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Image / Editorial

Can only a man commit rape? Yes, according to UK law


By Amanda Cassidy
26th Jul 2019
Can only a man commit rape? Yes, according to UK law

Under current UK legislation, only a man can commit rape. Amanda Cassidy on gender double standards when it comes to violent crime.


In Ireland, under section 2 of the Criminal Law (Rape) Act 1981, a person is guilty of rape if they know at the time that the complainant is not consenting, or if they are reckless as to whether there is consent. There is no mention of gender.

But in some countries, rape is described as penetrative sex with a woman without her consent. But what if a woman makes a man have penetrative sex with her? Is it rape and why shouldn’t it be?

“There was also a startling amount of childhood sexual abuse where men were forced to penetrate women”.

That’s what the author of a new study suggests. Dr Siobhan Weare of Lancaster University Law School published her study this week – based on one-to-one interviews with 30 men in the past year.  It explores in detail the context in which forced penetration occurs, its consequences, and the response of the current UK criminal justice system. Which she believes is not good enough.

Related: Rape on trial: Is the legal system discouraging victims coming forward

Vulnerable

For many of those who took part in the study, those who say they were raped by women, said they felt frustrated and embarrassed. One person said it was more of a social attitude that men were just too powerful to possibly made sexually vulnerable.

“Talking about the fact that your ex-partner used to get drunk and force herself on you, rape you essentially, it’s like most blokes’ fantasy isn’t it?” said one of the participants.”Down the pub, you know, she gets a bit drunk, she gets a bit frisky ‘Yay! Oh, that would be fantastic! I would love a bit of that!’ No, you really wouldn’t, you bloody wouldn’t. It’s not the way that you think it is.”

A majority of the men who took part in the survey that it was partners or ex-partners who often repeatedly forced the men to have sex with them — sometimes as part of some kind of domestic abuse. There was also a startling amount of childhood sexual abuse where men were forced to penetrate women.

Under UK legislation in 2003, The Sexual Offences Act covers male to male victim rape as covered by the wording  “the penetration of the mouth, anus or vagina with the defendant’s penis” is sufficient for rape.

Coerced

Others in the study claimed they weren’t believed. According to one interviewee, a police officer told him “you must have enjoyed it or you’d have reported it sooner.” In the study, outlined today on the BBC, another man describes being coerced into sex while working abroad as a student. A woman he worked with discovered he was gay and threatened to out him unless he slept with her. As he hasn’t yet told his family or friends, he felt he had no choice but to comply.

“All victims of sexual abuse are more likely to develop depression, mental health issues and anxiety problems”.

Consider this scenario: Two friends both falling asleep at a party, both drunk and both wake up to find a stranger having sex with them against their will. The scene is the same but the reactions very different. One was taken as a serious case of rape. The other was seen as a bit of a joke and the person was asked if the ‘rapist’ was ‘hot’. Under Irish law, both are considered rape because the consent isn’t there. Elsewhere in some jurisdictions, it might not be if the perpetrator is female.

So is rape a gendered crime, and shouldn’t men who are forced to penetrate be considered rape victims?

All victims of sexual abuse are more likely to develop depression, mental health issues and anxiety problems. These are long-lasting effects that should never be dismissed because of your gender. Going through the ordeal only to be embarrassed and then not believed and being told it isn’t a crime must be extremely difficult.

There is no doubt that this is a hugely under-discussed issue that perpetuates double standards. It also reinforces gendered stereotypes about male and female sexuality.

The study’s leader, Dr Weare calls this a ‘hidden crime’. It wasn’t that long ago that male victims of domestic abuse were told to ‘cop on’. These new findings suggest that legal reform in this area is massively overdue.

Image via Unsplash.com

Read more: Rape and victim-blaming

Read more: The trauma of child sexual abuse: ‘I couldn’t’ hide it anymore’

Read more: Sexual harassment: Why are we still making excuses?