Compiled by Anonymous Coward
MALE VICTIMS IGNORED AGAIN: ESTIMATING THE INCIDENCE OF RAPE AND SEXUAL ASSAULT BY THE NATIONAL RESEARCH COUNCIL
A while ago I wrote a post about a Salon article titled “America still doesn’t know how to talk about rape” where I pointed out how that article somewhat ironic considering it’s title failed at talking about male rape. That article andanother article I mentioned were based on the publication of a document titled “Estimating the Incidence of Rape and Sexual Assault” authored by The Panel on Measuring Rape and Sexual Assault in Bureau of Justice Statistics Household Surveys. I promised I would look further into that 266 pages long document.
Now I have read it in full and it seems the prospects of getting accurate statistics on male victimization of rape and sexual assault continues to be bleak.
The NCVS (National Crime Victimization Survey) has been criticized in a number of ways for not giving accurate enough statistics on rape and sexual assault. Compared to other surveys the NCVS appears to under-report the number of rape victims – NCVS only found about 15% of what the NISVS 2010 did for the year 2010 (the last 12 months).
I’ll take a look at some of the problems the authors see with the NCVS and at their proposed solutions and evaluate those in the context of male victims.
Sampling strategiesOne problem identified in the document is how a low incidence rate of rape (and sexual assault) makes it difficult to get a greater precision in victimization rates. I’ll let the authors describe a possible solution they recommend looking into (page 163):
The proportion of a population with a specific attribute (in this case, having been
victimized by rape or sexual assault) can be estimated with greater precision by isolating
population subgroups with relatively higher attribute rates and then sampling those
subgroups more intensively than the rest of the target population. The higher the attribute
rate in a subgroup, the greater potential gains in precision. The first challenge in this
approach is to identify subgroups of people who are at higher risk of rape and sexual
assault criminal victimizations than the general population.
So let’s look at the additional frames they suggest (p.163):
This general purpose frame would be enhanced with one or more additional
frames that would focus on specific subgroups that are at higher risk for sexual assault
but are broader than a list of known sexual assault victims. Sources that might be used as
a sample frame include, but are not limited to:
• lists of female college students,
• women who use Indian health service facilities,
• assault cases known to law enforcement,
• people treated for trauma in hospital emergency departments,
• people who have filed a police report for any type of serious violent crime,
• residents of shelters for abused and battered women, and
• outpatients from mental health clinics.
To be fair they state that this is not an exhaustive list, but I think a clear bias is evidenced by the genderization of this list.
Considering that multiple studies have found quite a high victimization rate for sexual assault among male college students as well one wonder why they suggest to only use lists of female college students as a frame. The fact that there are no frames listed which looks at specific subgroups of men who are at higher risk of sexual assault is also jarring.
Examples that come to mind are:
Here’s one section on this (p.170):
The selection of a single respondent within a household should not be made with
equal probabilities of selection. Instead, individuals whose demographics would put them
at greater risk for sexual criminalization (females, certain age groups, etc.) would have
higher probabilities of selection. This would be straightforward in a survey specifically
designed for measuring rape and sexual assault.
DefinitionsThe authors note that for the NISVS 2010 include inability to consent in its definition of rape and sexual assaults and recommends that NCVS update their definition of rape to also include inability to consent. The new suggested definition of rape is (box 10-2 p.172):
Rape – Forced sexual intercourse including both psychological coercion, as well as
physical force, and the victim’s inability to consent. Forced sexual intercourse means
vaginal, anal or oral penetration by the offender(s). This category also includes incidents
where the penetration is from a foreign object such as a bottle. Includes attempted rapes,
male as well as female victims, and both heterosexual and homosexual rape. Attempted
rape includes verbal threats of rape.
Disappointingly, but yet unsurprisingly, the proposed new definition of rape does not include made to penetrate. In other words, a man forced to have his penis inside another person’s mouth, vagina or anus is not considered being a rape victim.
I also question the decision to include verbal threats of rape as rape attempts although this part is not new and is a part of the current definition of rape in use by the NCVS.
That would mean that a woman undressing a sleeping man, fondling his genitals to get an erection and then attempting to put the sleeping man’s penis inside her own mouth, vagina or anus, but not succeeding because the man woke up and pushed her off would not be a rape attempt. If the man however, also yelled “Stop or I’ll fucking ram my fingers up your arse!” then it would be a rape attempt perpetrated by the man against the woman.
And threats like “I’ll fuck you while your asleep and can’t stop me” is considered rape attempts if uttered by a man while they are not when uttered by a woman.
The proposed new definition for sexual assault is (box 10-2 p.172):
Sexual Assault – A wide range of criminal victimizations, separate from rape or
attempted rape. These crimes include attacks or attempted attacks generally involving
unwanted sexual contact between victim and offender. Sexual assaults may or may not
involve force and include such things as grabbing or fondling. Sexual assault also
includes verbal threats and situations where the victim does not have the capability to
Which is pretty much useless in its vagueness. Presumably made to penetrate would be included under “sexual assault” together with grabbing or fondling. Although whether the survey will count victims of being made to penetrate at all would very much be dependent on the questions asked in the survey. Being forced to have vaginal, oral or anal sex where one’s genitalia was put inside the perpetrators body isn’t something I would describe as being grabbed or fondled and I suspect I am not the only victim thinking that.
There are recommendations put forth that I agree with – although they don’t amount too much for male victims considering the above mentioned points. Here are one of them:
The NCVS is only one of several large household surveys conducted by the
Census Bureau. The new survey may work better as a supplement to one of these other
surveys rather than to the NCVS. For example, the American Community Survey (ACS)
may be an appropriate vehicle. Because of the panel design of the ACS, the Census
Bureau could select individual household members (by appropriate demographic and
geographic characteristics) who are at higher risk for rape and sexual assault. Using the
ACS as a base for the new survey would avoid the context of a “crime.”
The suggestion to decouple questions about sexual assault and rape from the NCVS I suspect would among other things capture more male victims who at the time does not consider what happened to them to be a crime and/or perhaps not even consider themselves a victim (for instance Chris Brown). As the authors themselves states:
Concern about the context of crime in the NCVS and the use of terms such as
“rape” and “sexual assault,” and their potential effect to inhibit the reporting of incidents
of rape and sexual assault, are discussed in depth in Chapter 4 and 8. Some respondents
may not view their victimization as a criminal. Or they may have decided not to report
the incident to police as a crime and now have concerns about reporting it on a
government crime survey. When asked specifically about “rape” and “sexual assault,”
survey respondents may not consistently or accurately understand those terms. Research
has shown that a change to behaviorally specific questions increase reporting of the
criminal victimizations (Fisher, 2009). As detailed in Chapter 8, the context of a crime
survey is likely to inhibit positive responses (Conclusion 8-5 in Chapter 8, and the use of
behaviorally specific questions would likely lead to more accurate responses (Conclusion
8-4 in Chapter 8.)
All points which we know is especially valid for male victims. How it plays out however depends very much on which specific questions are
included and which are excluded. And given the suggested definitions of rape and sexual assault I don’t remain optimistic about this will have any impact on the accuracy of counting male victims.
Speaking of questions, the document suggest using “behaviorally specific” questions because they explicitly describe a set of behaviors rather than using terms like “rape” and so on which may have different meanings for different respondents (seeing as that term has different legal meanings in different jurisdictions for instance). Using behaviorally specific questions would also benefit the accuracy of counting male victims – but that of course is dependent on them being specific for they ways male victims are victimized, like made to penetrate, and I see no sign that the authors have paid any attention to that at all.
The document looked at 5 (8) other rape and sexual assault surveys (including NCVS) – most of them heavily biased towards female victims:
As a curiosity I’ll mention that for NISVS 2010 the category “Made to penetrate” was listed in chapter 5 (box 5-1 p.91) while it wasn’t mentioned at all in the section on NISVS 2010 in appendix D (table D-9 p.233) even though this table included all other sexual violence categories used by the NISVS 2010 including the “Noncontact unwanted sexual experiences” one. No other mention of this particular type of sexual violence victimization were found in this document.
Considered not important, swept under the carpet or just cut out to make the table fit on one page is anyone’s guess, but it reflects perfectly the amount of considerations towards getting more accurate statistics on male victims in this report: nil.
Update: Rutgers University has confirmed that they will not be using the SES.
After I wrote this post I sent a mail to the leader of the pilot survey project at Rutgers University expressing my concern for the recommendation of SES as a possible instrument and explained how SES exclude a subset of male victims of rape. I also outlined Mary P Koss’ stance that it’s not appropriate to call it rape if a man is made to penetrate a woman without his consent.
I got a reply within the same day stating that the pilot project at Rutgers would not use the SES, but rather the questionnaire used by CSA – The Campus Sexual Assault (CSA) study by Krebs, Lindquist, Warner, Fisher and Martin.
She went on to write that The Rutgers’ pilot survey will use the following language: “Sexual assault” and “sexual violence” refer to a range of behaviors that are unwanted by the recipient and include remarks about physical appearance, persistent sexual advances that are undesired by the recipient, threats of force to get someone to engage in sexual behavior, as well as unwanted touching and unwanted oral, anal or vaginal penetration or attempted penetration. These behaviors could be initiated by someone known or unknown to the recipient, including someone they are in a relationship with.
She stated that:
While we do not distinguish between being made to penetrate someone versus being penetrated against one’s wishes, these are both included in the broader definition we use.
I wrote back that even though I was relieved they weren’t going to use Koss’ SES I feared that the stereotype of the penetrator being the perpetrator and the one being penetrated being the victim might skew their results.
She wrote back again thanking me for the input, saying that my concerns were appreciated and valid. She also asked my permission to include my messages in their feedback about the pilot study to the White house and the Office on Violence against Women (OVW). I gave permission to do so.
My impression is that she took my comments and criticism very seriously.
When time permits I’ll put up a post with screenshots of the mails.
My original post follows below:
Recently someone on my feed retweeted a reference to a study by Jennifer Freyd on sexual violence at the University of Oregon. I decided to spend some time looking into it and what I found deeply disturbed me.
I’ll start from the beginning:
In one of the presentations of the study its authors Jennifer J. Freyd, Marina N. Rosenthal and Carly Parnitzke Smith says this about their survey:
When I try to find the survey recommended by the White House I come across this paragraph in the White House Task Force to Protect Students From Sexual Assault recommendations published in April 2014:
1. Identifying the Problem: Campus Climate SurveysThe first step in solving a problem is to name it and know the extent of it – and a campus climate survey is the best way to do that. We are providing schools with a toolkit to conduct a survey – and we urge schools to show they’re serious about the problem by conducting the survey next year. The Justice Department, too, will partner with Rutgers University’s Center on Violence Against Women and Children to pilot, evaluate and further refine the survey – and at the end of this trial period, we will explore legislative or administrative options to require schools to conduct a survey in 2016.
It seems like Jennifer Freyd et al is referring to the campus climate survey being developed by the Justice Department and Rutgers University and that Freyd and her colleagues are stating that their survey overlaps that one.
The study by Freyd et al found a pretty high prevalence of female rape and a very low prevalence of male rape (0.0 – 0.8%). A likely reason for the low number of male rape victims becomes clear when we look at the methodology used:
There are no questions which would capture a victim made to penetrate their perpetrator’s vagina or anus without the victim’s consent.
So rape is still not rape – and in this case it’s not even sexual assault (see the two slides on page 12 in this presentation)
I am beginning to get a bad feeling about this.
My Bad Feeling Is ConfirmedOne could argue that even though this survey completely ignored a subset of male rape victims it was just one survey done on one university. The White House Task Force is aiming at making Campus Climate Surveys mandatory for all colleges and universities during 2016. So this isn’t just about one college. Surely the other colleges and universities will not exclude male victims from their surveys?
The White House Task Force recommendation report “Not Alone” provides a link (page 8) to a toolkit for schools to develop and conduct these climate surveys. That toolkit recommend using the Sexual Experiences Survey (SES) instrument developed by Mary P. Koss et al on page 17:
In peer‐reviewed research, the most widely used and most researched tool is Koss’ Sexual Experiences Survey. It can be used to measure victimization and perpetration. It includes questions across the spectrum of sexual violence.
That description is telling and it is disturbing. What does the assertion that SES includes questions across the spectrum of sexual violence imply? The answer is that anything it doesn’t ask about is not on the spectrum of sexual violence. Hence being made to penetrate someone’s vagina or anus is not even considered sexual violence according to the SES.
A Hope Quickly SquashedThe White House Task Force does however go on to deliver a small hope since they in the next bullet point on page 17 also mentions the NISVS methodology:
The 2010 CDC National Intimate Partner and Sexual Violence Survey used similar behaviorally specific questions that were developed in consultation with a panel of experts. This measure is similar to Koss’ and very comprehensive. It was developed to be administered in an interview format.
Even though the CDC’s National Intimate Partner and Sexual Violence Surveys (NISVS) did erase male victims of being made to penetrate from the rape statistics they at least didn’t erase them completely like a SES based survey would.
However, when I read further along on the toolkit document I notice that chapter two include “promising practice examples for a campus climate survey“. The introduction to that chapter states:
The questions below are examples that represent the best available promising practices in climate surveys. [...] Some of the sample climate questions have not been validated, and this survey as a whole has not been validated. The Department of Justice is currently working toward validating the survey as a whole to produce an evidence ‐ based survey.
The following is what the Department of Justice is currently working towards validating as a mandatory campus climate survey (page 23:)
This section asks about nonconsensual or unwanted sexual contact you may have experienced. When you are asked about whether something happened since [TIMEFRAME], please think about what has happened since [TIMEFRAME]. The person with whom you had the unwanted sexual contact could have been a stranger or someone you know, such as a family member or someone you were dating or going out with. These questions ask about five types of unwanted sexual contact:
a. forced touching of a sexual nature (forced kissing, touching of private parts, grabbing, fondling, rubbing up against you in a sexual way, even if it is over your clothes)
b. oral sex (someone’s mouth or tongue making contact with your genitals or your mouth or tongue making contact with someone else’s genitals)
c. sexual intercourse (someone’s penis being put in your vagina)
d. anal sex (someone’s penis being put in your anus)
e. sexual penetration with a finger or object (someone putting their finger or an object like a bottle or a candle in your vagina or anus
Note how they define sexual intercourse above. Apparently men can’t have sexual intercourse. That is ridiculous, but it is a good example of the contortion needed to not include all types of male victims. They have taken this list more or less straight from the SES and the faint hope I had in this being done properly when they mentioned the NISVS is promptly squashed.
Last Ray Of Hope?Rutger University is officially piloting the campus climate survey and I hope they will do the due dilligence to make sure that male victims of sexual violence aren’t erased by the choice of survey instruments. The results they’ve released so far from this process are inconclusive in regards to what instruments they will use and whether the survey will exclude any male victims. The name of th center at Rutgers University which will lead the survey efforts on campus does not do much to assuage me: Center on Violence Against Women and Children (VAWC).
It would be a huge step backwards for the issue of male rape if surveys being done nationwide on all campuses ends up erasing many male victims.
I guess my last ray of real hope is you.
That you’ll help spread the call that the campus climate surveys shouldn’t use the SES methodology, but rather use instruments which will include all victims of sexual violence. That you, by passing this call forward your network and asking them to pass it on, will succeed in making the call being heard and heeded by The White House Task Force, Department of Justice and Rutgers University Center on Violence Against Women and Children.