice for an employer… to discriminate against any individual with respect to his compensation, terms, conditions, or privileges of employment, because of such individual’s race, color, religion, sex, or national origin” (Title VII, Civil Rights Act of 1964). The wording of Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 was an issue the Supreme Court had to handle in the case of Oncale v. Sundowner Offshore Services in which Joseph Oncale filed a lawsuit against his job stating that he was experiencing sexual harassment by his coworkers and was a violation of Title VII. It was up to the court to determine whether Title VII protected same-sex sexual harassment. During Oncale’s time on the job, he experienced multiple instances in which he was subject to perform sexual acts. When he reported this to his supervisors, there were no actions being taken in order to stop the harassment from occurring, so he decided to leave the job for his own safety. The court held that sex discrimination consisting of same-sex sexual harassment is actionable under Title VII (Joseph Oncale v. Sundowner Offshore Services, Inc., 1998). The decision of the court set a precedent as it protects those who are being sexually assaulted for future cases dealing with males sexually assaulted in the workplace by individuals of the same sex.
As a result of sexual assault being a crime that females are more often victims of, male victims are not taken as seriously, which is seen through the sentencing of perpetrators of male victims. Lestina Smith was a woman who had violently raped a man at knifepoint and filmed herself while doing so. The victim was her boyfriend who she had dated for a couple of months that possessed an intimate video of the two that she wanted deleted. Smith asked her ex to meet up and from there had gotten inside of his car and harassed him. Along with the harassment came punching and being stabbed in the arm and under the eye. Smith was faced with life in prison on two counts of first- degree criminal sexual conduct. She was later sentenced to five years on probation, 25 years on the sex offender registry, fined $1,000 for the damages to the victim’s car, complete sex offender treatment, and have no contact with the victim (Kransz, 2017).
Brian Adkison, a Columbia man, was charged of forcible rape of his ex-girlfriend and faced with a 30 year sentence. Adkison had entered into the home of his ex-girlfriend and forced her to have sex with him. Prior to this incident he did not have a significant criminal history and his lawyer described this act as “out of character” for him and was requesting that he received the minimum sentence of 10 years. After multiple trials Adkison was found guilty and was sentenced to 15 years in prison (Schmelzer, 2015).
Looking at the disparity in the sentencing of both Lestina Smith and Brian Adkison, a double standard between a male perpetrator and a female victim and a female perpetrator and male victim are evident.
Both individuals committed a violent crime and prior to these incidents they had no significant criminal history. Both posed a threat to the safety of the community and caused trauma to the victim. However, where the differences lie in these cases is that Lestina Smith was a woman who had stabbed her ex-boyfriend under the eye and in the arm, damaged his car, raped him, and faced a life sentence and then received probation. Brian Adkison was a man who had entered into his ex-girlfriend’s home without permission and raped her and faced a maximum sentence of 30 years in prison and received 15 years. Seen from these differing sentences above females tend to get more lenient sentencing than males when it comes to issues such as sexual assault (Sebastian, 2015). This double standard is present due to the perception that society has of women being sensitive, weak, and incapable of being the aggressors; making it easy to view men as sexual predators.