Male Victimhood & Sexual Assault

Whether partaking in the Dartmouth Bystander Initiative (DBI) or Mentors Against Violence (MAV) training or just general conversation about sexual assault, I always appreciate hearing participants struggle with gender pronouns.

So say you see a guy, or a girl, or just a person, and theyre clearly acting a little aggressive towards a girlor a guy.or someone of any gender identity, how do you intervene?

I dont mean to mock these genuine attempts to recognize that the perpetrator is not always a man and the victim is not always a woman. I do mean to suggest, however, that we use these gender pronouns out of obligations towards political correctness, not due to genuine belief that we should concern ourselves with the sexual assault of men. Other sources, most notably opinion columns in The Dartmouth, make clear what we are actually talking about: fraternity men sexually assaulting women.

Sarah Fernandez 14 wrote in her op-ed, The power to control dominant social space is perennially placed in the entitled hands of the white, the wealthy, the heterosexual and the sons of Dartmouth. And yet somehow we are surprised when mob mentality runs its course and outrageous hazing occurs or women are raped in droves.” [1]

Sadia Hassan went a step further, writing that [Fraternities] furnish all men on this campus with disproportionate power, and as such, I refuse to extricate them from responsibility for any incident of sexual assault, wherever it may occur.” [2]

This article will not be a yet another defense of the Greek system by a white, male fraternity brother attempting to abdicate responsibility for campus issues. Nor will it claim that men are just as often victims of sexual assault as women (they arent). I only want to point out one thing: men get raped too, and focusing dialogue on fraternity rape culture perpetuates ill-conceived notions regarding the nature of sexual assault as involving physical force or the threat of physical force as opposed to various other forms of coercive power. An issue as complex and multi-faceted as sexual assault demands that the community have an accurate overview of the problem, and our overview currently ignores male victims.

There are three important negative impacts to neglecting the sexual victimization of college men:

1)    There are real victims here, and they need our help. According to David Lisak, the pre-eminent modern scholar on the issue of sexual assault on college campuses, The biased use of pronouns serves to perpetuate the culturally based myth that men are perpetrators and women are victims. This myth is extremely damaging to the millions of male victims of sexual and physical abuse who live unacknowledged by our society. Before this quote, Lisak referenced research suggesting that up to 20% of men will be sexually assaulted at some point in their life.[3] For this reason alone, we must avoid the pernicious assumption that men are perpetrators and women are victims. Perpetrators are perpetrators and victims are victims. This campus has mobilized in such a promising and inspiring way to demonstrate to victims that they are not alone, that we care, and that we will hold perpetrators accountable. Depicting victims as exclusively women prevents the many silent male victims of sexual assault from experiencing the comfort of knowing that their peers care.

2)    Men are under severe social pressure to man up, to act like men, and to avoid pity at all costs. Those that identify male privilege on this campus must also recognize the fragility and enforcement of male privilege, and the extent to which, for a man, reporting sexual assault or even admitting being a victim seems inconceivable. How could a man, under the rubric of male privilege, have been dominated, controlled, and made inferior?  Didnt he read The Dartmouth? Didnt he know that women are supposed to be the victims? I echo the words of the Rape, Abuse & Incest National Network (RAINN),  Americas largest and most influential anti-sexual-violence organization, in their recent recommendations to the White House: Rape is caused not by cultural factors but by the conscious decisions, of a small percentage of the community, to commit a violent crime.” [4]

3)    The notion that only men can commit sexual assault makes it appear as if sexual assault occurs when the sheer physical force of the perpetrator overpowers victims, a notion we know to be false. Utterly sexist conceptions of men as active and women as passive contribute to our willingness to ignore male victims of sexual assault. Sexual assault is indeed about power, but rarely physical power. In one study, 80% of perpetrators employed alcohol and/or drugs when committing sexual assault, a tactic available to both men and women. The author explains that Rather than brute violence, most perpetrators use instrumental violence such as intoxication, coercion, or just enough physical force to overwhelm a victim without causing substantial physical injury.” [5] Imagining only women as victims, beyond being sexist, ignores the true, hideous nature of modern sexual assault.

Male victimhood may not fit neatly into the narrative of fraternity rape culture, but pretending it does not exist is a fundamental injustice to all victims of sexual assaultit encourages unrefined understandings of how sexual assault occurs that focus on force and violence as opposed to power, coercion, and control. In the spring term of 2013, as president of Phi Delt, I met with a sorority president, Anne, to address an accusation of sexual assault made by a Phi Delt brother against a member of Annes sorority. According to the brother (and essentially confirmed by the perpetrator), he fell asleep on his couch severely intoxicated, could not speak coherently, and was dragged by a hand into bed. The brother only recalls being woken from the couch and dragged to bed but certainly did not consent to sexual intercourse. Yet it happened. He was sexually assaulted. While the brother did not wish to press charges, an issue in and of itself, he did ask that I confer with Anne and ensure that the perpetrator would not return to our fraternity. I found this request highly reasonable. After some conversation I asked Anne what she would recommend if the gender roles were reversed and one of her sisters had reported the same facts. Anne responded without hesitation, I would recommend she press charges against the guy and help her through the process. When I pressed Anne for an explanation as to why I should not do exactly that in this instance, she replied: But it is different when its a girl and the guys saying he was assaulted. The gender rolesits different.  


[1] Sarah Fernandez, “The Crowning of Kings,” The Dartmouth, February 19th, 2014.

[2] Sadia Hassan, “Where is the Outrage?” The Dartmouth, February 9th, 2014.

[3] David Lisak, “Men as Victims: Challenging Cultural Myths,” Journal of Traumatic Stress, Vol. 6, No. 4, 1993.

[4] Caroline Kitchens, “It’s Time to End ‘Rape Culture’ Hysteria,” TIME, March 20th, 2014.

[5] Kathryn M. Reardon, “Acquaintance Rape at Private Colleges and Universities: Providing for Victim’s Educational and Civil Rights,” Suffolk University Law Review, Vol. 38, 397.