Ask Dr. Helen: Can a Man Be Raped by a Woman?

Here is one man's story -- let's call him Mike (other identifying data has also been changed) -- about a rape that happened to him over 17 years ago that he still can't forget:

Dr. Helen, I've recently been coming to grips with the fact that I was raped by a woman. While doing online research, I happened upon your blog and read several entries, most notably the relevant "Can Women be Predators?"

If you don't mind, I'd like to share my story with you.

I am now an editor at a small book company and an activist but in my earlier life I was a Marine.

On a Friday night in 1990, after hanging out with a friend for several hours at a club -- said friend disappeared for the night and left his female friend (stranger to me) without a ride and about 35 miles from home. I was plastered, and not going to drive as the club was next to a motel. She asked for a ride and I offered to drive her home in the morning as she was about 6 months pregnant, but I was going to have to get a motel room for the evening as I was drunk and not driving in such a state. We decided to split the cost of the room and both agreed that sleeping was all that was going to take place. She was pregnant and also not my type in the slightest. At the time, I thought I was in love with a woman attending a local college. I seem to recall we even had separate beds.

I woke up about 2 hours later -- still destroyed by the alcohol -- to find my clothes removed from the waist down and the girl on top of me wailing like a banshee and quite roughly enjoying herself. She had apparently brought me to erection -- not hard as I'm one of those men who can hold one for hours, awake or asleep, sober or drunk. She told me everything was okay and to go back to sleep and despite my best effort to the contrary, I was unable to move or speak coherently in my still very inebriated and half-conscious state and did fall asleep again quickly.

After most of my drunken stupor wore off around 7 am or so, I awoke again to find her on top of me -- this time with a more menacing attitude as she knew I was in a better position to respond physically this time. I had began to wiggle out from under her (taking care not to hurt her baby) when she sternly warned me to "be quiet" and "not be forceful" and made it clear that she would cry rape if I tried to stop it. I was stunned to say the least and not sure how to respond. I could easily have thrown her across the room and off of me, but was concerned for her child and took her threat very, very seriously. She said it so easily that I doubt I was her first.

I weighed my options for a moment and came to the conclusion that a sober, 6 or 7-month pregnant college student of 24 was far more likely to be believed by the authorities than a drunk 19-year old Marine in the best shape of his life. I frequented that club a lot and I'm sure several people saw me leave with her. I was pretty much f*cked -- in more than one way -- at that point.

I complied by lying still while she continued to warn and threaten me and she eventually orgasmed again and got off me. I don't know how long the second rape transpired as I tried to disconnect my mind from that scene. Further, I have no idea how many times she had actually raped me that night (at least twice), but I was extremely sore for a few days. As a small favor, she turned out to be disease free.

I've always tried to pretend it was nothing or play it off like an uncomfortable memory of a wild night that ended weird whenever the memory surfaced.

After 17 years of pretending, the floodgates opened this week (thanks to a wonderful woman I work with) and it has been extremely difficult to deal with as my denial was swept away. I have a lot of counseling in my future in order to heal after the band-aid was ripped away.

This was very difficult to admit, not only personally, but to a very dear friend who has been there before. As you know, rape is about power and control. She had power over me that night, even though I could have easily thrown her across the room and off me. Her pregnancy and threat of jail against me were the only weapons she needed to have her way that night.

I spend a great deal of time on civil liberties issues fighting for those without a voice through my publications working on national coalitions with the ACLU and tons of other organization leaders spanning the spectrum from left to right. It is very hard to see myself in the role of victim now, given how much time I devote to advocacy efforts.

Thank you for listening and thank you for what you do.

When I read Mike's story, I realized the horrible psychological predicament that this rapist put Mike in. If he turned her down or pushed her away, she could have called rape and as he points out, a pregnant woman would no doubt be believed by authorities and his career as a Marine would have been over. The psychological trauma this caused him must have been excruciating. Can you imagine being blackmailed this way? I know of another man who had a similar event happen to him as a teenager, but he never did anything about it or reported the abuse.

Why?

Because many people mistakenly think rape only happens to women -- men and boys who are coerced into sex or abused by women are just having a good time or laughed at. Their reports are not taken seriously. John Althouse Cohen discusses male rape and abuse in a recent post on the disadvantages of being male:

Not all rape victims are women. They can be men or women. It's well-known that this often happens to men in prison. Of course, this is usually just laughed at (as is female-against-male domestic violence) because -- to add one more item to the list -- society is more concerned about "protecting" women than men (which follows logically from the belief that women are weak).

By definition, we can't know about all the unreported rapes. But which gender do you think would be more hesitant to report it out of shame or a need to always appear tough?

Yes, men often do not report abuse by women or even other men. However, even the ones who do report get turned away or no legal consequences follow for the perpetrator, so why bother? And studies often show only a small number of female perpetrators -- thus giving the impression that male rape or abuse by women is unheard of. But this does not mean that sexual abuse of males by females is not happening -- even the PC American Bar Association admits on its website on domestic violence that 7.6% of men were raped and/or physically assaulted by a current or former spouse, cohabiting partner, or dating partner/acquaintance. But this pales in comparison to the extent of the problem when it comes to self-reports. According to the National Clearinghouse on Family Violence in Canada:

Self-report studies provide a very different view of sexual abuse perpetration and substantially increase the number of female perpetrators. In a retrospective study of male victims, 60% reported being abused by females (Johnson and Shrier, 1987). The same rate was found in a sample of college students (Fritz et al., l 981). In other studies of male university and college students, rates of female perpetration were found at levels as high as 72% to 82% (Fromuth and Burkhart, 1987, 1989; Seidner and Calhoun, 1984). Bell et al. (1981) found that 27% of males were abused by females. In some of these types of studies, females represent as much as 50% of sexual abusers (Risin and Koss, 1987). Knopp and Lackey (1987) found that 51% of victims of female sexual abusers were male. It is evident that case report and self-report studies yield very different types of data about prevalence. These extraordinary differences tell us we need to start questioning all of our assumptions about perpetrators and victims of child maltreatment.

Rape is about power and power can be used by men against women, but it can also be used by women against men as in Mike's example. Yes, men are on average stronger than women. However, victimizing others is often not about physical strength but about the will and desire to have power and dominate and/or manipulate others. This desire is a human trait, not just a male one. In addition, men are penalized with jail or worse if they use physical strength to hurt women. There is rarely any such penalty for women who use the legal system to blackmail or harm men.

Women have much more psychological and legal power against men in our society and blackmail is very easy, given the current legal and political climate. Women know that men and boys have no or little legal recourse against them and use this to their advantage to get what they want. If you don't believe this, take a look at Crystal Gail Mangum, who made false rape charges against the Duke students. Any jail time for her? Nope. Her reward for lying? She just finished her bachelors degree in "criminal psychology" of all things!

Our society shames men who are abused by women just as it shamed and blamed women many years ago who were abused by men. Neither strategy is a good one for a society that purports to promote justice and fairness. If one group can be discriminated against this way, who will be next? Our society owes more to the men and boys in our communities than letting them be blackmailed and harmed by predators -- male or female. I say the first step is to actually prosecute women who are found to make false rape charges against men. This crime should be taken as seriously as rape itself for it can often do as much damage to a man's reputation, emotional well-being, and his freedom if he is falsely put in jail.

Isn't it time we stood up for the rights of boys and men just as we do for girls and women who are abused by those of the opposite gender? Is rape okay just because the victim is male?