I have been aware of this type of research for two or three decades. This is a reasonable summary.
Take a moment and picture an image of a rapist. Without a doubt, you are thinking about a man. Given our pervasive cultural understanding that perpetrators of sexual violence are nearly always men, this makes sense. But this assumption belies the reality, revealed in our study of large-scale federal agency surveys, that women are also often perpetrators of sexual victimization.Among the challenges in the field of sexual violence is that it is consequential, it is overladen with agenda driven research and it involves many social taboos. It is difficult many times to sort the wheat from the chaff. A point which the authors acknowledge.
In 2014, we published a study on the sexual victimization of men, finding that men were much more likely to be victims of sexual abuse than was thought. To understand who was committing the abuse, we next analyzed four surveys conducted by the Bureau of Justice Statistics (BJS) and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) to glean an overall picture of how frequently women were committing sexual victimization.
The results were surprising. For example, the CDC’s nationally representative data revealed that over one year, men and women were equally likely to experience nonconsensual sex, and most male victims reported female perpetrators. Over their lifetime, 79 percent of men who were “made to penetrate” someone else (a form of rape, in the view of most researchers) reported female perpetrators. Likewise, most men who experienced sexual coercion and unwanted sexual contact had female perpetrators.
We also pooled four years of the National Crime Victimization Survey (NCVS) data and found that 35 percent of male victims who experienced rape or sexual assault reported at least one female perpetrator. Among those who were raped or sexually assaulted by a woman, 58 percent of male victims and 41 percent of female victims reported that the incident involved a violent attack, meaning the female perpetrator hit, knocked down or otherwise attacked the victim, many of whom reported injuries.
And, because we had previously shown that nearly one million incidents of sexual victimization happen in our nation’s prisons and jails each year, we knew that no analysis of sexual victimization in the U.S. would be complete without a look at sexual abuse happening behind bars. We found that, contrary to assumptions, the biggest threat to women serving time does not come from male corrections staff. Instead, female victims are more than three times as likely to experience sexual abuse by other women inmates than by male staff.
Our findings might be critically viewed as an effort to upend a women’s rights agenda that focuses on the sexual threat posed by men. To the contrary, we argue that male-perpetrated sexual victimization remains a chronic problem, from the schoolyard to the White House. In fact, 96 percent of women who report rape or sexual assault in the NCVS were abused by men. In presenting our findings, we argue that a comprehensive look at sexual victimization, which includes male perpetration and adds female perpetration, is consistent with feminist principles in important ways.I have long been ambiguous about this research.
On the one hand one of the most dreadful and challenging features of the past couple of decades has been the deconstructionist influence leading to definition creep. "Rape" once was widely perceived as a violent penetrative act by men of women and was almost universally condemned in the extreme. It was among the last capital punishment crimes to go.
Over the years "rape" has been stretched to include all sorts of other acts including use of drugs to sedate. To an extent that makes sense, and I don't think we would have a research problem if the stretching had stopped there. But then we included coerced sex where emotional coercion was involved rather than physical coercion. At that point we are back to a Victorian infantilizing of women, where females have no agency.
But the stretching did not stop there. "Rape" grew to include unwanted touching, unwanted comments, consensual drunk sex, etc. One of the expansions has led to the idea of "believe all women", an empirical nonsense with the same evidentiary basis as "believe all Yankees", "believe all teachers", believe all fourteen year-olds". There are no categories of human who are unable to lie, deceive and dissimulate. To assert that women, uniquely, are of such infantile innocence that they are beyond bad moral behavior is to once again set them into a category without agency.
This sort of Orwellian changing of definitions is of course a hallmark of all advocacy groups. They want the currency of the real to work in the realm of their desires. They want to harness natural revulsion to their own ends.
Which is reprehensible but understandable. On the other hand, there is a counter dynamic which is ironically self-defeating. Megan McArdle has noted among her writings, The Upside of Down, increasing the penalty for a crime makes it less likely that a person will be convicted of that crime. You are far less likely to be falsely convicted of murder or rape than you are of being falsely fined for an ordinance infraction.
The reason is obvious. If we are going to take someone's life for the crime they committed, we absolutely need all the safeguards possible. And it is still not infallible. So to accuse someone of a heinous murder or rape means an expensive prosecution and likely multiple appeals. The City, County or State might spend more than a million dollars to achieve the conviction. And if the punishment is long duration incarceration, there is another million or more of taxpayer money. There are lots of reasons to spend a lot of money to ensure that convictions of the most heinous crimes are also the most unassailable.
Advocates, by trying to widen the definition of the crime, are usually trying to increase the punishment. But that opens up an unintended mismatch. As an extreme example, if the death sentence is the only punishment for rape but rape now includes mutually consensual drunk sex, then no jury is going to find the male participant guilty. The punishment needs to be popularly seen as commensurate with the act. If you are asking for extreme punishments for reprehensible but minor behavior, then you are going to see fewer convictions.
The effort by advocates to gain tactical advantage (punish more people for the perceived crime) is undermined by strategic loss (reduced conviction rates owing to perceived injustice).
So in that regard, I viewed the early work to establish real empirical dimensions has made a lot of sense. Because it is ideologically unacceptable to the Mandarin Class, because the definitions have continued to evolve, because the reality is so counter to popular perceptions, etc. the field has been slow to develop, slow to gain visibility or traction, and slow to advance improved approaches to the emerging and different understanding of what we are dealing with.
I am still not confident we have a well defined understanding of what we are attempting to measure. It has had the productive outcome of bringing the importance of definitions to the fore. I think we do now know that women are much more likely to be the perpetrators of sexual violence than we used to think. I think we do now know that any survey of sexual violence has to include prison populations and that when they are included it dramatically shifts the victimhood rates. But what those absolute numbers are and the actual rates? Still a lot of obscurity.
Reading this piece by Stemple and Meyer, they switch so often between different definitions, between absolute numbers, rates, and relative numbers, they take so many narrow slices without providing context, etc. that it is hard to get a clear overall picture. For example, taking a very narrow definition, I cannot tell how many men and how many women have suffered violently coerced rape with serious injuries by a stranger in a given year. Is it the same number? Do men suffer more than women (because of the prison populations)? Do more women suffer than men?
From my other readings over the years, my sense is that those numbers might be about equal, they would be much lower than is usually bandied about, they would be much more demographically targeted (minority women suffering disproportionately and incarcerated men suffering disproportionately). But that is a best guess.
If we relax the definition so that it does not require the victim to have a serious injury as a result of the violent coercion, the numbers explode, and the context, the victims profiles, the offender profiles, etc. become much more variable. There is great value and need to understand better through better definition and measurement. But it is really hard to get reliable numbers.
I don't have an answer. I am uncomfortable with some of the implications of the research of Stemple and Meyer and others. I am not yet confident in it.
On the other hand, I think what they are doing is necessary in order for us to reduce victimhood, improve conviction rates, reduce commission of the crimes (however defined), and increase citizen confidence in the judicial and legislative processes.