It’s a crime that few of its vic­tims are will­ing to talk about – the men who are co­erced by women into hav­ing sex. But a ground-break­ing study is bring­ing their ex­pe­ri­ences to light and look­ing to change the law.

The Mail on Sunday - You - - Editor's Letter - Anna Moore re­ports

Pic­ture this: a woman on a night out with her boyfriend. He or­ders shot after shot, al­ways urg­ing her to drink one more. By the time they’re in the taxi to his place, she’s so drunk she can barely see. She col­lapses on the bed, fully clothed, crav­ing oblivion but her part­ner starts kiss­ing her and fum­bling with her zips. She gen­tly tells him ‘no’ then passes out – only to wake later to find she’s naked and her part­ner is un­der the cov­ers, per­form­ing a sex act on her. Again she pushes him away, says ‘no’ and passes out. When she next wakes, he’s on top of her, hold­ing her arms down, hav­ing sex. At the end, he kisses her pas­sion­ately and says, ‘See? That’s bet­ter.’

Clearly this is sex with­out con­sent – rape in the eyes of the law. But now switch the roles around – be­cause that’s how it hap­pened. In this case, it was the man who col­lapsed on his girl­friend’s bed, said ‘no’ to sex and then passed out. It was his girl­friend who had sex any­way. Un­sur­pris­ingly, for years he told no one. He didn’t have the words.

Now, though, he’s added his voice to a ground-break­ing study – the first of its kind in the UK – which set out to ex­am­ine men’s ex­pe­ri­ence of non-con­sen­sual sex with women. The pa­per has the awk­ward ti­tle of Forced-to-Pen­e­trate Cases – be­cause in the UK, there’s no le­gal term to de­scribe it. By law, ‘rape’ is some­thing only men can do, yet most of the men in this study be­lieve ‘rape’ is ex­actly what hap­pened to them.

The au­thor is le­gal aca­demic Dr Siob­han Weare of Lan­caster Uni­ver­sity Law School. She be­came in­ter­ested while teach­ing the law around sex­ual of­fences as set out by the 2003 Sex­ual Of­fences Act.

‘I was won­der­ing why it had been de­cided that “forced to pen­e­trate” cases shouldn’t be in­cluded in the def­i­ni­tion of rape,’ says Dr Weare. ‘Where was the ev­i­dence to sug­gest it wasn’t as harm­ful? When I looked, I found there wasn’t any. There were no stud­ies at all – just a mas­sive gap in knowl­edge. I was in­ter­ested to learn more about these men’s ex­pe­ri­ences.’

The first hur­dle was to ac­cept that it’s even pos­si­ble. ‘Dis­be­lief is in­cred­i­bly com­mon,’ ad­mits Dr Weare. Pen­e­tra­tion re­quires phys­i­cal co­op­er­a­tion, which some see as ev­i­dence of con­sent. ‘But an erec­tion is purely a phys­i­o­log­i­cal bod­ily re­sponse,’ says Dr Weare. ‘It does not de­note arousal or con­sent.’ In fact, it can also de­note fear or pain.

Just last month, it was re­ported that Sa­man­tha Mears, a 19-year-old from Mon­tana in the US, hid in her ex-boyfriend’s house with a ma­chete and forced him to have sex. She was charged with ag­gra­vated bur­glary and as­sault. In­deed, such cases of­ten be­tray a du­bi­ous ‘dou­ble stan­dard’. When a 47-year-old Ger­man woman held a man pris­oner dur­ing a one-night stand, forc­ing him to have sex re­peat­edly un­til he es­caped from a bal­cony, she was la­belled by a UK tabloid a ‘nympho­ma­niac’ who had forced her vic­tim to ‘make love’ eight times. (If the per­pe­tra­tor had been a man, he’d surely be a ‘sex of­fender’ not a ‘nympho­ma­niac’. It would be ‘rape’ not ‘mak­ing love’.)

The 154 par­tic­i­pants in Dr Weare’s study were re­cruited through word of mouth, so­cial me­dia and men’s sup­port groups. For most, the in­ci­dents took place when they were be­tween the ages of 16 and 25 – though all ages were cov­ered and the old­est vic­tim had been 61. Most per­pe­tra­tors were part­ners, ex-part­ners, friends or ac­quain­tances. While ver­bal pres­sure, ma­nip­u­la­tion, lies or black­mail were the most com­mon meth­ods, some men were in­ca­pac­i­tated by al­co­hol or sim­ply over­pow­ered. The ac­counts make har­row­ing read­ing.

‘She started try­ing to have sex with me and I told her I did not want to as I was drunk and very tired and felt sick,’ writes an­other male vic­tim. ‘She didn’t take no for an an­swer and started hurt­ing me, forc­ing her­self on me, hands around my neck, telling me I would do it or she would kill me. I didn’t know how to face her the morn­ing after. I felt shame­ful and vi­o­lated; I didn’t know what to do or how to act around her. I have a fear of ever see­ing her again.’

An­other writes, ‘I had told the girl in ques­tion that I wished to end our re­la­tion­ship. She be­came ex­tremely emo­tional and be­gan say­ing that she was go­ing to com­mit sui­cide be­cause she couldn’t han­dle it. I’ve never seen some­one so dis­traught.’

Sex took place, but it was not what he wanted. ‘I spent the rest of the evening think­ing about what had hap­pened and run­ning through it time and time again in my head,’ he con­tin­ues. ‘I couldn’t ex­plain it but it felt as though I’d been made to have sex and been raped. I’ve never talked to any­one about it be­cause they wouldn’t un­der­stand how I could have sex against my will, but it hap­pened.’

The im­pact on some was no dif­fer­ent to the im­pact we ex­pect when a woman is raped. ‘The “lucky boy syn­drome” is such a pow­er­ful stereo­type,’ says Dr Weare. ‘The be­lief that all men are studs, al­ways happy to get sex.’ While some men in the study were not badly af­fected by the ex­pe­ri­ence, most had been. When asked to rate the emo­tional im­pact from one to ten, ten was the most fre­quent re­sponse – though only two men re­ported the in­ci­dents to the po­lice. (And nei­ther re­sulted in pros­e­cu­tion.)

‘A lot of men felt iso­lated and ashamed,’ says Dr Weare. ‘It im­pacted their sex drive, their abil­ity to de­velop re­la­tion­ships or main­tain an erec­tion. Some have never dated since. Sev­eral felt an­gry at them­selves for al­low­ing it to hap­pen. At the most ex­treme end, there was clin­i­cal de­pres­sion, self-de­struc­tive be­hav­iours, drug abuse and sui­ci­dal thoughts.’

All this is backed up by wider re­search, es­pe­cially from the US. At the Uni­ver­sity of South Dakota, psy­chol­ogy pro­fes­sor Dr Cindy Struck­man-John­son has been look­ing at this area for more than 30 years, hav­ing stum­bled into it by ac­ci­dent.

‘In 1985 I was a new pro­fes­sor at the uni­ver­sity and date rape was in the me­dia a lot so I de­cided to do a sur­vey on cam­pus,’ she says. ‘I asked 500 stu­dents if they’d been pres­sured or forced into sex on a date.’

Though the sur­vey reached ev­ery­body, she was re­ally aim­ing


her ques­tion at women. The re­sults sur­prised her. While 22 per cent of the women said yes, so did 16 per cent of the men.

Dr Struck­man-John­son de­cided to dig deeper, ask­ing both sexes if they’d ever per­sisted with sex after a part­ner had told them ‘no’. Again, 43 per cent of men ad­mit­ted they had – but so did 26 per cent of women. (Their most com­mon tac­tic was per­sis­tent kiss­ing and touch­ing, telling lies, threat­en­ing to break up or ques­tion­ing the men’s sex­u­al­ity.) When she looked at how men were im­pacted, there was a pro­por­tion who didn’t care – but one in five felt vi­o­lated in much the same way as the women.

Dun­can Craig, CEO of Sur­vivors Manch­ester, a sup­port group for male sur­vivors of sex­ual abuse, isn’t at all sur­prised. Craig helped Dr Weare re­cruit men for the study. ‘It feels so cut­ting edge but the truth is that sex­ual as­sault and forced-to-pen­e­trate cases have gone on since time im­memo­rial,’ he says. ‘We just haven’t recog­nised it.’ Craig re­calls one vic­tim whose ex-part­ner in­sisted on sex be­fore al­low­ing ac­cess to their young chil­dren. When he turned to friends for sup­port, they told him he was lucky. ‘He thought there must be some­thing wrong with him,’ says Craig. ‘If he wasn’t ready for sex, he couldn’t be a real man – but he used the word “rape” for what took place. That’s a big word and men such as him de­serve to feel the world is lis­ten­ing. Shame grows in dark places. When vic­tims are be­lieved and taken se­ri­ously, they can start to feel val­ued.’

This is Dr Weare’s first hope – that her study kick­starts a con­ver­sa­tion about men as vic­tims. ‘This isn’t at the ex­pense of the con­ver­sa­tions we’re al­ready hav­ing about women vic­tims,’ she adds. ‘It should hap­pen along­side them.

‘Maybe fur­ther down the line, there should be changes to the law,’ she con­tin­ues. ‘But at this point, I hope it cre­ates a space so that men feel more able to come for­ward, put what hap­pened into words and find sup­port.’

In fact, rais­ing aware­ness has never been more im­por­tant. New re­search re­viewed by Dr Struck­man-John­son sug­gests that the women most likely to force sex from an un­will­ing man are those who be­lieve in the stereo­type that men al­ways want sex with any woman at any time.

Most shock­ing of all, it’s also on the rise. Two pieces of re­search from Dr Struck­man-John­son sug­gest mil­len­nial women are more likely to have co­erced men into sex than pre­vi­ous gen­er­a­tions. One sam­ple found 37 per cent of mil­len­nial women ad­mit­ted to co­erc­ing sex, com­pared to 17 per cent of baby boomers and gen­er­a­tion X.

‘I think ca­sual sex, sex­ual free­dom and gen­der equal­ity has made young women more likely to cross the line,’ says Dr Struck­man-John­son. ‘There’s a huge push for “con­sent ed­u­ca­tion” for young men right now. We’re all aware it’s an is­sue – but women need to know they must have con­sent, too.’

From my own per­spec­tive as a mother of three daugh­ters, the el­dest now at uni­ver­sity, I’ve al­ways felt well-in­formed and up to date on the is­sue of sex­ual abuse and co­er­cion. Time and again we’ve dis­cussed their free­dom to choose, their con­trol over their body, their right to give no for an an­swer. I’ve never thought to men­tion their need to ac­cept no for an an­swer as well. Maybe it’s a con­ver­sa­tion we all need to have.

If you are a man who has been af­fected by the is­sues dis­cussed, and are in­ter­ested in shar­ing your story as part of Lan­caster Uni­ver­sity’s re­search, please visit wp.lancs.ac.uk/ forced-to-pen­e­trate-cases/


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