On the Sexual Assault of Men, on Sexual Assault of Men by Women.

10 min readOct 9, 2023

Content warning — violence, rape, gender

Note — this piece refers to men and women only. It does not address the myriad of murky and terrible ways that gender nonconforming and trans individuals are also affected by these kinds of violence, nor the ways that they fall prey to gender norms and toxic gender expectations. This piece focuses on men and women because that the language that they law and these surveys use, not because the experiences of these individuals is less important.

There remains a persistent widespread belief that men cannot be and are not victims of sexual violence. There remains a widespread belief that women are not generally perpetrators of violence but recipients of violence. As we slowly come to understand the long overdue notion that we need to believe women, surely we must ensure that we are also listening to men.

Much of my contribution of care in this world revolves around consent, harm prevention, restorative and transformative justice. In that practice I have come to see many men who have been victims of sexual violence and partner violence at the hands of women. At some point, out of interest, I started to ask men that I know, have you ever declined sex by a woman. I was astounded to find that many men said no. That in discussions that ensued, the notion that “men always want sex” undergirded so much of their sexual encounters. Often it wasn’t that they didn’t want sex, but that they didn’t feel they could say no. The reasons shared with me ranged from ‘recovering from sexual scarcity in adolescence means saying no doesn’t feel right’, and masculinity relies on being actively sexual so you have to take what you can get, all the way to heart breaking narratives such as ‘it doesn’t feel ok to reject a women’s advances because the idea that men always want sex, are always desperate for sex, means that the male rejection of women feels almost like an insult’.

If the cultural narrative is that ‘men always want sex from women’, then it follows that men can’t be raped. This is absolutely not the case.

As I started to see the beginnings of how consent culture has left men behind, I looked for data. It was hard to find as it often isn’t collected, and even then, it is often not the subjects of magazine articles, helpline advertising and so on. In 2017 I wrote about the high prevalence of sexual violence and rape of men. But back then I hadn’t discovered that much of violence this is perpetrated by women.

Rape has mostly been something that can legally only happen to women.

Until recently, “forcible rape” had been defined by the Uniform Crime Report Summary Reporting System as “the carnal knowledge of a female, forcibly and against her will.” This is definition that has remained in place and unchanged for nearly a century, clearly restricts our ability to look at sexual assault and rape of different kinds, notably, rape that happens to anyone who is not female.

The Department of Justice writes “[This definition..] only included forcible male penile penetration of a female vagina. The new definition is: “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” {source — Dept of Justice archives}.

Rape happens to men (at rates you may struggle to believe)

Extraordinarily, it was only in 2012, for the first time, this new definition includes any gender of victim and perpetrator. What this means is that our statistics and data on who (men or women) experiences violence and who perpetrates are likely incredibly skewed. In 2012, the National Crime Victimization Survey revealed a stunning statistic from 40,000 homes about rape and sexual violence: 38 percent of incidents reported were against men. In 2016 the option “being forced to penetrate” included the CDC violence surveys [source]. Once you include these options in the surveys of sexual violence, the gender differences start to look very different. With these updated definitions of rape, men are being raped almost as much as women, and much of this is perpetrated by women.

“Being made to penetrate someone else (asked of males only) includes when a victim was made to, or an attempt was made 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 too drunk, high, drugged, or passed out and unable to consent. Among men, being made to penetrate someone else could have occurred in multiple ways: being made to vaginally penetrate a female using one’s own penis; being made to penetrate a female’s vagina or anus with their mouth; being made to anally penetrate a male or female; or being made to receive oral sex from a male or female. It also includes male and female perpetrators attempting to force male victims to penetrate them, but the act was not completed.”

This is not limited to rape or made to penetrate (MTP) harms; similar patterns are seen in intimate partner violence: 97% of men who experienced rape, physical violence, or stalking by an intimate partner had only female perpetrators [source - CDC].

Women sexually assault men

Men are assaulted often. I commonly hear people assuming that this is just more male perpetrated violence. However, in terms of sexual assault and rape, men are most often assaulted by women, and much of that includes violence.

In 2014 Stemple, L., & Meyer, I. H. (2014) looked at sexual victimisation in 5 federal surveys conducted independently between 2010 & 2012. They found “a high prevalence of sexual victimisation among men — in many circumstances similar to the prevalence found among women.” The CDC’s data revealed that men and women were equally likely to experience non-consensual sex, and most male victims reported female perpetrators.

“It found that over their lifetime, women were vastly more likely to experience abuse perpetrated by men, as were male victims who were penetrated without their consent. “But among men reporting other forms of sexual victimization, 68.6% reported female perpetrators,” the paper reports, while among men reporting being made to penetrate, “the form of nonconsensual sex that men are much more likely to experience in their lifetime … 79.2% of victimized men reported female perpetrators. [..] We therefore believe that this article provides more definitive estimates about the prevalence of female sexual perpetration than has been provided in the literature to date. Taken as a whole, the reports we examine document surprisingly significant prevalence of female-perpetrated sexual victimization, mostly against men and occasionally against women.” [ source ]

They went on to report that factors that perpetuate misconceptions about men’s sexual victimisation include reliance on traditional gender stereotypes, outdated and inconsistent definitions, and methodological sampling biases that exclude inmates.

This is a horrifying state of affairs. After generations of humans have fought to have violence against women, and male perpetrated violence put at the forefront, it turns out that we have a state-coded and culturally upheld blind spot about the sexual assault of men.

Where do we go from here?

This post is not just a cry for us to pay attention to the harm of men. It is also a post about the capacity of women for violence. Ultimately this is a request that we all pay attention to the ways that we are embodying and perpetrating a violent society and treacherous sexual economy.

As Mithu Sanyal writes in their incredible history of rape: “Now we know that our society constructs women as objects of violence and men as subjects of violence: A man (subject) hurts a woman (object). Less well known but in no way less relevant is that women are presented as subjects of fear and men as objects of fear: A woman (subject) fears a man (object).

If your feminism parses women as people who cannot and do not commit violence and sexual assault, but as simply the recipients and targets of harm, you might want to consider an update to your thinking. If your feminism parses women as innocents who can only exist as victims-in-waiting, who cannot lie, manipulate and do enact great harm, you are still failing to see women as human beings fully capable of the full range of human experiences.

More concerning perhaps, as Kristin Bumiller posits “These narratives exaggerate the potential for all women to become victims and the need for state-exercised social control as well as make it appear that sexual violence is at the root of social disorder”.

Ultimately, as long as we continue to incorrectly assert that sexual violence is something that men do to women, our attempts at transformative justice, addressing harm at the root, will stumble. Underneath this ‘gendered grammar of violence’, remains a dehumanizing narrative about both men and women. Meanwhile none of this really speaks to humans outside of the gender binary who are both at risk of violence but often not afforded the protections nor sympathy that cis-humans receive. We must do better.

Perhaps there are lessons that we can learn from the incredible work that the feminist movement has done to highlight violence towards women. Perhaps we can actually do better.

In their book “In An Abusive State: How Neoliberalism Appropriated the Feminist Movement against Sexual Violence”, Kristin Bumiller posits that the feminist campaign to stop sexual violence has entered into a problematic alliance with, and even co-optation by the neoliberal state. The result, they argue is that in many ways things are worse for women now. Not only have we landed in a sexual panic, there is widespread distortion of risk (our notions of who is at risk, where and from whom are often inaccurate), but victims that are women are subject to surveillance and criminalization themselves.

“One of the most consequential results of the war metaphor (‘gender war’) is that it armed the notion that all acts of violence against women should primarily be seen as an assault on their gender identity.”

We have painfully watched how women are expected to perform the perfect victim in order to be believed, for harms done to them to be taken seriously. The court of public opinion is on the hunt for a victim/survivor that is a credible source, someone worthy of our sympathy and outrage, both in terms of how they look but also how they behave. This is a harmful trope that we have watched play out over and over again in the rape and sexual assult of women. We can learn from this, so that when it comes to protecting men from sexual violence, we don’t fall into this same trap.

There is much we have learned. We must do better.

How do we do that?
Over the past few years I have tried to bring these statistics and facts up in conversation. I have been met with disbelief, bewilderment that turns to ‘surely it must be’ type.. excuse making. I understand that it is hard for us to give up or change our beliefs on things. It was once said that “People generally do not come to believe things after seeing them; they see things only when they already believe them”. Open your mind to the idea that non-women experience sexual violence. That intimate partner violence towards men is rife, serious and unacceptable. It is not the butt of a joke as the media loves to portray it.

“People generally do not come to believe things after seeing them; they see things only when they already believe them.” — Tomasulo

From “Rape: From Lucretia to #MeToo”

This post is neither to detract from the vital goal of addressing male violence towards women. Nor is it an attempt to neutralise gender based violence by pointing out that both men and women are perpetrators, and both are victims. It is not an attempt to say that all humans are at equal risk of these harms, it’s is clear that different demographics and groups are at greater risk. It is a cry for us to pay attention to where our cultural understandings of who is at risk and where, be aware of our blind spots, and that we leave no group of human (or non-human) behind in our aspirations to create a less violent world.

I hope that you can use this information to open the eyes and hearts of those around you. To have these conversations, to pay attention to capacity we all have for harm, and the ways that men are harmed that are often invisible to us. I hope that with this understanding we can work to undermine the root causes of our violent world, without turning a blind eye to the plight of men, often at the hands of women, just as women have experienced for generations.

Useful links

(in no particular order)

In an Abusive State: How Neoliberalism Appropriated the Feminist Movement against Sexual Violence


Safety Planning and Intimate Partner Violence- A Toolkit for Survivors and Supporters

Supporting male victims of crimes considered violence against women and girls

A Review of Research on Women’s Use of Violence With Male Intimate Partners

Help for men who are being abused

Male rape and restorative justice


Barriers to Men’s Help Seeking for Intimate Partner Violence

What About the Men? A Critical Review of Men’s Experiences of Intimate Partner Violence


Rape:From Lucretia to #MeToo

Sexual Assault of Men Played for Laughs — Part 2 Female Perpetrators