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raped1Rape is not a gendered or directional crime.  Half of all rape victims are male.  40% of rapists are female.  Rape is not a crime that men commit upon women.  It is a crime that people commit upon other people.  I didn’t just make up these numbers, but it is important to get some background before presenting the source.

So why is there this perception that rape is something that men do to women?  This is simple to answer, but more complex to explain.  We have very bad definitions of rape.  Rape is being forced into non-consensual sex [dictionary.com].  When definitions vary from this we run into definition problems.  The long standing legal definition of rape used by the FBI from 1927 till 2012 was

The longstanding, narrow definition of forcible rape, first established in 1927, is “the carnal knowledge of a female, forcibly and against her will.” It thus included only forcible male penile penetration of a female vagina and excluded oral and anal penetration; rape of males; penetration of the vagina and anus with an object or body part other than the penis; rape of females by females; and non-forcible rape.[FBI]

This definition of rape is extraordinarily problematic, as the quote points out.  It defines rape as something that a man does to a woman.  Under this definition it is impossible for a man to be the victim of rape or a woman to be a rapist.  This is a very bad definition of rape, but it still informs much of our discussion about rape today.

Before we continue there is a very important fact that needs to be covered.  The mechanic of sex.  Having a good understanding of what is “sex” is very important if we are to distinguish forced to have sex from forced to eat peas or forced to clean your own room.  For the vast majority of heterosexual sex the base mechanic is Man penetrates and woman is penetrated.  I do find it odd that I need to be so simplistic and blunt, but I really do.  In most sex the penis penetrates the vagina.  A description of what men do during sex is penetrate.  A description of what women do is be penetrated.

More important than the understanding of the mechanic of sex is the very simple observation that this mechanic does not change if the sex is non-consensual.  If the man is the rapist, the victim is “Penetrated by force”.  If the woman is the rapist, the victim is “Forced to penetrate”.  Both of these are descriptions of rape.  Both of these are non-consensual sex.  Rape includes “Forced to Penetrate” and “Penetrated by force”.

Why did I make such a big deal of that?  Because that is the foundation problem of our current definitions of “rape”  The FBI changed the definition it uses for rape in 2012.  This is what it changed to.

The penetration, no matter how slight, of the vagina or anus with any body part or object, or oral penetration by a sex organ of another person, without the consent of the victim.[FBI]

Do you see the problem with this definition?  It only includes “penetrated by force”, not “forced to penetrate”.  This is not a definition of rape or a description of non-consensual sex.  It is a description of how a man rapes a woman.  Despite this flaw this definition isn’t only used by the FBI, but many international organizations and most research on the topic of rape.  If you don’t see it, the definition in the study is more clear.

So lets look at that study I mentioned.


Before we look at the numbers, it is important that we look at the definitions.  Is this study using “non-consensual sex” as it’s understanding of rape or “the carnal knowledge of a female, forcibly and against her will.”

Rape is defined as any completed or attempted unwanted vaginal (for women), oral, or anal penetration through the use of physical force (such as being pinned or held down, or by the use of violence) or threats to physically harm and includes times when the victim was drunk, high, drugged, or passed out and unable to consent. Rape is separated into three types, completed forced penetration, attempted forced penetration, and completed alcohol or drug facilitated penetration[pg 18]
Much like the FBI definition “rape” is defined as the mechanic of women having sex “being penetrated” but excludes the mechanic of men having sex “penetrating”.  This study is interesting because there is also a category “Forced to penetrate” that is not considered rape by the study.  It also makes it crystal clear that “rape” is defined as ONLY “penetrated by force”
Being made to penetrate someone else includes times when the victim was made to, or there was an attempt to make them, sexually penetrate someone without the victim’s consent because the victim was physically forced (such as being pinned or held down, or by the use of violence) or threatened with physical harm, or when the victim was drunk, high, drugged, or passed out and unable to consent
  The two sides of sex are “penetrating” and “Penetrated”  This mechanic does not change when one party is not consenting.  “Penetrated by force” and “Forced to penetrate” are both descriptions of non-consensual sex.  Now that we know what we are looking at it’s time for the numbers.  These tables are on page 18 and 19.
Just in case you can’t read the numbers.  In 2010 1.1% of men, 1.27 million men where forced to engage in non-consensual sex.  In 2010 1.1% of women, 1.27 million women where forced to engage in non-consensual sex.  If you define rape as non-consensual sex, and not the mechanic by which men rape women, men and women are raped at the same rate.
Equal rates of victimization was only half of my claim.  Women are 40% of rapists Was the other half.  This is probably the more significant claim.  This information is on page 24 of the report.  There are some problems here, but I’m going to be up front and honest about them.  First, we are not given the raw numbers or significant break downs so some number crunching is involved.  Second, the numbers given are for “lifetime” data not the 2010 data so this may throw it off somewhat.  Thirdly we are only given
For female rape victims, 98.1% reported only male perpetrators.
a majority of male victims reported only female perpetrators: being made to penetrate (79.2%)
We don’t have a more compressive breakdown, so I’m making some assumptions.  These may be flawed, but I believe them to be reasonable.  For simplicity sake, I’m assuming only 1 perp.  If that person is not of the identified gender, they are of the other gender.
Now the number crunching made easy.  Women are “penetrated by force” at the same rate as men are “forced to penetrate”  Since we have percentages, it’s really easy to work with a size of 100 people.  100 male victims and 100 female victims.  The women reported 98 male rapists and 2 female rapists.  The men reported 21 male rapists and 79 female rapists.  81/200 of rapists are female or 40.5%.  119/200 or 59.5% of rapists are male.  As for my assumptions, I’m assuming 21 male rapists and only 2 female rapists.  This is probably erroring on the side of more male rapists.
Rape is not gendered or directional.  Both men and women are victimized at the same rate and 40% of rapists are women.
Edit:I’ve been thinking about this one some more.  40% of rapists being female is most decidedly a significant underestimate, but I will still stand by it.  There is a very big problem, again coming back to definitions.  Rape is defined as penetration.  21% of male victims where victims of homosexual rape, but only 2 women?  The problem is that women don’t have penises.  When it’s homosexual rape of a woman there is no penis to penetrate with, so it’s only “rape” when a woman forces a woman to use a toy.  When it is a non-consensual sexual encounter between 2 women, the definitions I’m using does not classify that as rape.  This oversight/definition problem probably accounts for most of the disparity between male rapists and female rapists.