Legitimate Victims: Victim Blaming In Male Rape Cases
This essay will argue that adult male rape victims are not recognised as ‘legitimate victims’, despite changing attitudes towards the issue in recent years. Victimological perspectives, especially the earliest ones developed by Hans Von Hentig and Benjamin Mendelsohn, play significant a role in causing victim blaming in cases of male rape and help to reinforce rape myths. This influences the way the police handle these types of cases and how the media report them, these factors can lead to these crimes being underreported for various reasons. While victim blaming will change the way the media report a story, male rape does not receive much coverage at a local or national level, and there is still a lack of academic research on the topic. These will be looked at in closer detail in this essay
Von Hentig considered how victims characteristics may cause their own victimisation and his research into crime victims characteristics led him to create 13 categories in which victims could be sorted into, that based on different characteristics which he believed led to victimisation, some of these categories were: female, young, depressed, minorities and the acquisitive. (Daigle, 2018) Mendelsohn, who is considered the father of victimology, wanted to look at how much victims were to blame for their victimisation, and following his study which found that many victims often knew the offender before the crime occurred, Mendelsohn developed classifications of the degree of the victims blame. These classifications were: completely innocent victim; victim with minor guilt; voluntary victim; victim more guilty than offender; most guilty victim; and imaginary victim (Daigle, 2018). The development of these perspective and victim typologies in the 1940’s by Mendelsohn and Von Hentig have contributed to victim blaming. While it had been present in cases of sexual assault and rape prior to this research, it has allowed for categorisation of victims to become easier and it shift the blame from the offender to the victim based on characteristics or any existing relation to the offender. Victim blaming is incredibly common with sexual assault and rape cases for male and female victims, and it is a contributing factor to the under reporting of these crimes. The impact of victimological perspectives and victim blaming are still present today in how the public and police respond to reports of male rape and sexual assault. It is not uncommon for factors of the victim’s personal life to be used as the ‘reason’ they are victims of these crimes; alcohol consumption and sexuality tend to be the main factors used. This ties back to Von Hentig’s views on victim typologies, because when a victim’s personal life or characteristic is used, it means the victim is being put into one of the 13 categories, for the example of sexuality the victim is being put in the category of a minority meaning that they are more susceptible to victimisation. When alcohol consumption is used as a detail for victim blaming it relates back to Mendelsohn victimology perspective as it suggests that the victim carries some blame if not more blame than the offender for their victimisation by putting themselves in harm’s way or instigates their victimisation. Mendelsohn’s perspective doesn’t treat an intoxicated person differently to a sober person in term of how much blame they should carry for their victimisation.
Underreporting rate of crimes like rape and sexual assault are high for both male and female victims, it is however much higher for male victims for several significant reasons. The response from the public and police when male rape and sexual assault cases are reported differ largely from the response they have to female rape or assault cases. When a male is the victim of these crimes, they are not treated as seriously as a female victim would be, sometimes even by the victim’s own family and close friends. On top of this, victim blaming tends to play a role in how seriously the cases are taken, because if the victim was drinking or is homosexual, the blame is often shifted to these details to explain why they were victimised. Although the media tend not to cover male rape stories, when news outlets do run these stories they often include personal details of the victim that do not directly relate to the crime itself, this is done because many outlets have certain views and agendas to push so will include irrelevant details to make the public have a certain view of either the victim or the offender. These types of responses can lead to the underreporting of male rape, because the victims will feel as though they are not ‘legitimate victims’ of a crime and that if they seek help, they will be blamed for what has happened to them or ridiculed for. This links to another key factor in underreporting crimes, toxic masculinity, which reinforces the idea that men should be able to defend themselves from rape and sexual assault but doesn’t take other variables, like if the victim has been physically attacked or drugged beforehand, into consideration, this is especially true in cases where the attacker is female. In addition to toxic masculinity decreasing the number of crimes that are reported, legislations themselves could also be deterring men from reporting their experiences. In the UK women cannot be charged with rape of men or other women, the most they can be tried for assault by penetration which is defined as “This happens if any male or female penetrates the vagina or anus of another person without their consent. The offence is committed where the penetration is by a part of the body (for example, a finger) or anything else (for example, an object) for sexual intent.” (Survivors UK). This suggests that a change in legislation is needed, as men who have been sexually assault by a woman are not taken as seriously anyway and for their attackers sentence to be less severe than if the crime had been the other way round, it could make them feel as if they are not being properly protect and treated fairly by the justice system. Underreporting also causes issue for academic research, so any research done into the issue is likely to be inaccurate because any conclusions drawn from research carried out would only be representative of a very small percentage of male rape victims and would not be able to build a full picture of the experiences and consequences of this crime.
Despite all this, greater awareness for the issue is being raised by support and charity groups, as well as by high profile individuals. In June of 2018, actor Terry Crews told the US senate that to reduce the stigma of sexual assault survivors face, men need to start speaking out about their own experiences (Geng, 2018). Celebrities making their views and showing support for men who have experienced sexual assault or rape, could make those who have been victims of these crimes feel less alone and ashamed of what happened to them, and hopefully in turn this would encourage more of them to seek help and support from charities, or report the experiences to the police. In some cases, it is the celebrity who has been enforcing the stigma and stereotypes of male sexual assault, with backlash coming from media outlets. The Independent ran an article in response to a ‘prank’ that US singer Demi Lovato played on her male bodyguard whch was revealed in a tweet from the singer herself. The prank involved Lovato hiring a female sex worker to grab him in intimate areas without his consent, this was met with massive backlash from the public, other celebrities and the media. The article suggested that it is so called pranks like this that cause male sexual assault to continue to be considered a ‘laughing matter’ and called for a change in attitudes towards this kind of behaviour (Hall, 2018). These kind of media reports in response to controversial issues could reassure any victims that they are legitimate victims of sexual assault and that what happened to them is something that should be taken as seriously as cases of rape and sexual assault against women. In recent years male rape has had greater media coverage, mainly through Soap Opera storylines, aimed at both younger and older audiences. Hollyoaks and Coronation Street have both featured storylines that have showed the issues male rape survivors face when trying to seek help from both their families and the police, as well as showing the emotional impact it has on the victims. As these two shows have very different viewing audiences, showing these kinds of issue on both shows will help to educate different social groups and generations on the reality of the victims of male rape.
Overall victimological perspectives mean that male rape victims are still not treated as ‘legitimate victims’ by the police handling their cases or the public who hear about the crime, and while there has been a small shift in attitudes to be more supportive of men who have been victims of rape and sexual assault, there is still a significant amount that needs to be done to bridge the gap between the differences in how male rape victims are treated to how female rape victims are treated. Charities and support groups need to offer greater help to male victims and be the ones to raise awareness for this issue through the media which could educate the public on the reality of male rape and dispel any myths surrounding it. Legislation changes also need to be made to allow for cases of a woman sexually assaulting a man to be taken as seriously by the criminal justice system.
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