Why sexual violence against men by women needs to be 'called out' too

June 30, 2024

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Why sexual violence against men by women needs to be 'called out' too

Sexual violence against men by women is growing in areas such as social media but is not receiving the level of attention as violence against women by men.

Female-perpetuated sexual assault against men – and why it can be downplayed or overlooked in social media debates – is the focus of a new study by Australian criminology experts.

The research, published in the Journal of Interpersonal Violence, analyses 28 Facebook posts from 13 popular Australian newspapers to reveal common themes, including sexualized responses to attractive offenders.

What the researchers say: “The research highlights how online users continue to follow harmful and gendered expectations despite growing social awareness on the prevalence of sexual violence,” says the study’s co-author.  “Our research explores how social media users seem to question the severity of these offences and tend to sexualize the offenders based on their appearance,” he says.

“Facebook users appear to downplay the harms perpetuated by female sex offenders due to perceptions of gendered expectations of ‘pretty women’ and ‘lucky blokes’.”

The lead author says misguided and stigmatized online debates can perpetuate the harms experienced by male-identifying survivors. The online comments “illustrate a disconnect between harm and fantasy” when talking about women as offenders, rather than men, “as users appear to focus on the sexual aspects of the act and what they could (or would like to) benefit or receive from the interaction rather than its impact as a serious crime,” she says. “The online users seem to struggle to consider the harms committed by women as equal to those committed by men, or indeed possible at all.”

Denial of harm not only allows this kind of sexual violence to continue – arguably against both men and women – but also limits the likelihood of support or, in some cases, may enable retribution, the researchers say.

While acknowledging the gendered nature of sexual violence, these denial of harm responses devalue the impact of the behavior while shifting the blame away from the perpetrators who, in these cases, happen to be women.

“Such responses have serious consequences for male victim-survivors affecting the likelihood of reporting and the perceived legitimacy of victimhood by victims and the community,” the researchers explained.

However, the researchers say there is a silver lining to these harmful stereotypes emerging as more people recognize the potential harm caused by female sex offenders.

The comments collected in the study emphasized a heightened awareness of female sex offending, with almost one-fifth (17%) of users acknowledging the damage caused by gendered double standards and more than one-quarter (26%) expressing concern for male victim-survivors.

“Several social media users recognized the challenges (and benefits) for men in coming forward, which illustrates growing interest in addressing female-perpetrated sexual violence against men and the need for further research in this field generally,” the lead author said. “We need to be more inclusive in our approaches to reducing the harms associated with sexual violence and build on what we already know.”

The researchers recognize that sexual violence is a gendered issue largely perpetrated by men against women and children, and state that this research seeks to expand upon the invaluable research that can help to develop recognition and support for all victim-survivors of sexual violence.

“In Australia, sexual violence is an enduring social and criminological issue characterized by widespread under-reporting, where what is known is far outweighed by what is not,” they noted. “Sexual violence is a deeply gendered issue, and the infrequent reporting of female-perpetrated sexual violence has allowed rape myths to flourish creating falsehoods that it is less harmful than when male-perpetrated. Although sexual violence continues to be principally perpetrated by men, we must recognize the harms and impacts of female-perpetrated sexual violence.”

So, what? Apart from social media problems sexual abuse on males is a serious and underrated problem. Most sexual violence experienced by men (or boys) is perpetrated by other men. That is not to downplay sexual abuse by females on males. Much of this latter happens in the home or by older women initiating sex with much younger males.

Dr Bob Murray

Bob Murray, MBA, PhD (Clinical Psychology), is an internationally recognised expert in strategy, leadership, influencing, human motivation and behavioural change.

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