Men’s experiences of sexual violence perpetrated by women
by Dr Siobhan Weare
13 Mar 2020
Sexual violence has featured frequently in the news over the last few years, especially in the context of violence against women and girls. Men who have experienced sexual violence from other men have also received increasing discussion and awareness. But what about men who experience sexual violence from women? This issue has received very little attention to date, both within public discourse and within academic research. I set out to understand more about men’s experiences of female perpetrated sexual violence; in particular, their experiences of being forced-to-penetrate a woman.
Under current laws in the UK, a man cannot be raped by a woman (unless she is an accomplice, when she is charged as such). Therefore, the term forced-to-penetrate is used to capture those cases where a man is forced to have vaginal, oral or anal sex with a woman, without his consent. With my research assistant, Dr Joanne Hulley, we interviewed 30 men about their forced-to-penetrate experiences. Many of their stories were horrifying and heart-breaking.
The negative impact of sexual abuse on men
The majority of the 30 men we spoke to explained that it was their female partner who perpetrated the sexual abuse against them and that it occurred in the context of domestic abuse. Many of the men were also experiencing physical, financial, emotional and psychological abuse, as well as coercive control. Over 80% of the men in the study reported that the impacts of their forced-to-penetrate experiences were overwhelmingly negative, and frequently they were substantial and long-lasting. Many men experienced detrimental impacts on their mental health, including anxiety and depression, post-traumatic stress disorder, panic attacks, flashbacks and nightmares. Several men indicated that they had considered suicide or attempted to take their own lives and many expressed feelings of shame, guilt, self-blame, poor self-worth, and anger. Their experiences of sexual violence also impacted their relationships, with difficulty in forming new romantic relationships, an inability to trust others and varying types of sexual dysfunction.
It is clear that the men we spoke to felt that societal awareness and understanding about female-on-male sexual and domestic violence needs to improve.
The vast majority of men we spoke to did not report their forced-to-penetrate experiences to the police; indeed, some men had not previously told anyone at all about the sexual violence they experienced from women. Other men had spoken to healthcare professionals in order to get support for the impacts of their experiences but had not necessarily disclosed the sexual abuse they suffered. There were a number of reasons why men did not report to the police and other support organisations, including concerns around not being believed or not being taken seriously.
Changing the legal landscape for male survivors.
When asked how they would label what happened to them, the term that was most frequently used was ‘rape’. However, in doing so they were aware that their experiences would not be labelled as such under the current laws, and therefore felt that law reform in this area was needed.
The findings from this project are the first in the UK to highlight the experiences of men who have been forced-to-penetrate women. It is clear that the men we spoke to felt that societal awareness and understanding about female-on-male sexual and domestic violence needs to improve. Similarly, based on our findings the services and organisations that are likely to engage with male survivors need specialist training on this form of sexual violence to ensure that they respond appropriately and actively break down barriers to men’s engagement. These organisations include the police, health services and specialist sexual violence support services. Finally, consideration needs to be given to reforming the laws on rape within the UK to incorporate forced-to-penetrate cases. There are several ways this could be done, including creating a separate offence of rape by forced penetration. When exploring law reform, it is important to involve the perspectives of survivors and professionals, as well as looking at the experiences of other legal jurisdictions.
Dr Siobhan Weare is a Lecturer in Law at Lancaster University Law School, where she researches the experiences of male survivors of sexual violence. Her research project, ‘Experiences of men forced-to-penetrate women: context, consequences, and engagement with the criminal justice system’ was funded by a British Academy/ Leverhulme Small Research Grant. She tweets at @SiobhanWeare