Anti-Men Gender Bias in Official Rape Reporting

face of a prisoner

Within circumstances of extraordinarily high incarceration that is highly disproportionately imposed on men, U.S. official, expert national surveys of rape victimization have been systematically gender-biased against men. If men made to penetrate sexually is counted as real rape, then the best quality U.S. survey found that about 1.3 million rapes of men occur per year. That number is about equal to the findings of rapes of women per year. More generally, rape of men has been greatly under-reported. Rape of women has been inflated over time by victimization survey redesigns. Like anti-men gender bias in discussing and addressing domestic violence, anti-men gender bias in considering rape is deeply embedded in public discourse.

Until 2008, official victimization surveys didn’t cover victimization of inmates. Sexual victimization occurs at a rate about 500 times higher for inmates than for non-inmates. About ten times more men than women are held as inmates. The average number of sexual victimizations per inmate is about equal for male and female inmates. Hence, among inmates in total, men suffer about ten times more sexual victimizations than women do. Not including inmates in rape surveys greatly under-reports rape of men. That under-reporting obscures the reality that reducing incarceration can reduce rape.

Victimization surveys have explicitly or implicitly excluded rape of men. From its inception in 1930 until 2012, U.S. Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) national statistical reporting of rape excluded rapes of males.^ Three U.S. Department of Justice’s reports on trends in criminal victimization published up to 1994 reported only female rape victimization trends.^ ^ ^ The Department of Justice reports were based on the most prominent U.S. national survey of criminal victimization, the annual National Crime Victimization Survey (NCVS). NCVS, like the FBI reports, focuses the definition of rape on the act of penetration. The FBI and NCVS fail to recognize a significant number of men made to penetrate sexually another person. The 2010 National Intimate Partner and Sexual Violence Survey (NISVS) estimated that 1.3 million men were made to penetrate sexually other persons. That is equal to the NISVS estimate of women raped (defined as “completed forced penetration, attempted forced penetration, and completed alcohol or drug facilitated penetration”).^ Consistently with gender victimization equality in a non-gender-biased concept of rape, average sexual victimizations per inmate for men and women inmates are roughly equal. Informative reporting of sexual victimization surveys would recognize roughly equal sexual victimization of men and women. But official, expert, national data collections have largely ignored sexual victimization of men.

The most prominent U.S. national survey of criminal victimization has changed its reporting of sexual victimization over decades in ways that obscure its definitions of sexual victimization. Through 1992, the U.S. Department of Justice’s annual NCVS summary reports listed sexual victimization using one heading, “rape.” In 1993, the NCVS report changed the headline category in the main offense table to “rape/sexual assault.” That reform added sub-categories as follows:

Rape/Sexual Assault

Rape/Attempted rape


Attempted rape (n1: includes verbal threats of rape)

Sexual assault ( n2: includes threats)

The new “rape/sexual assault” heading didn’t include men made to penetrate sexually another person. In the 2002 report, an new summary table, presented first in the report (Table 1), listed just the heading “rape/sexual assault.” The subsequent Table 2 provided the above categorical breakdown of “rape/sexual assault.” In the 2006 report, the second table detailing categorizes of “rape/sexual assault” was eliminated from the main report and pushed to a second report containing just statistical tables. In the 2009 report, an inconsistent higher level heading “serious violent crime” was added encompassing “rape/sexual assault,” reported without the above sub-category detail. Threats of sexual assault, which are distinguished from verbal threats of rape, were thus implicitly included within “serious violent crime.” The supplementary publication of statistical tables, which had previously included the rape/sexual assault sub-categories, was eliminated. In 2011, the headings of Table 1 were changed to have both the headings “violent crime” and “serious violent crime.” The heading “rape/sexual assault” was shifted to the former heading, and the new heading “serious domestic violence” was added to the latter heading. Domestic violence includes rape/sexual assault of persons defined as relevant to domestic violence.

Variance in Official U.S. Rape Figures, Benchmarked to 1992

figure sourcefigure for
rape/sexual assault
Source: See rape variance sheet in punishment dataset.
felony convictions of rape in state courts21,655
forcible rape offenses known to police109,062
National Crime Victimization Survey (1)140,930
National Crime Victimization Survey (2)607,000
National Crime Victimization Survey (3)1,034,743
National Intimate Partner and Sexual Violence Survey4,455,111

Official rape figures vary by about a factor of 200. The year 1992 provides the best opportunity to compare different estimates. A revision to NCVS about 1992 produced a published figure for “rape/sexual assault” more than four times higher than the previously published figures for “rape.” Another revision of NCVS about the year 2010 roughly doubled the figure for rape/sexual assault recalculated for about 1992. The 2010 NISVS figure reported for “rape,” scaled to 1992 using the NCVS rape/sexual assault yearly figures, is 32 times higher than the original NCVS figure for rape. The NISVS rape figure scaled to 1992 is 206 times higher than the number of felony convictions for rape in state courts in 1992. None of these figures include within rape or rape/sexual assault men made to penetrate sexually another person. If such sexual vicimization were included, the figure for rapes would roughly double.

Belief that the number of men convicted of rape is too low has been common in public discourse. Official surveys of criminal victimization have worked to support that belief. While maintaining deep anti-men gender-bias, those surveys have been continually redesigned in ways that have produced bigger figures for rapes of women. In reporting rape, official criminal victimization surveys have furthered the criminalization of men.

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