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The shocking truth about sexual assault

President Obama signs the Campus Sexual Assault Presidential Memorandum in the East Room as several women, including former HHS Secretary Kathleen Sebelius, observe.
President Obama signs the Campus Sexual Assault Presidential Memorandum in the East Room as several women, including former HHS Secretary Kathleen Sebelius, observe.
Lawrence Jackson / Whitehouse.gov

Few Americans know the shocking truth about sexual assault. Numbers of reported sexual assaults continue to rise and it seems scandals involving high-profile individuals never go away. Still, none of this should come as a shock. No, the most shocking fact about sexual assault is that men and women are assaulted at nearly identical rates. A study released by Laura Stemple and Ilan Meyer and published in the American Journal of Public Health combined past surveys in order to reach this shocking conclusion. The evidence contained in the study puts the old notion to rest that the perpetrator of sexual assault is always a male and the victim always a female.

This study also happened to be released just prior to the annual report from the Department of Defense on sexual assault in the military. Cases of reported sexual assault have risen 50% over the past year. In a survey conducted as part of the 2012 DoD report, it was estimated that about 14,000 men were the victims of unwanted sexual contact in the past 12 months, compared to 12,000 women. It is true that women are assaulted in higher percentages, but in raw terms men are assaulted in higher numbers in the military.

Despite the higher total number of sexual assault victims in the military being male, the issue is treated with an extreme gender bias. The advocates, such as Senator Kirsten Gilibrand, that are pursuing changes in this arena have by and large been female. The language used by these individuals suggest that women bear a much greater burden than men and that this should really be a woman's issue. This is simply not the case.

In addition to the military, another segment of the population ignored and swept under the rug are prison inmates. Numbers compiled by the Bureau of Justice Statistics revealed that nearly a million individuals reported some form of sexual assault at some point over the course of a 12-month period while incarcerated. Unfortunately, none of these numbers are ever tallied as a part of the total sexual assaults reported by other agencies. When we consider that roughly 75% of the prison population has only been convicted of a non-violent offense, the problem becomes even more egregious. It is plausible to assume the environment and lack of mitigation have caused numerous non-violent individuals to either be assaulted or commit assaults on other prisoners. This is hardly the purpose of incarceration. Yet, there remains little concern for the plight of those in these situations compared to others.

Instead, America reacts to the sexual assault epidemic in a predictable, sexist manner, rather than even attempting a proactive solution that benefits ALL of it's citizens. The attention paid to sexual assault on college campuses overshadows any other effort, even though there is little evidence that sexual assaults occur on campuses in much greater percentages than in prisons, the military, or any other close-quartered living situation. Shouldn't more attention be paid to the problem occurring in all of these places?

The result of these poorly designed policies is the alienation of male assault victims. Many victims may internalize their feelings or even convince themselves they were not truly assaulted in order to maintain their mental health. Of course, the same can be said of any sexual assault victim, but the lack or reporting by male victims in particular only exacerbates the problem for males. In the end, the response to these horrific crimes ends up being muddled for all victims, not just men. This article is not to demean any female victims or to downplay the seriousness of this issue for anyone. The point is that until the entire problem of sexual assault is addressed, there can never be progress towards any kind of solution.