Rape 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]
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
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%)