Last year the National Crime Victimization Survey turned up a remarkable statistic. In asking 40,000 households about rape and sexual violence, the survey uncovered that 38 percent of incidents were against men. The number seemed so high that it prompted researcher Lara Stemple to call the Bureau of Justice Statistics to see if it maybe it had made a mistake, or changed its terminology. After all, in years past men had accounted for somewhere between 5 and 14 percent of rape and sexual violence victims. But no, it wasn’t a mistake, officials told her, although they couldn’t explain the rise beyond guessing that maybe it had something to do with the publicity surrounding former football coach Jerry Sandusky and the Penn State sex abuse scandal.
Stemple, who works with the Health and Human Rights Project at UCLA, had often wondered whether incidents of sexual violence against men were under-reported. She had once worked on prison reform and knew that jail is a place where sexual violence against men is routine but not counted in the general national statistics. Stemple began digging through existing surveys and discovered that her hunch was correct. The experience of men and women is “a lot closer than any of us would expect,” she says. For some kinds of victimization, men and women have roughly equal experiences. Stemple concluded that we need to “completely rethink our assumptions about sexual victimization,” and especially our fallback model that men are always the perpetrators and women the victims.