rape: a fundamental principle of communication economics

Rape of women has been regarded as a serious offense throughout recorded history. Like violence against men generally, rape of men has been a much less prominent public issue. Today’s highly developed communication media make rape an insightful case study in communication economics. A fundamental principle is readily apparent: public communication highly favors criminalizing men in relation to women.

In 2013 the United Nations conducted a major international survey of violence against women (but not violence against men). The survey asked each man surveyed whether he:

Had sexual intercourse with his partner when he knew she didn’t want it but believed that she should agree because she was his wife/partner. [1]

The United Nations should be able to imagine that some persons understand love to encompass mutual sexual self-sacrifice. Mutual sexual self-sacrifice includes having sex with your spouse/partner, even if you don’t feel like having sex, because you love the other person, and you both understand that love encompasses such sex.

The United Nations defined that kind of love as rape. Moreover, it only surveyed the extent to which men receive such love from women. It produced a report that generated headlines in major newspapers. The Guardian of Britain headlined: “Nearly quarter of men in Asia-Pacific admit to committing rape.”[2] Since the survey was gender asymmetric, there was no risk of labeling a large share of women rapists.

Bias toward declaring men rapists goes far beyond United Nations bureaucracy and sensational journalism. The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention is a leading expert government agency for public health. It sponsors the National Intimate Partner and Sexual Violence Survey. That survey has repeatedly revealed that men suffer rape about as frequently as women do. That important fact hasn’t been effectively communicated publicly.

One can easily see within the National Intimate Partner and Sexual Violent Survey the acute anti-men gender bias in public understanding of rape. That survey provides both lifetime and past-year recall surveys of sexual victimization. Lifetime recall is useful for producing shocking share-of-population statistics for press releases. Past-year recall has less cognitive biases and is more scientifically credible. For factual understanding, lifetime statistics should be ignored in reading the survey results.

The definition of rape greatly affects rape statistics. The survey reports “rape” with three sub-headings: “completed forced penetration,” “attempted forced penetration,” and “completed alcohol- or drug-facilitated penetration.” So, if a man and a woman have a few drinks and then sex, the man, but not the woman, is defined in this categorization as a rapist. Some college sex-victimization experts explicitly support that gender bias in adjudicating actual sex-victimization claims. The survey reports a separate, non-rape category “other sexual violence.” Along with unwanted sexual banter, that category includes a sub-heading “made to penetrate” sexually another person. That’s how men are most frequently raped. That should count as real rape. Not including “made to penetrate” under rape shows anti-men gender bias in reporting rape.

According to the best available evidence, reasonably interpreted, women rape men more frequently than men rape women. For past-year recall, the 2011 National Intimate Partner and Sexual Violent Survey shows that 1.7% of men are made to penetrate another sexually. That should count as real rape. Under the survey’s categorization of rape, the past-year recall figures indicate that 1.6% of women are raped.[3] These figures indicate that, even outside of prisons and jails, men are raped more frequently than women are.

The figure for women raped, moreover, is inflated by definition. Within the 1.6% estimate of women raped, 1.0% of women are alcohol/drug-sex raped. By definition, no men can be alcohol/drug-sex raped. That’s completely unreasonable. In addition, women and men commonly engaged in alcohol-facilitated sex. Most persons do not regard such behavior as the man raping the woman. A reasonable, gender-neutral definition of alcohol/drug-sex rape is likely to be much less than 50% of the reported figure. Discounting for alcohol-facilitated consensual sex, the total share of women raped is likely to be less than 1.1%.

According to the best available evidence, reasonably interpreted, women rape men more frequently than men rape women. Regarding the perpetrators of sexual victimization of men, the survey report states:

For male victims, the sex of the perpetrator varied by the type of sexual violence experienced. The majority of male rape victims (an estimated 79.3%) had only male perpetrators. For three of the other forms of sexual violence, a majority of male victims had only female perpetrators: being made to penetrate (an estimated 82.6%), sexual coercion (an estimated 80.0%), and unwanted sexual contact (an estimated 54.7%). [4]

Those figures indicate that 1.4% of men were made to penetrate sexually by a woman perpetrator.[5] That’s higher than the reasonably adjusted share of women that are raped. Just as for women’s violence against men, women raping men generates much less public concern than does men raping women. The facts of rape victimization don’t support that gender disparity in public concern.

Public discussion of rape shows that public communication favors criminalizing men in relation to women. Rape is a crime with severity of punishment just below murder. Yet major newspapers unjustly label a large share of men as rapists. On the expert side of public communication, technical victimization surveys define and report rape in a way that highlights women rape victims and obscures men rape victims.

horse manure smells better than public discussion of rape

Public communication favoring criminalizing men relative to women has effects readily apparent in the incarcerated population. The U.S. currently holds in prisons and jails five times as many persons per capita as other high-income democracies do. Among persons incarcerated, men outnumber women ten to one. Men are no more naturally criminal than they are naturally business and political leaders. The lowliest victims of gender bias are incarcerated men.

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[1] Fulu et al. (2013) p. 20.  The corresponding question for women asked whether she:

Had sexual intercourse when she did not want to because she was afraid of what partner might do

Thus, by the United Nations’ measure, if a woman has sex because she is afraid that her partner will go out drinking with his buddies if she doesn’t, then he has raped her.

[2] Hodal (2013).

[3] Breiding et al. (2014) Table 1, p. 5. Under the survey’s definition of rape, rape of men is too infrequent for a population share to be estimated, given the survey’s sample size. Such rape occurs, but it’s relatively infrequent.

[4] Id. pp. 5-6. Apparently the survey, under its gender-biased definition of rape, was able to estimate sex shares of persons raping men, but not the share of men raped.

[5] The share of men suffering rape from a woman making the man sexually penetrate her is (1.7% men made to penetrate sexually another person) x (82.6% of perpetrators of men made to penetrate sexually are women) = 1.4%. The share of men raped is thus at least 1.4%. To the extent that some share of “completed alcohol- or drug-facilitated” sex is declared to be women raping men, rather than exclusively men raping women, the share of men raped by women is higher than 1.4%.

[image] Horse manure. Photo by Douglas Galbi.


Breiding,  Matthew J.,  Sharon G. Smith, Kathleen C. Basile, Mikel L. Walters, Jieru Chen, Melissa T. Merrick. 2014. “Prevalence and Characteristics of Sexual Violence, Stalking, and Intimate Partner Violence Victimization — National Intimate Partner and Sexual Violence Survey, United States, 2011.” Division of Violence Prevention, National Center for Injury Prevention and Control, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report. Surveillance Summaries. September 5, 2014 / 63(SS08):1-18.

Fulu, Emma, Xian Warner, Stephanie Miedema, Rachel Jewkes, Tim Roselli, and James Lang. 2013. Why Do Some Men Use Violence Against Women and How Can We Prevent It? Quantitative Findings from the United Nations Multi-Country Study on Men and Violence in Asia and the Pacific. Bangkok:  United Nations Development Programme (UNDP), United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA), United Nations Entity for Gender Equality and the Empowerment of Women (UN Women), and United Nations Volunteers (UNV).

Hodal, Kate. 2013. “Nearly quarter of men in Asia-Pacific admit to committing rape.” The Guardian (London). Sept. 10.

2 thoughts on “rape: a fundamental principle of communication economics”

    1. The main gender that raped men, when forcing a man to sexually penetrate another is rightly counted as rape, is women. From above:
      “Those figures indicate that 1.4% of men were made to penetrate sexually by a woman perpetrator.[5] That’s higher than the reasonably adjusted share of women that are raped. ” See note [5] for the rape calculation details.

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