Thursday, January 19, 2012

The 2010 National Intimate Partner and Sexual Violence Survey Report: Even more interesting if you actually bother to read it

The Center for Disease Control recently put out a study on (among other things) sex crime victimization, the National Intimate Partner and Sexual Violence Survey. The most repeated figures from the study are that 1 in 5 women and 1 in 71 men (excluding those in institutional settings such as prison, which is a problem with the numbers but not the primary one) over the age of 18 have been the victim of rape or attempted rape, as defined by the CDC, at some point in their lifetimes. These are the numbers all the media outlets reporting on the study and everyone talking about it online are quoting; no surprise, given that that they are the ones the CDC itself is focusing on.

The numbers make quite a contrast- a staggering 1 in 5 women alongside an unfortunate but comparatively rare 1 in 71 men, a monstrous pandemic that bespeaks a grave problem with our society alongside an unfortunate statistical blip. A blip that would still comprise more than 1 million human beings, admittedly, but if you want to justify the erasure, trivialization, or victim-blaming of male victims and/or victims of women by arguing that such crimes are so rare and anomalous that for most purposes the victims can be treated as if they did not exist, the juxtaposition of 1 in 5 1 vs. 1 in 71 can certainly help to give the impression that men who complain are just whining about something petty, perhaps for some nefarious, misogynistic purpose. That's already started, and there will plenty more of that in the years to come.

There are some things about the study that are problematic. Adding the numbers for rape and attempted rape together and just calling the resulting sum “rape” is misleading, even though I think that for some purposes an aggregate figure is more useful and revealing than just the number of completed rapes. The survey question about drug or alcohol-facilitated rape is worded very vaguely and broadly and can potentially encompass not only sex that occurred when someone was unconscious or incapable of giving meaningful consent, but any sex where one or both participants were drunk or high, and so the number given is likely too high. (And has some bizarre implications, or would if applied in a nonsexist manner: a signifciant portion of the women classified as rape victims under such a standard would also be rape perpetrators, and actually became both simultaneously.) And, as mentioned above, the prison population, among others, is not included in the survey data.

However, as none of these affect my point one way or the other, I'll not deal with them here. The problem with the numbers is more fundamental than that.

The sturdiest falsehoods are not based on outright lies, but upon facts stripped of relevant context. Does the study indicate a lifetime “rape “ or attempted “rape” victimization of 1 in 5 for women and 1 in 71 for men? Yes. Why the scare quotes? Here's how the study itself uses the word, from page 17 of the PDF file of the report:

Rape is defined 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.

Among women, rape includes vaginal, oral, or anal penetration by a male using his penis. It also includes vaginal or anal penetration by a male or female using their fingers or an object.

Among men, rape includes oral or anal penetration by a male using his penis. It also includes anal penetration by a male or female using their fingers or an object.

This is consistent with the definition used in previous CDC studies on the subject, and in other studies such as the Department of Justice's commonly cited National Violence Against Women Survey. So, what isn't rape?

Most conspicuously, forcing someone to engage in vaginal sexual intercourse against their will through violence or the threat of violence is not rape if it is the male who is unwilling. Forcing someone to perform fellatio on you is rape. However, forcing someone to perform cunnilingus on you, or performing fellatio on someone else against their will, is not. Forced genital-digital contact can be counted as rape, but never when it's a man being forced. Forcible anal sex is not rape if the victim is forced to penetrate, rather than be penetrated.

We have a laundry list of sexual acts that are rape when the woman involved has not consented, but cease to be rape when an equally involuntary and directly analogous or physically identical act occurs when the man has not consented. In fact, the only thing a woman can do to a man that is counted as rape is forcibly inserting something into his anus. Everything else that would be considered rape if it was a Worthy Victim who didn't want it goes into either “Being made to penetrate somebody else,” a new category in CDC studies included in the subsection "Sexual Violence Other than Rape," or “unwanted sexual contact.”

The estimated lifetime "rape" figure for men in the study is 1,581,000 million men, compared to about 21,840,000 million for women. If being “made to penetrate” (which, like the rape, category, includes attempted as well as completed acts) were counted as rape in the same way that identical involuntary acts the man involved did want are, the estimated number of men over 18 who have been raped in their lifetime jumps from 1.58 million to 7 million, plus however many male rape victims are currently in prison and so outside the scope of the study, plus however many of the 13.3 million men filed under “unwanted sexual contact” would also be designated as rape victims by the CDC in a reverse-gender scenario.

Going by the CDC's lifetime stats, around one in every four American rape and attempted rape survivors, at minimum, is male. Based on the statistics about the sex of the perpetrator (see page 24), well over half of those seven million were raped by a female perpetrator.

And then there's something that is written plain as day in the study itself that you'd you'd never even guess at from what almost anybody says about it- or, indeed, what the CDC itself says outside the pages of the study results themselves. The survey subject were asked not one but two questions about each category of sexual crime covered: if such an act had been committed against them at some point in their lifetime, and in the last 12 months. This is done with good reason: memory is unreliable and highly malleable over time, to the point that people not only forget events but sometimes “remember” a sexual encounter as consensual even though they did not consider it to be such at the time. People interpret and reinterpret their past perceptions through layer upon layer of filters- their general assumptions about how the world works, their mental images of themselves and people they know, what others have said, what they want to believe is true- and as an event recedes further into the past and the original memories of it grow fuzzier these things help fill in the gaps.

Thus, questions covering relatively short, recent periods of time are typically considered more accurate than asking someone to look back over their entire life. They are also more relevant to the prevalence of violence now than questions about lifetime victimization rates. which encompass decades.

Based on the survey responses to the latter question, the study estimates that 1,270,000 women over 18 outside of institutional setting were the victims of rape or attempted rape, as defined by the CDC, in the last 12 months. (There is no 12-month figure for women “made to penetrate,” and likewise no 12-month “rape” number for men, due to insufficient sample size.) Meanwhile, since we all know that women are the overwhelming majority of rape victims, the study estimates that the number of men over 18 “made to penetrate” was a paltry... 1,267,000, of which roughly one million were "made to penetrate" by a female. Which would make women the perpetrators in roughly 40% of rapes of adults and men the victims in about half of them, according to the CDC's survey data.

I do not think, as many people would, that the idea that the number of men “forced to penetrate” might be comparable to the number or women forcibly penetrated is somehow inherently absurd. With the advantage of hindsight, I don't even find it particularly counterintuitive.

It doesn't require the existence of a vast horde of female predators or Amazons who can match a man's upper body strength. A disproportionate portion of male-perpetrated sex crimes are committed by a comparatively small number of serial offenders, and typically involve tactics- social manipulation, physical and psychological isolation, surprise, shock, confusion, alcohol and other drugs that impair motor control and situational awareness or cause unconsciousness, weapons and other instruments of intimidation, etc.- that greatly reduce the amount of actual brute physical force needed. I see no reason to think that predatory women would differ greatly in those respects, and they enjoy certain advantages (near-absolute lack of public or law enforcement vigilance against them, male socialization against injuring a woman in self-defense, the ability to credibly threaten a target with imprisonment or vigilante violence via false criminal charges) over their male counterparts.

If you 1. don't think Victorian sentimentality and its modern left-wing reincarnations are necessarily a trustworthy guide to actual women, 2. credit human females with enough mental capacity to use some of the fancier hominid forebrain gimmicks like planning, social interaction, and tool use, and 3. have ever possessed a functioning penis or at least advanced your knowledge of them beyond the "boys have an outie" stage, either of which should immunize you from idiotic notions about raping a man somehow being physiologically impossible, it isn't unthinkable. And it's not as if the idea that women are obliged to concern themselves with men's sexual consent in any serious way is something the typical American woman is likely to get much exposure to, least of all from typical "anti-rape" activists.

Suppose one takes the CDC numbers at face value- as the mainstream media and most people commenting on it and treating it as something important are, and as previous CDC estimates about male victimization typically have been by the same. In that case, this is quite the bombshell. My own misgivings about the intoxication question doesn't change that, since there's no reason to think that it would inflate the male number more than the female. In either case, the CDC's study has produced startling results that are radically at odds with both traditional and feminist assumptions about rape.

And virtually no one notices. It sits in plain sight in a much-publicized report that many people have been talking about, from a source widely considered one of the country's authorities on the prevalence of sexual and interpersonal violence, and virtually no one notices or says anything. In fact, thus far the three most prominent sources I've been able to turn up that reference the study while specifically addressing the subject of male sexual victimization- sensitive feminist guy/occasional child molester apologist Hugo Schwyzer, Soraya Chemaly at Huffington Post, and Maya Dusenbery at popular blog Feministing- explicitly claim that it says the opposite of what it actually and quite clearly says! (Though Dusenbery was just quoting Schwyzer in that section of her post, which goes to show why you shouldn't outsource your research on sex crimes to someone who responds to a story about an adult caretaker being repeatedly masturbated by an 11-year-old by defending the adult and calling the child a sexual predator.) There's some online comment threads, mostly at a few sites focused on violence against men and boys or men's issues in general. There's a nice examination at a German masculist site (in English), Feckblog. There's a fourth-string libertarian blogger who occasionally refers to himself in the third person. And that's pretty much it, nearly a month after the report was published.

This isn't really surprising, unfortunately; as with so many other issues, the two recognized "sides" are just minor variations on the same theme. Most conservatives would consider the idea that female-perpetrated sexual predation was a widespread problem absurd, and are unlikely to consider such acts serious crimes even if they did acknowledge them, so they're hardly going to make noise about it. Meanwhile, on the Left, the folks who have the loudest voices and biggest megaphones in discussions of sexual violence have a long track record of "proving" that rape is overwhelmingly committed against women and almost universally perpetrated by men by citing statistics on male "rape" rates that define millions of rape victims- and their rapists- out of existence in the same way the new study's official definition does. (E.g. Past CDC studies, the National Violence Against Women Survey, the oft-repeated claim from the latter that 1 in 33 men will be the victim of rape or attempted rape compared to 1 in 6 women, etc.) And this continues. Despite the startling data in the new CDC study that so many people are seemingly taking so seriously, it doesn't look like things will be any different than they were back when a man or boy being "made to penetrate" wasn't counted as a victim of "sexual violence other than rape" because he wasn't counted as anything at all.

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Thursday, January 12, 2012

Happy New Year to everybody!

Happy New Year!

The Superfluous Man is not a terribly cheerful blog, generally, so I wanted to start this year off on a positive note by thanking some people who have helped this blog in one way or another. Some names have been truncated to protect the innocent:

My friends JT, Kevin, Dave, Peter, Lecester, Cheryl Cline, and Catherine.

Pete Eyre, Jeremy Sapienza, James Wilson, and Jim Babka.

Midnight and Toshi.

All of my other friends, who know who they are.

My family.

Mark, Dr. B, and the other Kevin.

T and F.

People online who have helped me in one way or another: Jacob, Danny, Jim, Daran, TB, Alfonso, Keisha, and everybody else.

Everyone who's linked to this site.

Unattainable Bar Chick, for her unfailing friendliness, kindness, waitressing and bartending professionalism, willingness to laugh at my stupid jokes, and Lisa Loeb/Velma Dinkley-esque hotness. You were always far nicer to me than you had to be, or than I had any right to expect. I always knew that I would never tell you how I felt, but you made me wish I could have. Thank you, and best of luck with everything.

And, of course, everyone who takes the time to read The Superfluous Man; hopefully doing so has been worthwhile for you. I tend to be pretty useless trying to express myself when I'm face-to-face with people unless it's with folks I already know well, so being able to do so by writing online is very precious to me, and so is knowing that someone is actually reading it. Thanks. I hope you'll keep coming back in 2012!

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