Skip to main content

Why Do Men Need to Know About Rape?

(Continued from How You Guys -- That's Right, You GUYS -- Can Prevent Rape)

Rape is often framed as about women, but it's not. Something done TO us really isn't about us. It's the things that we choose to do which are about us, which is why it's such an error for rape to be framed as a women's issue or about women: it's almost always a men's issue and really about men.

Potential victims of rape can't often prevent it from happening, even when we follow every instruction on avoiding rape. Sure, we can learn self-defense and use it, and employ a few things to minimize our chances of being raped, or escape from a rape, but for the most part, whether or not a rape happens is up to the person who would or does rape. Making the prevention of rape the responsibility of victims or potential victims is incredibly ineffective. Yet, we rarely see pieces written for the other half of the equation -- to someone who might be, or is, a rapist; to someone who might be, or is, knowingly or unknowingly enabling rape, and to the men who have more influence over each other than women can. If men don't know NOT to rape, how not to enable rape, and don't know that both are their responsibility – not just the responsibility of women -- all the self-protection in the world on a potential victim’s part isn't going to help very much.

However hard it is for any of us to accept, most rapes are perpetrated by men. Much of how rape is treated and enabled is about male behavior and what men do and don't do. Let’s face facts: around one out of every three to four women or girls has been or will be raped or sexually assaulted in her lifetime. Based on sound data from diverse sources, around 90% of all rapes are those where the victims are female, identify as female and/or are identified by the rapist as female. Even if you don't know it, you probably have at least one woman in your life you know and care a lot about -- your mother, a grandmother or aunt, a sister, a girlfriend, a friend, a mentor – who has been or will be raped in her lifetime.

It’s usually estimated that at least 10%, and probably more, of rapes are to male victims, and for men and women both, close to 99% of their rapists are male (Statutory rape, based on a victim being unable to legally consent to sex due to age, is the most common form of rape by female perpetrators. It should also be noted, however, that female perpetrators are often found to be more common with child abuses, including sexual abuse, than teen and adult abuses, so those figures are often not included in rape statistics because they are instead filed with child abuse data. But even when those things are factored in, the vast majority of rapists are male). It is most common to be raped in early adolescence, the teens or young adulthood, and rape is a vastly underreported crime: with women, it's estimated that less than 40% of rapes are reported overall (and amoung young people, substantially less than that), and with male victims, the rate of reporting -- primarily because a man who has been raped is often framed by other men as then being less of a man, or as a victim being “made” gay or into a woman – is even lower. Most experts in sexual abuse and assault agree that certain aspects of culture designed and upheld by men, which many males often perpetuate, play a great part in enabling rape to all kinds of victims. In other words, a lot of the way masculinity is commonly defined, idealized and enacted is one very big why for rape being as common as it is, for rape being seen as such a minimal crime so often, and for rapists often being treated better by people than their victims are.


It’s obviously hard for guys to really look at this stuff, but it’s also hard for women to know that rape is nearly always a crime done by men (as well as to live in a world where it’s something we are afraid of). We love the men in our lives dearly, very much want to be able to trust men, and we think of men, as a group, as our brothers. Suffice it to say, it’s also really tough for us to have to know that our actual brothers, our fathers, our boyfriends, our male friends, might be or have been rapists: it’s a terrible betrayal. So, while we women can’t personally understand, in some ways, how it’s got to feel for guys to be suspect with rape, or to know that it’s a crime almost exclusively perpetuated by a group to which you belong, in plenty of ways, we feel your pain, because men belong to at least one of our groups too: to the all-people group.

Just like when we know that around one in four people have an STI we can't realistically deny that we or someone close to us may be one of those people, the same goes here. A rapist may be someone we know, even someone we're close to, or even a person reading this right now. It is tremendously hard to look at, I know, but all those men doing the raping are real people, and there are enough of them that many of us know or have known at least one of them. They're not imaginary bogeymen: many are “regular” guys.

Thinking about these things may make you feel angry or uncomfortable -- especially to be spoken to as a potential rapist or someone who could be enabling rape -- but it's an important reality. We should be a LOT more angry about anyone being raped, and about anyone having to live in fear of rape, than we should be about anyone telling us that we need to be careful not to rape or enable rape, and there are things we can do to NOT rape someone, or to keep from enabling rape. It's a whole lot worse to be raped than it is to be considered a potential or even an actual rapist: someone can change their mind about how you're considered, especially when your actions stand counter to their accusations. Even a bonafide rapist, if he is reported, charged and punished, which is a rarity, usually has a very limited time-frame during which he really has to deal with concrete consequences of his actions. Rape victims have to deal with rape and its severe consequences -- something we didn't even choose to take part in -- for our whole lives, including people thinking things about us that are not often true and which are very hurtful. In justice systems and many communities, rape victims hear rape is their fault far more often than rapists hear that it is theirs.

I'm sure you don't want to be raped, and I'm sure you don't want the women, girls and boys close to you to be raped, either. I am also darn sure that most people don't want to be rapists, including you, and that most people don’t really want to enable rape. Even if you are sure none of this will ever apply to you, that you could not possibly rape someone else or perpetuate rape, just cultivating a real awareness about rape and raping can help you, the people around you, and our culture quite massively. We've only started to cultivate real rape awareness over the last few of decades, and only in limited areas, but even in that short time and in those limited areas, awareness alone has helped to reduce some rates of rape markedly.

I’m asking you to examine something personal and difficult, so I want you to understand that this is always personal and difficult for me, too. I am a rape and sexual abuse survivor, more than once over. I survived a molestation at the age of 11 from the friendly man who cut our hair as children. I survived a physically violent gang assault at the age of 12 during which I was dragged out of my volunteer job by a group of boys who had been stalking me all afternoon, to whom I had verbally declined to go with earlier, more than once. I survived a date rape in high school with a guy I really liked who I earnestly thought did just want to go sit at the beach with me, and maybe make out some, not force his penis down my throat to the point that I struggled to breathe. I also managed to get myself out of an attempted acquaintance rape in my twenties at a friend's house where I had fallen asleep on the couch after a night out, accepted what seemed a generous invite to crash there, and woke up with that guy trying to climb on top of me after he had removed some of my clothes in my sleep, and just a few years ago, fended off another attempt by another acquaintance at the pass by being lucky enough to see it coming well in advance. My great-grandmother was raped and murdered in her own home at the age of 76 – something no one even told me in my family until I was an adult -- and I assure you that her skirt wasn't too short and that no one misunderstood that she wasn’t interested in sex with them. A man I loved intensely grew up in foster care and was sexually assaulted in two out of the three homes he was in. Neither my great-grandmother nor myself were dressed provocatively or “asking for it,” and even if we had been doing any number of the things so many women are told either makes rape somehow our responsibility, we still wouldn't be the people who got us raped: it was our rapists who did that. It wasn’t my ex-boyfriend’s fault that he was placed in homes with abusive men as a boy, nor were those men owed sex because they fed and housed him: they chose to exploit someone they had pledged to care for. So, beyond how often I deal with sexual violence in my work at Scarleteen and elsewhere, it's a very personal and difficult issue for me, and one that has, obviously, had a large influence on my life.

Like most people, I don't enjoy talking about rape. I’d love to never have to talk about it again. It also makes a rape survivor more vulnerable than rape has made her or him already to talk about rape or their rapes so publicly that thousands and thousands of people will know they've been raped. But I talk about it, no matter how difficult, because it is so crucially important to talk about, and because until we all really get talking things are not going to get better.

I don't want to say that I'm asking a favor of you, because anyone doing what they can to keep people from being harmed, physically and emotionally, is not doing something incredible. A person who neither rapes someone else, nor who doesn't enable rape isn't being a hero: they're simply being humane, but that basic humanity is far too often excused for men when they don’t exercise it. The bar is set low for you guys when you’re all more than capable of raising it. I'm asking that you read through this to help you invest yourself in something that many of you could certainly get away with not investing yourselves in. Therein lies the favor, because I'm asking more than plenty will ask of you. I'm asking that you, knowing how difficult it is for someone like me to talk about it, afford me the mutual respect of reading about it and talking about it yourself, even though it’s difficult for you, too.

Click here to read the next section, What is rape, and what is it like to be raped? or here to go back to the whole article

Information on this site is provided for educational purposes. It is not meant to and cannot substitute for advice or care provided by an in-person medical professional. The information contained herein is not meant to be used to diagnose or treat a health problem or disease, or for prescribing any medication. You should always consult your own healthcare provider if you have a health problem or medical condition.