The mythology of male rape: social attitudes and law enforcement



Publication Details

Rumney, P. N. S. & Hanley, N. (2010). The mythology of male rape: social attitudes and law enforcement. In C. McGlynn & V. E. Munro (Eds.), Rethinking Rape Law: International and Comparative Perspectives (pp. 294-307). Abingdon, United Kingdom: Routledge.


In the last two decades, adult male rape and sexual assault have been the subject of a 'knowledge explosion' akin to the increase in research concerning female rape and child sexual abuse in the 1970s (Kelly 1988: 43). Scholarly responses have contributed greatly to our understanding of the prevalence, dynamics, nature and impact of adult male rape. This work has examined such issues as the problem of male sexual victimization within institutional settings (Banbury 2004; u'Donnell 2004), within the general population (Coxell et al. 1999; Sorenson et al. 1987), during wartime (Sivakumaran 2007), and within the gay community (Hickson et .la 1987; Kendall and Martino 2006). It has also explored the nature, dynamics and impact of male victimization (Light and Monk-Turner 2008; Walker et al. 2005a; Walker et al. 2005b; Allen 2002; Mezey and King 2000), including comparative analysis of male and female rape (Elliott et al. 2004). Male rape has a long recorded history (Jones 2000) and recent research provides detailed information on social and legal attitudes to this problem as far back as the seventeenth century (Sommer 2000: Ch. 4). Of particular relevance to this chapter, there has been a growth in research examining the treatment of male rape by the criminal law and criminal justice system, including the views and perceptions of criminal justice professionals (Saunders 2009; Abdullah-Kahn 2008) and victims (Jamel et al. 2008; Rumney 2008; Rumney 2001). Questions have also been raised concerning whether male victims suffer a form of secondary victimization within the criminal justice system, resulting from issues linked to sexuality and, in particular, homosexuality (White and Robinson Kurpius 2002; Anderson and Doherty 2008; Rumney 2009). This chapter seeks to explore the extent to which social attitndes towards male rape are influenced by myths, misunderstandings and stereotypes. It draws on focus group research, conducted by the authors, which attempts to ascertain perceptions of male rape complainants and defendants by the use of fictional vignettes containing factual variables. This specific research builds on earlier focus group work (Anderson and Doherty 2008), by examining a series of factual variables that have not previously been considered in attitude research involving male rape. Given the amount of data generated by the focus group discussions, an exhaustive examination of these discussions is precluded. Consequently, this chapter will examine several specific issues. First, we examine the effect of complainant resistance and injury on participants' perceptions of his credibility. Secondly, we consider the use of sexuality and intoxication to judge complainant credibility, as well as the potential blameworthiness of the defendant in the vignette. Finally, building on work involving female rape complainants, this chapter explores possible linkages between the attitudes exhibited by the focus group participants and the wider criminal justice process.

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