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Male abuse victims: 'It is easier to believe that men are Harvey Weinsteins'

Our double standard regarding male and female agency is why men are reluctant to come forward to report any kind of abuse, writes James Behan.

James Behan Men's Voices Ireland

THE STORY OF Hollywood producer Harvey Weinstein is, in many ways, an old one: a person wielding their power and influence as a tool for their depredations.

The sheer volume of sexual abuse allegations against Weinstein has prompted much discussion about the Hollywood Boy’s Club, its hush money and its open secrets. The debate has understandably focused on female victims of predatory males.

But men have also suffered this kind of abuse. Two men in the film industry have come out to reveal their experiences: James Van Der Beek who had several experiences of groping harassment by older, powerful men, said he applauds everybody who speaks out; whilst Terry Crews has also reported being groped at a public function by “a high level Hollywood executive”.

Challenging our perceptions of victimhood

The case of Crews in particular challenges our perceptions of victimhood. Crews is a former NFL player and is famous for his muscular physique. His reluctance to come forward was motivated by many of the same fears as the women who up until now were too afraid to speak out about Weinstein: the fear of not being believed and getting blacklisted for daring to speak out.

Both Crews and Van Der Beek were male victims of male assailants. Men and women can be both victims and perpetrators of sexual abuse, but the prevailing narrative is that it is overwhelmingly women who are victims and men who are perpetrators.

However, evidence has emerged in recent years to show that women are perpetrators in surprisingly many cases. A major US study from 2014 lays out in detail how and where this happens, and who the abusers are by gender. To quote from the study:  

In 2011, for example…equal numbers of men and women reported being forced into non-consensual sex (either raped themselves or forced to penetrate someone else).

The survey estimated that nearly 4.5 million men in the US had at some time in their lives been forced to penetrate another person, which the authors consider to be form of rape and crucially, that in 79.2% of cases the perpetrator forcing the sexual act was a woman. Writing in Scientific American, the authors of the study characterise our attitudes towards male victims as a part of the problem:

…the assumption that men are always perpetrators and never victims reinforces unhealthy ideas about men and their supposed invincibility.

Sexual abuse is not perpetrated exclusively by men

Another type of abuse that gets a great deal of attention is the abuse, particularly the sexual abuse, of children by adults. Once again, the overwhelming consensus is that this abuse is perpetrated almost exclusively by men.

However there have been dozens of cases in the recent past of women teachers abusing boys as young as 15. However the media treatment of these cases is still very different to when the perpetrator is a male. The obvious power dynamic of the classroom is ignored, the female abuser is often painted as a seductress rather than a sexual predator, and the boys – even when they are below the legal age of consent – are often portrayed as particularly fortunate individuals rather than victims.  

Men are reluctant to come forward

This double standard regarding male and female agency is a large part of why men are extraordinarily reluctant to come forward to report any kind of abuse. To quote Irish statistics, the National Crime Council report of 2005 showed that only one man in twenty who is a victim of serious intimate partner violence will report this to the authorities, compared to almost one in three women.

The cause for this discrepancy has not been studied, but it is likely due to the stigma attached with being the victim in a society that constantly portrays males as those with agency, and as the victimisers. There is also a dearth of supports and services for male victims. There are no shelters for male victims, and according to Cosc, the National Office for the Prevention of Domestic, Sexual and Gender Based Violence, the spending on male victims of domestic abuse in 2012 accounted for just 0.6% of total expenditure.

The reluctance of men to acknowledge their own victimhood is frequently attributed to ‘toxic masculinity,’ which is perhaps the last socially acceptable form of victim blaming. However we should not be asking why men will not come forward to report abuse; we should instead be asking why any men are capable of coming forward at all when there are almost no services to support them and a high probability that their victimhood will not be taken seriously.

There is no single quick fix that will encourage more men to come forward with their stories of abuse. A good place to start is with our own attitudes male victims. Old assumptions about agency, victimhood and gender must be challenged if there is to be any change. As it stands, it is easier – and more convenient – to believe that men are Harvey Weinsteins.

James Behan is a member of Men’s Voices Ireland. Men’s Voices Ireland is holding a conference on issues of concern to men and boys in Wynn’s Hotel on Saturday, November 18th 2017. If you wish to listen to talks on issues similar to those discussed in the article and engage in open discussion sessions, tickets are available on Eventbrite.com.

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James Behan  / Men's Voices Ireland

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