Pillars of Society? How Religion May Propagate Male Rape Myths

Table of Contents: 


    In 2012 the CDC did its yearly report on rape in the U.S  and a troubling statistic came to light “when asked about experiences in the last 12 months, men reported being made to penetrate”—either by physical force or due to intoxication—at virtually the same rates as women reported rape”( http://time.com/3393442/cdc-rape-numbers/ ). The social problem that I would like to focus on is the societal effects of rape on men. The complications experienced by women when it comes to rape have been thoroughly researched. This is not true for men, little has been studied on the psychology and the sociology of rape of men.  My focus will be the effects of society on a male’s perspective and experience. This will range from self-reporting to his family and loved ones, to the legal ramifications to both the victim and victimizer, to the broadest sense of media and public opinion on a male victim of rape.

    The reason society should care about this particular topic is that people may have loved ones, family, spouses, or friends who have undergone this traumatic experience but are suffering in silence because they fear no one would believe them. The other more traumatizing option is that society believes them but chooses to blame them for being weak. Society may also believe they were males so they secretly wanted it. These judgmental mindsets will increase the secondary trauma to victims of such a heinous act.

    Gender stereotypes that are associated with men as a whole can cause this particular issue to be further misunderstood.  For example “you can’t rape a man because men always want sex.” Or “women can never rape a man because the man is stronger”. A large majority of adult male rapes occur are in the military (Hillman, Elizabeth L. 2009.).This creates a huge obstacle due to the military being such a tight lipped group and victims having to report their abuse to their superiors who committed the abuse in the first place. This research points to rape in the military being highly associated with exercising authority over those of lower rank. This combined with the military justice system leaves few options for victims to report their abusers. It is only as recently as 2012 that the federal rape statues been updated to cover “The penetration, no matter how slight, of the vagina or anus with any body part or object, or oral penetration by a sex organ of another person, without the consent of the victim."

    Time will be a challenge for my research but not an insurmountable one. The research methods that I would apply to this subject would be a mixed method study. Criminal statistics data would be one aspect of the quantifiable data, along with Interviews with individuals or focus groups.

    The first research question I want to ask is, from the perspective of the victim, do the victims feel safe reporting on or even talking about their experiences to authorities or loved ones? I want to ask this question because I believe one of the biggest hurdles men face is the inability to report their abuse. From gender stereotypes and schemas that portrait men as paragons of strength and that they should be able to fight off an attacker. Another critical aspect this allows for is some comparison between the experiences of male and female victims in the form of the ability or inability to discuss their attack with loved ones. Also it may prompt the person interviewed to relate whether their attacker was a loved one making it tougher for them to relate to other loved ones for fear of betrayal.

    For my second research question I want to ask, how has your experience affected how you view of society? This question is purposely very broad because it allows for a lot of avenues when it comes to understanding how a male victim sees that world.  This is a humanizing question because it will allow other people to see the world through the interviewee’s eyes. This question also allows for questions on their view on the legal processes which govern a society which doesn’t legally represent them. If they feel comfortable it also allows for their thoughts on religion, sexuality, and their views on the role of family in the healing process.

    The third question I want to ask is, what resources would you like to see grow or become more apparent in society? There is only one national nonprofit group for male victims of rape called Male Survivor (http://www.malesurvivor.org/).   These resources could range from growth and changes in literature to counseling groups to public relations groups that could start to aid in informing the public en masse to the difficulties faced by males who have been raped. One of the big changes I foresee would be legal support and for the formation of advocacy groups to start changing state and federal law in order have equal protection under the law.

    The two primary goals that I associate with this research come down to giving a voice to the victim, and identifying general patterns and relationships. Giving voice is the most significant goal for this research because male victims of rape are significantly under represented. Identifying general patterns seems like a primary goal because it is at the very least a byproduct of other research goals.

    The two secondary goals for this research are advancing new theories and a less important goal of making predictions. Advancing new theories would be a pleasant outcome of this research as being able to give voice in new ways is the primary goal.  These two goals seem to go hand in hand. Making predictions would come more in the form of seeing trends in the research and showing that perhaps states that legally represent male rape victims have a higher rate of those victims coming forward to authorities. In the literature review to follow I will focus on the themes of myths, law enforcement, and effects of male rape to show how these three factors to create a cohesive mosaic that details the situations of males being significantly less likely to report their attackers.

    Literature Review

    Myths about Male Rape

    Male Rape myths have been acknowledged in the social sciences as an issue for both male and female rape victims of sexual assault and rape. These myths propagate secondary victimization perpetrated by family, friends, and society as a whole. Myths like “men can’t be raped”, or “he’s a guy he liked it” surprisingly are believed by a large portion of society and can been seen every time an older teacher sleeps with a younger male student. The act is greeted with comments of “lucky guy” without consideration of the potentially unwilling nature of the encounter. Instances of power dynamic imbalance are one of the easiest situations to become unhealthy. The first theme I focused on in my research are these rape myths.

    Chapleau, Oswald, and Russell (2008) takes a comprehensive look at male rape myths starting from 1992 up to 2008 and how those rape myths effect societies were measured.  The authors theorize that male victims have a greater chance at secondary forms of victimization in large part because other males are far more likely to subscribe to negative rape myths. To do this they broke the myths down into three common variables blame, trauma, and denial.  They look at how sexism, adversarial sex beliefs, and interpersonal violence interact with male rape myth acceptance.

    With female rapes, victims still fight with concepts of “legitimate rape” and the social myths that lead to secondary victimization.  The article (Davies, Michelle, Jennifer Gilston and Paul Rogers. 2012) examines the relationship and contrast experiences between female and male victims. Some of their findings show similarities between men and women in areas such as whether or not they knew their attacker; however males took being overpowered far more harshly. Secondary victimization rates increase for men who failed to fight off their attacker or escape, as society takes to victim blaming. It expected that this ties into the social scripts of males being able to protect themselves as unrealistic as it might be. This would lead me to believe that children would be exempt from that myth due to it not being expected that a child could fight of an adult. The researchers here find that it is not specifically men more than women who uphold rape myths, it’s that people who hold rigid views on gender roles that are more likely to adhere to rape myths. It just so happens that men are more likely to adhere to strict gender roles.

    Law Enforcement, helping or hurting?

    It is widely known that one of the primary barriers or fears that victims of rape face is their fear of not being believed when they come forward to address their victimizers. The following articles address this reality from a number of angles to shed light on that experience for male victims of rape.

    Jamel, Bull and Sheridan (2008) use a lot of criminal statistics to highlight troubling areas in law enforcement not only in how the police handle victims but where low conviction rates have created distrust in the legal system. Such distrust leads to victims feeling that it doesn’t matter if they come forward. An example was given where in Ireland 446 male rapes were reported with a one percent conviction rate. It is also projected that only one to fourteen percent of male rapes are reported. The article then goes on to focus on the specialist police task for rape victims that have gone into effect in the U.K., the Sexual Offences Investigative Technique (SOIT) officers of the London Metropolitan Police. It should be known that in the U.S. there is no equivalent special task force. One of the core principles put in place was that each victim was assigned a chaperone that aids legal assistance, acting as a go between for the police and the victim. This principle greatly aids in the victims cooperation with the police by having a constant person that they can trust. From the chaperone program grew SOIT.  A large problem that has arisen from the success of SOIT is the high demand and lack of trained officers to fill the role as well as financial constraints of the program to train new recruits. As additional, mental services for the officers themselves are needed due to the mental strain. The nature of blossoming system and the flaws highlighted above have led to less than fifty percent of victims felt as though they had been adequately represented.

    Rumney (2008) addresses an element of interaction with the police involvement that the other articles didn’t that provided valuable insight. That would be with principle of gender bias from police when reporting rape and sexual assault.  The analysis presented within the article is based on interviews with males who have reported the crimes committed against them. The article focuses on complications with victim care and how well the police handled the victim’s mental and emotional health.  The experiences of those interviewed in this article vary between positive or negative on a wide spectrum. That trend is disrupted when there is a perception of homosexuality in terms of the victim. When it comes to homosexual victims there seems to be a breakdown in the understanding of rape being a crime of violence instead of a crime of sex.

    In the article above it is brought up that, differences in sexuality change the perception of law enforcement officers in turn affecting their ability to treat victims with proper respect. Lack of respect leads to discriminatory treatment, resulting in victims not reporting their attackers. Rumney (2009) focuses on the issues homosexuals face when reporting sexual assault or rape. One of the core reasons that came up for males not reporting was “The fact that survivors of male/male rape question their sexuality and that society considers them homosexual would not be a reason for non-reporting were it not for society’s treatment of homosexuals” (Rumney 2009). It was the therapists who work with the police who gave good insight on the views of the victims “Counsellors provided a number of reasons for male rape victims’ non-reporting to the police: Challenges to sexuality and homophobia were frequently mentioned, along with the macho-type organization that the police service is, which suggests that the police would challenge survivors masculinity, be unsympathetic and uncaring. When police officers were questioned about their experience it was found that societal belief of sexuality brought up similar remarks between gay men and women with comments of “well you’re gay right, you must have liked it”. Other officers are reported saying that those mind sets are products of lack of training and ignorance. So there is evidence that not all officers act as barriers to reporting but there is a distinct influence from those that do.

    Effects of rape on men

    The long term effects of rape on men are similar to women in some ways but different in others. These differences are the gate way to examining why men may have a harder time reporting their attackers. Since giving voice is an important research goal of mine I felt that this should be explored.

    Walker, Jayne, Archer and Davies (2005) use two different tests to measure the psychological functioning of men who have been raped. I suspected some areas of psychological functioning would be healthier and some less healthy than the female control group but I never suspected the results would be so drastically worse. The researchers reported “The male rape group had much poorer psychological functioning than the controls, lower self-worth, and lower self-esteem. Most survivors reported high levels of intrusive thoughts and avoidance in relation to the assault. Logistic regression showed that lack of treatment after the assault predicted suicide attempts.” (Walker, Jayne, Archer, and Davies 2005) With higher levels of avoidance combined with secondary victimization from myths and elements of uncooperative law enforcement the lack of male reporting suddenly makes a lot more sense.


    Methodological Review

    Interviews and group studies were the focus for many of the articles that I read. Though for only one of the articles were they the primary focus for the Rumney (2009) article on how the perception of homosexuality affects an officers perception of the victim. The use of primarily one-on-one interviews and small group study was used largely for two reasons. The first reasons were the very specific manner of the research focusing on homosexual men and their attempts to report to law enforcement. When trying to expand the research in that area interviews made more sense to get the stories of these individuals told. One of the core themes he found in his interviews was that masculinity was considered a shield and male on male rape represented the breakdown of that masculinity by introducing femininity to the male who was rape. The second theme that came up was homophobia that when combined with the femininity of the above theme became a toxic mix. His third theme was more of a result of the previous two themes, blame became the outcome. Officers were more likely to phrase their questions towards the victim with a blaming intent.

    The use of a Likert scale to measure attitudes only appeared in one of the studies that I read. Male Rape Myths the Role of Gender, Violence, and Sexism used a Likert scale in order to test adherence to male rape myths. They tested both men and women in order to see if gender was a predictor for myth acceptance. They used a total of 12 questions, six orientated for males, and six orientated towards females. The higher that they scored on the Likert indicated how likely they were to subscribe to male rape myths. They did find that males as a whole adhered to rape myths more. However there were some factors that may have had influence specifically all the subjects were college students with unknown levels of wealth. Wealth can be a predictor for conditions in which they were raised affecting mindset. The other trait that was not tested was religiosity which could have given and insight into how rigidly they follow strict gender roles. 

    Surveys were used in a number of the articles that I researched but one of the more detailed ones was used in the article written by Davies, Michelle, Gilston, Rogers (2012). Their questionnaire comprised of 7 separate Likert scales. The seven scales were Male Rape Myth Scale (MRMS) an 11-item questionnaire, Illinois Rape Myths Scale (IRMS) an 12-item questionnaire, Affective Reactions Toward Gay Men Scale (ARGMS) nine-item scale, Social Roles Questionnaire (SRQ) an 13-item questionnaire, Ambivalent Sexism Inventory (ASI) an 22-item scale, Ambivalence Toward Men Inventory (AMI) an 20-item questionnaire, and capped off with Scenario and attribution items. The study was done this way so that not only were the individual attributes tested, but how those traits came together when the scenario was given.

    For my research, time will be an important element that I will need to keep in mind. I would love to do a mixed study using both qualitative and quantitative methods, but I may only have one time for one or two interviews at most. Those two interviews would be focused on the themes I presented here. Exploring myths that they believe before and after their attack, and how law enforcement treated them. If they did not report I would want to explore the reasons they did not and what would need to change before they would feel comfortable coming forward to report their attack. Getting approval from the ethics committee would be difficult. As far as I understand victims of sexual attacks are a protected group, whom I have in mind to interview is not currently seeking psychological treatment. I have at least one person willing to do an interview; I am hoping that by conducting a beneficent interview that I will be able to convince him to introduce me to others in the area. Contacting the national nonprofit may group Male Survivor I may be able to get an interview from one of their members, or a scrubbed copy of an interview that they already possess. My other option is survivor groups in the area; I may be able to find someone who wants to tell their story. As time is a key element one of my primary ideas is to use national criminology stats to see if there is a trend in law enforcement of increased rates of reporting criminals who have sexually assaulted or raped men as well as tracking rate of conviction.


    When I began my research I believed that gender was the biggest factor and the propagation of rape myths in our society. However what I learned was that rather than gender specifically it was adherence to strict gender roles among either gender that was the better measure for likelihood to subscribe to negative gender myths. So the next direction to take the research would be to investigate what groups or institutions teach strict gender roles.  To this one of the primary groups that come to mind is the religious community.

    While I am still only beginning to scratch the surface on the influences of religion on rape myths and their victims using add health data gave a good view of the generalized trend we can see in society. When data from the add health survey was analyzed we saw a distinct trends.

    We measured the religiosity of respondents by how many times they attended religious events, the amount they prayed, and the amount they turned religion to help with problems in their lives. We then differentiated by physical force versus nonphysical force involving coercion and guilt. We see higher instances of physical force being used against both men and women among the religious. With men we see an increase to both physical and nonphysical rape, with instances of physically forced rape doubling in percentage. Among females we see instances of verbal force decreasing among religious responders. The other thing that’s important to remember with this data that this is taken from pool of fifteen thousand respondents.


    Many of the limitations that came up as a part of this research are related to the scarcity of the information available to me on the subject. When using add health data to get a more generalized perspective on this topic there was a lack of details on their experiences as a victim and many of the factors went into their trials like who their attacker was. Why they did or did not report and the presence of rape myths before or after their attack. Interviews posed a significant challenge due to the unwillingness of people wanting to come forward from a very specific population.


    Chapleau, Kristine M., Debra L. Oswald and Brenda L. Russell. 2008. "Male Rape Myths: The Role of Gender, Violence, and Sexism." Journal of Interpersonal Violence 23(5):600-615. doi: 10.1177/0886260507313529.

    Davies, Michelle, Jennifer Gilston and Paul Rogers. 2012. "Examining the Relationship between Male Rape Myth Acceptance, Female Rape Myth Acceptance, Victim Blame, Homophobia, Gender Roles, and Ambivalent Sexism." Journal of Interpersonal Violence 27(14):2807-2823 (http://search.ebscohost.com/login.aspx?direct=true&db=a9h&AN=79467201&scope=site). doi: 10.1177/0886260512438281.

    Hillman, Elizabeth L. 2009. "Front and Center: Sexual Violence in U.S. Military Law." Politics & Society 37(1):101-129 (http://search.ebscohost.com/login.aspx?direct=true&db=a9h&AN=36641498&scope=site)

    Jamel, Joanna, Ray Bull and Lorraine Sheridan. 2008. "An Investigation of the Specialist Police Service Provided to Male Rape Survivors." International Journal of Police Science & Management 10(4):486-508 (http://search.ebscohost.com/login.aspx?direct=true&db=a9h&AN=36610405&scope=site). doi: 10.1350/ijps.2008.10.4.101.

    Rumney, Philip N. S. 2008. "Policing Male Rape and Sexual Assault." Journal of Criminal Law 72(1):67-86 (http://search.ebscohost.com/login.aspx?direct=true&db=a9h&AN=29959830&scope=site). doi: 10.1350/jcla.2008.72.1.478.

    Rumney, Philip N. S. 2009. "Gay Male Rape Victims: Law Enforcement, Social Attitudes and Barriers to Recognition." International Journal of Human Rights 13(2):233-250 (http://search.ebscohost.com/login.aspx?direct=true&db=a9h&AN=42209039&scope=site). doi: 10.1080/13642980902758135.

    Walker, Jayne, John Archer and Michelle Davies. 2005. "Effects of Male Rape on Psychological Functioning." British Journal of Clinical Psychology 44(3):445-451 (http://search.ebscohost.com/login.aspx?direct=true&db=a9h&AN=20997110&scope=site). doi: 10.1348/014466505X52750.

    Wyatt, Rachel. 2006. "Male Rape in U.S. Prisons: Are Conjugal Visits the Answer?" Case Western Reserve Journal of International Law 37(2):579-614 ( http://search.ebscohost.com/login.aspx?direct=true&db=a9h&AN=22005957&scope=site ).