Real men don't rape


Violence in FamiliesWhat if you lived in a country where one in every four men had raped a woman or girl? Or where one in every 25 had perpetrated gang rape? Rape with impunity.

Precisely these figures have come to light in a current Australian co-sponsored study of sexual violence in six Asia-Pacific countries. They are data averages from more than ten thousand men interviewed by the United Nations Partners for Prevention 'Change Project'.

In one country, of the men who admitted to rape, more than one in two said they'd started raping in their teens. Across the entire region, one in every two men said they had used violence against an intimate partner.

Why do men commit sexual violence? This is the question driving the research.

The study's preliminary findings, presented at the United Nations in March, show that, on average, nearly one in two perpetrators says they rape women 'for entertainment' or out of 'boredom'. Roughly one in three says he rapes out of anger and the desire to punish.

Perhaps the most disturbing finding was that almost three out of every four claim rape is men's prerogative. Men, they say, are entitled to take what is rightfully theirs — women's bodies — regardless of consent. This chimes with Australian research showing that men who kill their partners do so mainly out of possessiveness.

Why, to date, have we heard so little from rapists about why they rape? Is it out of the misguided belief that trying to make sense of criminal behaviour is the same as condoning it?

Some say involving men in analysing the problem either excuses the perpetrator or blames the victim. Neither is the case. Working toward getting perpetrators to take responsibility and accept the consequences — preferably restorative justice, incarceration if necessary, but not the death penalty — is part of resolving the problem.

The idea that, by raping women, men 'prove their manhood' is not just a key part of the problem; it also points to its source: the way men are socialised into manhood.

Nearly nine out of every ten men in the study said that 'to be a man you need to be tough'. Of the men who were subjected to peer pressure to join in gang rape and refused, many said they had been ridiculed as a result: 'You are not a real man; you are gay' is the usual taunt, said one anti-violence educator.

'Above all else', said an interviewer, the men who raped 'wanted to fit in with their friends, even if it was at the expense of women': 'We are good friends', said one man she interviewed, 'so we want to have sex together with one girl.' They show off to each other, said one researcher, about who can have sex the longest.

What's going on here? How does such appalling treatment of women come to sound so ordinary, no more than a variation on masculine competition — a step up from who-can-pee-fartherest?

What's going on is that making the grade as a 'real' man brings hard-won privileges that can be lost at any moment. Such loss makes the man the equivalent of a woman, that is, open to despisal and violence. Some men are so alarmed by the idea that they participate in gang rape to prove their 'real' manliness.

According to Ravi Verma of the International Centre for Research on Women, men who perpetrate gang rape are more likely to have been bullied by other men for 'failing' some test of manhood, for example masculine heterosexual performance, dominating women or perfecting emotional disconnection from sex.

Men learn to dread the 'softer' side of their own nature — more precisely, to dread being punished for it by other men — and to blame women for it.

To observers who say it's not that simple, I agree. There are complex layers to this phenomenon that little short of a thesis can address. One critical factor in male violence is the experience of early trauma.

Not all violated boys grow up committing violence. But, the UN study found, compared to non-abused men, men who were abused as children or raped by men were twice as likely to perpetrate sexual violence against women. Men who had been subjected to homophobic violence were three times more likely to take part in gang rape.

The most hopeful finding from the study is the vast inter-country disparity in the prevalence of sexual violence (ranging from 25 to 80 per cent). The disparity shows that while gender violence is pervasive it is not inevitable. It is a cultural phenomenon that can be altered.

That one in every four men in the study admitted to having perpetrated rape means that the other three don't rape (or didn't admit to it).

Most men who rape say they do so because they are entitled to. When men who don't rape and bash tell the violent minority that they have no such right, the dreadful statistics will start to plummet. Even though the very idea of 'real' men is nonsensical, it would be a relief to know it meant standing up for what's right. 

Andee Jones headshotAndee Jones is an author and retired academic and psychologist researching institutionalised abuse. Her essays and creative nonfiction are published in mainstream, literary and scholarly journals. Her most recent book is Barking Mad: Too much therapy is never enough. Her 2010 memoir Kissing Frogs has been adapted for the stage by AFI-winner Annie Byron as RU4Me, touring Australia regionally in 2013. The symbolic image of family violence is from Shutterstock. 

Topic tags: Andee Jones, rape



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Existing comments

Thanks Andee for bringing this UN study to our attention. I hadn't seen anything about it in the media. The research findings are difficult to hear, and I'm grateful for the message of hope for change.
Lee | 22 April 2013

The research here is very telling about the conduct and behavior of so many men in the six countries mentioned and I imagine also in Australia. The final paragraph offers the way forward to resolve this problem. I believe that this process of men telling other men what is and what is not acceptable has begun with the group, What Men Really Think About. In this program a panel of three men address a public meeting of mostly men and discuss their experience and ideas of aspects of life. I believe this is the way men will develop a new view of women where they are not viewed as a man's possession.
Kevin Vaughan | 23 April 2013

one wonders about the "sense of entitlement" claims. violence must be prevalent in many SE Asian and Pacific societies. Makes you wonder about "our" society here in Australia.
clem schaper | 23 April 2013

A remarkably clear sighted and helpful article on an appalling subject, Andee. Like many other appalling subjects - paedophilia for one - this is another which needs a non stereotypical approach to have positive fruit. "Being a man" in this context, like being an active participant in the disgusting & destructive bullying that took and still takes place in some of our GPS boys schools, is a dreadful & deceptive piece of Newspeak used to conceal a vile crime. I think there have been some studies by psychologists of this sort of degraded behaviour which could potentially be helpful.
Edward F | 24 April 2013

Of course being told your whole life that having a penis automatically makes you a rapist doesn't help much either.
cabrogal | 02 May 2013

This is simply not true. I've spent most of my life in Asia-Pacific (where I was born) and the idea that "at least" one in four men is a rapist is ludicrous. Crime where I live is far, far lower than in Australia, Europe or North America. I would say that our negligible crime rate is what you'd expect to see in a country that actually practiced Christianity (although it is not a Christian country). I'm willing to bet that you haven't read the study but are merely summarizing a summary of it. The study's definition of "violence" included "belittling a partner" and "preventing her from working". Yes, we are sinners and we do all these things, as do people in other regions. But to present us as a land of rapists is so wrong.
Big Scientist | 08 May 2013

I agree with Big Scientist. This story is completely divorced from reality.

I expect far better from Eureka Street. These type of stories are as common as they are untrue. We need to wake up and realise the extent that cultural misandry is now being aided and abetted by media and government.

This sort of rhetoric is not in the interests of women or men, but simply to further the destructive ideology of gender feminists.

There is also a disturbing trend towards censorship of any dissenting voices by feminists as demonstrated by the recent demonstration at the University of Toronto and the campaign by WAM to censor facebook which was framed as a campaign to fight hate speech, but has been used to remove content that is clearly not hateful, but simply refutes these statistics as lies.

Please stop woozling statistics and demonising men. These statistics are just a thinly-veiled attempt to push the "all men are rapists" propaganda which is closer to hate speech than what is now being censored by WAM on facebook and elsewhere in the media.
Lambo | 08 June 2013

What if you lived in a culture where every man had violated every woman or girl? Or where 25 in every 25 had perpetrated gang abuse? While it is not technically rape, it certainly is the abuse and disempowerment that women suffer every day in the Catholic Church by virtue of the fact that men impose their wills on women who have fewer choices. Thank you Andree for raising our consciousness to the reality of widespread serious abuse of women.
Therese | 19 June 2013


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