Feminists often complain, with considerable justification, that Men’s Rights Activists try to turn every conversation about women’s issues into a game of “what about the men?” You’re talking about female rape victims — well, what about the male rape victims?
The trouble with this strategy, from the point of view of the Men’s Rights Activists anyway, is that this little “gotcha” is much less of a “gotcha” then they’d like it to be.
In the case of rape, for example, feminists are well aware that men are raped as well: the “Don’t Be That Guy” ad campaign, which sent so many MRAs into hysterics, focused on male victims as well as female ones. The emergency room rape advocate organization that a friend of mine volunteers for provides advocacy for victims regardless of gender.
So many MRAs have started playing another game: trying to twist the conversation around in order to cast women as the villains. Rape is a bit tough for them here, since the overwhelming majority of rapists are male. So MRAs talk about the alleged epidemic of female false accusers instead. Or they change the topic entirely and make dead baby jokes (see my post yesterday).
Recently, MRAs have tried a new strategy, seizing on data from The National Intimate Partner and Sexual Violence Survey, a massive study conducted in 2010 under the aegis of the Centers for Disease Control, to claim that “40% of rapists are women.”
This is a claim repeated by numerous MRAs on numerous websites; see, for example, this post by A Voice for Men’s Typhonblue on the blog GendErratic. Here’s the same claim made into an “infographic” for the Men’s Rights subreddit.
Trouble is, this claim is flat-out false, based on an incorrect understanding of the NISVS data. But you don’t have to take my word for it: the NISVS researchers themselves say the MRA “interpretation” of their data is based on bad math. It’s not just a question of different definitions of rape: the MRA claims are untenable even if you include men who were “made to penetrate” women as victims of rape (as the MRAs do) rather than as victims of “sexual violence other than rape” (as the NISVS does).
I wrote to the NISVS for clarification of this matter recently, and got back a detailed analysis, straight from the horse’s mouth, of where the MRA arguments went wrong. This is long, and a bit technical, but it’s also pretty definitive, so it’s worth quoting in detail. (I’ve bolded some of the text below for emphasis, and broken some of the larger walls of text into shorter paragraphs.)
It appears that the math used to derive an estimated percentage of female rapists … is flawed. First, we will summarize the assertion and what we perceive to be the basis for the assertion.
According to the web links, the “40% of rapists were women” was derived from these two steps:
1) Combining the estimated number of female rape victims with the estimated number of being-made-to-penetrate male victims in the 12 months prior to the survey to conclude that about 50% of the rape or being-made-to-penetrate victims were males;
2) Multiplying the estimated percentage (79%) of male being-made-to-penetrate victims who reported having had female perpetrators in these victims’ lifetime with the 50% obtained in step 1 to claim that 40% of perpetrators of rape or being-made-to-penetrate were women.
None of these calculations should be used nor can these conclusions be correctly drawn from these calculations.
First the researchers clarify the issue of definition:
To explain, in NISVS we define rape as “any completed or attempted unwanted vaginal (for women), oral, or anal penetration through the use of physical force (such as being pinned or held down, or by the use of violence) or threats to physically harm and includes times when the victim was drunk, high, drugged, or passed out and unable to consent.”
We defined sexual violence other than rape to include being made to penetrate someone else, sexual coercion, unwanted sexual contact, and non-contact unwanted sexual experiences. Made to penetrate is defined as including “times when the victim was made to, or there was an attempt to make them, sexually penetrate someone without the victim’s consent because the victim was physically forced (such as being pinned or held down, or by the use of violence) or threatened with physical harm, or when the victim was drunk, high, drugged, or passed out and unable to consent.”
The difference between “rape” and “being made to penetrate” is that in the definition of rape the victim is penetrated; “made to penetrate” by definition refers to cases where the victim penetrated someone else.
While there are multiple definitions of rape and sexual violence used in the field, CDC, with the help of experts in the field, has developed these specific definitions of rape and other forms of sexual violence (such as made to penetrate, sexual coercion, unwanted sexual contact, and non-contact unwanted sexual experiences). We use these definitions to help guide our analytical decisions.
Now the researchers get into the details of the math:
Regarding the specific assertion in question, several aspects of mistreatments of the data and the published estimates occurred in the above derivation:
A. While the percentage of female rape victims and the percentage of male being-made-to-penetrate victims were inferred from the past 12-month estimates by combining two forms of violence, the percentage of perpetrator by sex was taken from reported estimates for males for lifetime (a misuse of the percentage of male victims who reported only female perpetrators in their lifetime being made to penetrate victimization). This mismatch of timeframes is incorrect because the past 12-month victimization cannot be stretched to equate with lifetime victimization. In fact, Table 2.1 and 2.2 of the NISVS 2010 Summary Report clearly report that lifetime rape victimization of females (estimated at 21,840,000) is about 4 times the number of lifetime being made-to-penetrate of males (estimated at 5,451,000).
B. An arithmetic confusion appears when multiplying the two percentages together to conclude that the product is a percentage of all the “rapists”, an undefined perpetrator population. Multiplying the percentage of male victims (as derived in step 1) above) to the percentage of male victims who had female perpetrators cannot give a percentage of perpetrators mathematically because to get a percentage of female rape perpetrators, one must have the total rape perpetrators (the denominator), and the number of female perpetrators of this specific violence (the numerator). Here, neither the numerator nor the denominator was available.
C. Data collected and analyzed for the NISVS 2010 have a “one-to-multiple” structure (where the “one” refers to one victim and the “multiple” refers to multiple perpetrators). While not collected, it is conceivable that any perpetrator could have multiple victims. These multiplicities hinder any attempt to get a percentage of perpetrators such as the one described in steps 1) and 2), and nullify the reverse calculation for obtaining a percent of perpetrators.
For example, consider an example in which a girl has eight red apples while a boy has two green apples. Here, 50% of the children are boys and another 50% are girls. It is not valid to multiply 50% (boy) with 100% (boy’s green apples) to conclude that “50% of all the apples combined are green”. It is clear that only 20% of all the apples are green (two out of 10 apples) when one combines the red and green apples together. Part of the mistake in the deriving of the “50%” stems from a negligence to take into account the inherent multiplicity: a child can have multiple apples (just as a victim can have multiple perpetrators).
D. As the study population is U.S. adults in non-institutional settings, the sample was designed to be representative of the study population, not the perpetrator population (therefore no sampling or weighting is done for the undefined universe of perpetrators). Hence, while the data can be analyzed to make statistical inferences about the victimization of U.S. adults residing in non-institutional settings, the NISVS data are incapable of lending support to any national estimates of the perpetrator population, let alone estimates of perpetrators of a specific form of violence (say, rape or being-made-to-penetrate).
E. Combining the estimated past 12-month female rape victims with the estimated past 12-month being-made-to-penetrate male victims cannot give an accurate number of all victims who were either raped or being-made-to-penetrate, even if this combination is consistent with CDC’s definition.
Besides a disagreement with the definitions of the various forms of violence given in the NISVS 2010 Summary Report, this approach of combining the 12-month estimated number of female rape victims with the 12-month estimated number of male victims misses victims in the cells where reliable estimates were not reported due to small cell counts failing to meet statistical reliability criteria. For any combined form of violence, the correct analytical approach for obtaining a national estimate is to start at the raw data level of analysis, if such a creation of a combined construct is established.
So you’re going to need to go back to the drawing board, MRAs.
What is especially distressing here is that the NISVS data could have been the starting point for a serious discussion of male victims of sexual assault by women, which is a real and often overlooked issue. Unfortunately, MRAs have once again poisoned the well by misusing data in an attempt to exaggerate the purported villainy of women and score cheap rhetorical points.
NOTE: A regular in the AgainstMensRights subreddit approached the NISVS researchers with this same question some months back. Unfortunately, the statement they got back from the NISVS contained an incorrect number. The statement I’m quoting here corrects this number and adds more context.
I can provide contact info for the NISVS representative who got back to me on this to any serious (non-troll) person who requests it.
I’m not sure I understand this (mostly in regards to the whole made to penetrate line), but I’ll take your word for it.
Yes, I’ve heard this before. Not with specific numbers, but many mrms are quick to say women rape just as frequently as men. I have never had one provide sources beyond more mra propaganda though. Sourcing someone within your group is just not enough. Especially, if they provide no studies ect.
Checkmate, MRAs! Too bad I can’t tell them this because they blocked me after I trolled them.
I’m not sure I’m happy with their decision to define rape as something that only happens to vulva-havers.
That doesn’t have any impact on how the MRAs are abusing the study, though.
@falconer, they include anal and oral penetration in their definition of rape.
They explain that they’ve defined rape as being penetrated. Men and women can be penetrated. I agree it remains problematic however I won’t fault the CDC for it … yet.
Oh, well shit.
Ignore me then, I must have the wrong glasses on.
LOL, no, I found it quite confusing myself! 🙂
The CDC are flat out wrong. Everybody knows that men are more logical and mathematical and not at all solipsistic. Therefore the MRAs (i.e. teh menz) cannot, by definition, be wrong in their calculations.
All the falderol above proves is that the CDC is staffed by women. Who probably all have worthless liberal arts degrees, which is why they need government make-work jobs.
Of course, MRAs used this study as more than just an opportunity to blame women for rape, right? They were also moved and outraged by the amount of rape by other men, right? And that statistic about the number of men who were first raped in childhood means they’re fighting against sexualization of minors, right?
@falconer, tell me about it. Even with the Master’s helpful bolding & formatting, it’s a hell fo a difficult read.
The definition, while more inclusive of male and female victims, is still a bit problematic. However, I can understand their point, and it makes sense to me.
*sends this to other friends*
Yeah, I got lost at bits of the numbers, and I strongly feel the CDC needs to upgrade their definition of rape to include the ‘made to penetrate’ category. But their later paragraphs make it very clear that the numbers can’t support the MRA conclusions, and in some cases seem to flat out contradict them. So… yeah.
Even if we include the ‘made to penetrate’ category into the definition of rape, there’s also the case with woman-on-woman rape. Even if no penetrating instrument is used in the process, the sexual violation of a woman can be traumatizing and horrendous nonetheless.
I’m not saying it’s wrong to include the aforementioned category into the definition of rape, but the definition of rape would still leave out certain abused groups.
Hopefully, such issues can be solved in the future.
I also don’t like the definition. I feel that defining being made to penetrate as rape doesn’t mean they couldn’t keep the crime separate for analytical purposes. They could have classified the types of rape separately. However, I don’t think this is evidence of a gynoconspiracy to silence male rape victims. It’s probably just the result of outdated definitions.
I actually think it makes sense to categorize made-to-penetrate as a form of sexual violence other than rape, and to use the term rape for sexual acts in which the victim is penetrated. In any case, it is sexual violence and needs to be taken seriously.
Mmmm, solid math! I’m wary of defining rape as being penetrated, and making made to penetrate something else, but that’s an issue of definitions, and the rest still applies. That definition doesn’t make MRA math valid, it just means that everything else is moot if we use that definition — if it isn’t rape, then the women doing it aren’t rapists, and no math, proper or not, can make them rapists. If we ignore that definition, the women are rapists, the rest of the math applies, and the MRM is still wrong.
I’ve kinda got to run, but I can give the math a closer review and try translating to not-math later if anyone wants me too?
Oh my. That’s a pretty big thing to overlook, eh MRAs?
Fantastic post, David.
One piece of evidence that you don’t need a calculator to assess and that points to the sheer scale of the problem of rape for women as opposed to men, is in the kinds of threats received by women vs men. When a white man says something that we disagree with, he will receive criticism, sometimes he will receive ad hominem attacks (you’re a sociopath, you’re a bastard), or sometimes he will receive some well thought out counterarguments. What he won’t receive is hundreds or thousands of e-mails saying that he should be raped and outlining in detail how it should be done. One thing we know from this is that men don’t really fear rape. If they did, someone would try to use that against them. Similarly, when say Barack Obama is criticized some race based threats will be among the hate mail he receives. Because burning crosses (like rape) have that context. And race based hatred is something that can be used to create fear in black people.
Bad math aside (and I’ll give them the benefit of the doubt and assume it’s simply bad math, with no amount of dishonesty involved) I think my major issue with the MRA complaint about definitions of rape is that it’s purely rhetorical.
They want the label, not the protection.
How can I be sure of this? Because they make this complaint that, “there is not a single country in the world that defines forced envelopment as rape,” (citation needed) in parts of the world where they already have the protection.
The English sexual offences act of 2003 defines rape as:
And recommends the following punishment:
It defines “causing a person to engage in sexual activity without consent” (which includes being forced to penetrate) as:
Recommending the following punishment:
This section also includes lesser offences for which there are lesser punishments:
Legally, they already have equal protection for, what I absolutely agree is an equal (or at least similar) crime. Colloquially, forced penetration is already considered rape by many.
They are crying oppression and injustice over a technicality of legal language, not a fact of unequal treatment by law.
Perhaps the law is different in other nations, in which case they should hold up this law as something to aim for, but instead they dismiss it as irrelevant, because it does not give them the label.
Perhaps the law is not upheld evenly, in which case they should fight for it to be so upheld, but instead they use it as an excuse to spew hatred at feminists in particular and women in general.
All they want is the label, otherwise they would embrace legislation like this, instead of dismissing it as not what they want.
Sorry, just realised that wasn’t entirely on topic. Still. Grr.
Glech, definitely not a big fan of how rape is defined here, but whatever.
And I know I keep harping on this, but shit like this is why I as a male rape victim feel absolutely NO kindred with the MRM. Like, no shit, of course women rape people. Now what are you going to do to HELP those survivors?
The answer, as always, is a deafening silence.
Also, guys, we’re going to be moving to Ohio in the spring! The magical land of not spending two thirds of my monthly income on rent alone! HUZZAH!
Now I just need to find some way to keep us housed till March.
I believe they are using this particular definition of rape for analytical reasons – not necessarily to actually define the acts as such in a general way. It’s tough to speak to the validity of those reasons, though, since they don’t elaborate on it at all.
As for the maths, for those who can’t get through the whole thing, the two main points are that:
1) The study pertains to victims – not perpetrators – and doesn’t contain the sort of data that could be used to make estimates for perpetrators.
2) The MRAs took 12-month totals and applied lifetime percentages. Even if somehow the data was pertinent to perpetrator estimates, the lifetime totals clearly show a greater disparity.
So not only is the basis for the MRA math faulty (victim statistics can derive perpetrator statistics), they botched it further by applying the wrong data – and there was even conflicting data right in the study.
Somehow it just seems “so MRA” to misuse a study about sexual violence victims by overlooking the fact that it’s about victims.
>>>I strongly feel the CDC needs to upgrade their definition of rape to include the ‘made to penetrate’ category.
That letter from the CDC left me with the impression that “made to penetrate” was the different crime of a person being threatened and forced to penetrate *a third party* (someone other than the person threatening or the victim of “made to penetrate”). Am I wrong? Personally I think it makes sense to keep track of this as a separate crime, even as I am wary of penetration being a necessary component of the definition of rape.
@BlackBloc: When say “made to penetrate someone else” it’s from the victim’s POV. From the study:
That would cover either of the scenarios you describe.
I’m just glad the CDC feminazis & white knights were so responsive! They’ve sent similarly detailed responses to people from r/againstmensrights too, so it appears they take inquiries from the public seriously.
I think I pretty much followed the math, but Argenti feel free to break it down more since I find your explanations pretty helpful!
And LBT, woot! Ohio! Good luck on the housing front in the meantime!