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Can’t Hear or Won’t Hear: Gender, Sexualities and Reporting Male Rape


Aliraza Javaid

ABSTRACT: Drawing on heteronormativity and hegemonic masculinity, this paper seeks to unravel the issue of the underreporting of male rape to the police and to the third sector. Critically examining the issue of male sexual victimisation will provide a fuller understanding of it within the police and third sector context. Underpinned by gender theories and concepts and the framework of heteronormativity, I argue that male victims of rape are reticent to engage with the police and voluntary agency practitioners because of hostile, sexist and homophobic reactions, attitudes, and appraisal, particularly from other men in these agencies within England to police masculinities and sexualities. I draw on primary data of police officers and voluntary agency practitioners (n = 70) to illustrate the ways wherein gender and sexualities norms and beliefs affect and shape their understanding and view of men as victims of rape. The data suggests that, when male rape victims report their rape, they are susceptible to a ‘fag discourse’, whereby the police and voluntary agency practitioners are likely to perpetuate language to suggest that the victims are not ‘real’ men, intensifying their reluctance to report and to engage with the criminal justice system. Thus, the police and voluntary agency practitioners’, particularly male workers, masculinities are strengthened through emasculating male rape victims.

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Introduction

This paper focuses on adult male victims of rape and sexual violence in England. The Sexual Offences Act 2003 strengthened and modernised the law on sexual offences. This Act extends the definition of rape to include the penetration by a penis of the vagina, anus, or mouth of another person. Moreover, I argue that sexual violence is any unwanted sexual act or activity. For example, as my own cultural definition, male sexual assault is a form of sexual violence, in that male sexual assault is an act of psychological, physical, and emotional violation in the form of a sexual act, which is inflicted on a male without his consent by either a man or a woman. It can include manipulating or forcing a male to participate in any sexual act, such as the male or female offender intentionally touching the victim in a sexual way, apart from penetration of the mouth or anus (however slight) with the penis since this would be rape. These definitions of male rape and sexual assault form the conceptual basis for this paper, while also including a broad spectrum of other unwilling sexual acts in the critical discussions within this paper, such as non-consensual object penetration.

Although there is a lack of male rape research in comparison to female rape research, there is even more scarce research on the nature and pattern of the underreporting of male rape using the theoretical frameworks of heteronormativity and hegemonic masculinity. This paper seeks to fill this void. Approximately, according to police statistics, 12,000 men are raped in England and Wales alone every year, but only around 15% of those who experience sexual violence choose to report to the police (Ministry of Justice, 2013). These figures, however, are likely to be huge underestimates, considering the ‘dark figure’ of crime. In other words, many victims are reticent to come forward to report their rape to the police and to seek support from the third sector, so there is more likely to be many more male rape victims than the figures suggest. Therefore, this paper seeks to explore the issue of the underreporting of male rape to give some level of understanding as to why male rape victims are reluctant to engage with the criminal justice system and the third sector. For this paper, I draw on primary data including police officers and voluntary agency practitioners (n = 70) to illustrate the ways in which gender and sexualities norms and beliefs affect and shape their understanding and view of men as victims of rape, particularly in relation to the underreporting of male rape. This paper will, furthermore, attempt to understand male rape discourse through the perspectives of the respondents, which will reveal nuanced understandings in relation to the issue of the underreporting of male rape.

In respect of the structure for this paper, I will first contextualise the issue of the underreporting of male rape, so as to frame the arguments made in this paper. Then, I outline the qualitative study that this paper draws data from; it is here where I give a comprehensive account of the research methods and methodology adopted; a detailed discussion of ethics is also raised given the sensitivity of the topic. After outlining the qualitative study and ethical issues, I outline the findings and discussion section that conveys the data and analysis pertaining to the issue of the underreporting of male rape, using theoretical frameworks, such as heteronormativity, to elucidate and make sense of the findings and the arguments made. Finally, the conclusion briefly sums up the main arguments of the paper, while also offering suggestions for future research and better practice to support male rape victims, encouraging them to engage with the criminal justice system and the third sector should the victims choose to do so. To raise awareness of the issue of underreporting of male rape, I first put it into context so as to set the scene.

Contextualising the Issue of Underreporting of Male Rape: an Overview

For male rape to be recognised in societies, reporting them is important in order to have services available to help male rape victims, which in turn get social recognition of male rape. How the police respond to male rape victims can be critical for how the victims experience the reporting procedure; for instance, whether the victims are treated equitably and fairly. Research studies, though, have found that men are reluctant to report to the police for various reasons. These studies will be critically reviewed to give an understanding why men may be reluctant to report to the officials.

In a study that examined men’s sexual victimisation experiences in the United States, using a nationally representative sample of victim narratives from the National Crime Victimisation Survey, Weiss (2010) found that, whilst 30% of female rape victims reported their rape to the police, only 15% of male rape victims reported their rape to the police. Weiss’ study had a much broader definition of sexual assault (including attempted sexual assault and non-penetrative contact offences), and found that women were more likely to experience penetrative sexual assault than men. Hence women’s increased reporting can be attributed to the fact that they are more likely to be severely victimised, and men’s decreased rates of reporting may be because they did not consider the incident serious enough. Therefore, these low figures of reporting male rape to the police may be attributed to the fact that men may have a much harder time acknowledging or recognising that what has happened to them was actually rape and that it can be reported, especially when sexual assault and rape are generally thought to only happen to females (Temkin, 1987; Clark, 2014; Apperley, 2015). While there are explanations of why women do not report rape, there is a paucity of work on why men are reluctant to report their rape. It is important to unlock the explanations with regards to male rape victims and to examine whether such explanations differ between male and female rape victims.

Females are usually reluctant to report their alleged rape to the police for a multitude of reasons, such as police distrust, embarrassment, and fear of retaliation (Lees, 2002). A female victim delaying reporting a rape is often interpreted as questionable by the police; the police assume that the first thing a female rape victim would do is to contact the police (Kelly, 2002). Female rape victims’ trust and belief in men is seriously undermined due to them being raped by a man (Kelly, 1988), which may make them reluctant to report to male police officers. Female rape victims usually describe themselves as ‘feeling all over the place’ as they struggle to comprehend and move on from the rape (ibid.). In addition, the drunkenness of the female rape victim was noted as a factor in nearly half of the cases (46%) and has been identified as contributing towards police scepticism (Kelly, 2002). It is also found that women are more likely to excuse their male partner’s violent behaviour when their partner is intoxicated (Javaid, 2015a), which may make them reluctant to come forward to report or seek help.

Men hesitating to report may be feeling shame for not being able to preserve and fulfil their expected stereotypical gender role (Lees, 1997; Abdullah-Khan, 2008; Weiss, 2010). From recent research evidence (Rumney, 2009), it is argued that homophobia determines the way in which others, including the police, respond to or serve male rape victims. For example, Rumney (2009: 244) sought to explain why homophobia occurs in male rape discourse. He says:

A further issue is why homophobic attitudes arise in the context of male rape. One of the reasons may be the equation of men being anally penetrable with being gay and therefore less masculine…The association of anal intercourse with homosexuality can also be linked to attitudes that blame gay male rape victims for their own victimisation…This linkage also reinforces the assumption that, by being anally penetrable (and therefore less masculine), male rape victims must be gay.


One of the key recommendations highlighted by an Inspectorate Report is that the police need to focus on tangible evidence rather than the victims’ credibility (HMCPSI and HMIC, 2007). Evidently, however, the above results demonstrate insensitive social and victim-blaming attitudes, homophobia, and ignorance concerning male victims of sexual assault and rape. Despite such negative social attitudes, male rape victims are more likely to search for medical assistance (and, as a result, be referred to the police) if their rape resulted in grave wounding (Kaufman et al., 1980). In this 25-year-old American study, it was also argued that male rape is more serious than female rape in terms of the effects of rape since it may involve greater threats of violence, with or without actual violence, the involvement of multiple offenders, and possible use of weapons. Elsewhere, it has been argued that weapons are rarely used, due to the male victim being raped whilst already vulnerable; for example, he was asleep or incapacitated through drugs or alcohol (Jamel, 2008). Kaufman et al. (1980) argue that male rape victims are more likely to have been held captive for longer and to resort to denial than female rape victims. Such conclusions on male rape may segregate and relegate female rape and could result in female rape victims’ voices being disregarded. It is important that both male rape and female rape are equally and sufficiently addressed (Cohen, 2014).

Kaufman et al. (1980) hypothesise that, if there is no grave wounding from the rape, the male victim is more likely to disbelieve that they were raped and, therefore, neither look for help nor report to the police. This evidence seems to indicate that male rape is seemingly, then, a crime of acute violence and such violence must be present. Put differently, it is necessary to show considerable injury otherwise victimhood may become dubious. It could be argued that this serves only to bolster male rape myths as opposed to eradicating them, reducing harm involved.

Kaufman et al.’s findings are premised on a low sample size of male rape victims (n=14), and, therefore, the results cannot be generalised to all male rape victims. Their findings also suggest that most male rape is stranger rape, a rape wherein the victim does not know the attacker. Other research has shown that acquaintance rape and date rape, which are both types of rape that involve people who are familiar with or know each other, are more common than stranger rape (Walker et al., 2005; Lundrigan and Mueller-Johnson, 2013). Jamel (2008) found that some male rape victims are raped indoors by strangers, which contradicts both these research studies that found that males raped indoors knew the offenders. It is clear that research in this area is inconsistent.

It could be argued that Kaufman et al.’s findings may keep society misinformed, conveying an extremely distorted view of the incidence, prevalence and nature of male rape. This could be deleterious for how the police deal with male rape victims since they may uncritically and simplistically believe such findings. The potential consequence of this type of study may inhibit male rape victims from coming forward. It could be suggested from this analysis that, although Kaufman et al. aim to raise awareness of male rape so service provisions can increase for male rape victims, the result of their style of argument may further stigmatise male rape victims as ‘less important’. Moreover, Kaufman’s research contradicts the findings presented in Jamel’s (2008) study, in which she argues that the public sees male rape as an anomaly, whereas female rape is seen as ‘more important’ than male rape and it has become normalised by comparison to male rape. Female rape is thus seen to be ‘normal’ and women expect it to happen, while men do not see the possibility that rape can happen to them; further research is needed in this area.

Another physiological reason for male rape victims not disclosing rape to the police is provided by Kassing, Beesley, and Frey (2005). These authors discuss that it is a common misconception that, if men ejaculate or have erections when being raped, they must have somehow consented. Getting an erection and ejaculating are involuntary physiological reactions to male rape (Sarrel and Masters, 1982). Additionally, as Mezey and King (1989) argue, extreme terror, anger, and anxiety can also stimulate an erection in a man. Groth and Burgess (1980) support this, arguing that male rape victims often have an erection while they are being raped, and their offenders may even get their victims to ejaculate because, for them, it personifies their power and control over their victim’s body. The danger of being seen as a homosexual or public humiliation may force the victim to remain silent. It should be noted that Groth and Burgess’s study was based on a very small sample. The data was gained from 22 subjects (16 male rape offenders; 6 male rape victims), a small subset of a larger population of victims and offenders, which thus requires interpretation with caution since the results cannot be generalised. It could be suggested that this low sample size is expected, considering that male rape victims may be reluctant to report their crime. It is safe to argue that a man’s physiological response to male rape is neither an indication of consent nor enjoyment. The physiological conception may draw in blaming attitudes from state and voluntary agencies, thus, increasing male rape victims’ trauma, as evidenced in 80% of respondents (Walker et al., 2005).

Walker et al. (2005) also highlight the issue of victim blaming. Male rape victims are sometimes blamed for their rape (Sleath and Bull, 2012), as are female rape victims (Clark, 2014), which premises itself on scepticism because of male rape myths that endorse ideas that male rape victims deserved it, wanted it or precipitated their own rape, contributing to keeping male rape a taboo and hidden (Abdullah-Khan, 2008; Javaid, 2014d; Javaid, 2017).

It has been argued that rape can undermine a female rape victim’s sense of female identity and womanhood and, similarly, frequently causes male rape victims to question their masculinity and sexuality (Clark, 2014). The offender’s power and masculinity are enhanced when the offender forces the male rape victim to perform oral sex on the offender, in turn, arguably, subjugating, subordinating and emasculating the victim (Abdullah-Khan, 2008). These authors theorising male rape as a crime of power do not go far enough, as they focus more on the offender, leaving underexplored the question of how male rape affects victims and their identity. It is noted, however, that there are several common themes across these studies: changes to sex offences legislation; funding to voluntary agencies being reduced (see Javaid, 2016a, b); lack of services for, and recognition of male rape victims; poor medical response to male rape victims; and underreporting of male rape.

The additional ideas that sexual assault and rape occur only to females or that ‘real’ men cannot be raped further induce men’s risk of stigma, embarrassment, and shame; this may make male rape victims reluctant to report to the police (Davies, 2002; Javaid, 2014b, 2015d). This stigma is partly the manifestation of societies’ reluctance to come to terms with, to confront, and to comprehend the issue of male rape (Clark, 2014). This may be attributed to the fact that men, unlike women, are expected to be strong, powerful, invulnerable, macho, unemotional, violent, and capable of protecting themselves (Javaid, 2014a, 2015b, 2015c). Men may be too ashamed to confess that they have been emasculated or ‘stripped’ of their masculinity (Weiss, 2010; Clark, 2014), so they may not seek support. Lees, in her research of 85 victims and 81 police reports of male rape, further verifies this:

The act of coercive buggery can be seen as a means of taking away manhood, of emasculating other men and thereby enhancing one’s [the rapist’s] own power (Lees, 1997: 106).


The presumption that male rape victims are homosexual can be argued to be a male rape myth that is inimical because it can make men reluctant to report to the police and add to men’s shame of being raped (Rumney, 2008). Heterosexual male rape victims might fear being seen as homosexual if they report the crime, whereas homosexual male rape victims who are not ‘out of the closet’ might fear having their sexual orientation revealed or may not be taken seriously (Abdullah-Khan, 2008). There is research that argues that negative reactions may be a salient issue regarding male victims of rape who are gay or who are presumed to be gay. These gay male rape victims seem to have their sexual victimisation taken less seriously. For instance, Banbury (2004) cites the experience of one male victim within a British study of prison sexual violence:

When I tried to report [a sexual assault], one of the [prison] officers laughed and just said “come on mate, you’re gay, hows [sic] that gonna sound?” I had basically been told to forget the incident because I was gay and hence ‘I wanted it’ and the incident was not reported (p. 126).


Similarly, gay and bisexual male rape victims may experience homophobic attitudes or stereotypes from the police that imply that the victims got pleasure from the rape, ‘wanted it,’ or lied about their rape (Kassing et al., 2005). This suggests that gay and bisexual male rape victims may not be taken seriously and their rape being made unimportant by the police. It is clear, then, that current empirical work needs to be conducted to explore this area further to add to our understanding of male sexual victimisation in contemporary society.

The Qualitative Study

The research on which this paper is based was concerned to explore how notions of gender, sexualities and masculinities affect and shape police officers and voluntary agency practitioners’ understandings of male rape and views of men as victims of rape. It was also concerned to explore the different roles that gender, sexualities and masculinities play in the discourse of underreporting of male sexual victimisation. Essentially, the study was concerned with understanding the underreporting of male rape with the use of heteronormativity and hegemonic masculinity as theoretical frameworks. As a result, I was able to explore the formation and enactment of masculine and heterosexual identities and practices in relation to the ways in which male rape is policed and responded to. The study employed qualitative interviewing with a sample of 25 police officers, male rape counsellors, therapists and voluntary agency caseworkers, who live in England, and it also employed 45 qualitative questionnaires with individuals of the same occupation. Those who were interviewed did not also fill out a questionnaire. A University Research Ethics Review Board granted ethical approval for this empirical research, which adopted a qualitative approach. There was a commitment to seek to comprehend the views of those being researched, and there were also only small numbers of state and voluntary agency workers who have dealt with or deal with male rape victims, so there were not many of these workers available to take part in the research. Therefore, this made the collection of quantitative data problematic. A qualitative approach, consequently, was seen to be appropriate for this research. I am adopting a qualitative approach because it can be used to carefully examine and help one to understand several areas regarding the constructions and reconstructions of male rape in state and voluntary agencies, which cannot be easily quantified. Qualitative research is more likely to take place in a natural setting (Bryman, 2016), which was fitting for me since I researched the participants in their natural work setting where they deal with male rape victims. A qualitative approach is ideal for me also due to the aims and purposes of this research seeking to gain rich, detailed and contextual data, which a qualitative research approach usefully accommodates.

Using various and multiple questions within the two research methods increased the theoretical value of this research, revealing issues and conceptions relating to male rape that the use of one research method alone may have overlooked. Arguably, the quality of such meaning cannot be gained with a quantitative approach. Each set of data could be examined and used to interpret the other by getting data from the two different research methods. This was important to do when there were some incomplete answers or unanswered questions. Indeed, in some of the questionnaires, some questions were partially filled out or completely ignored, so the semi-structured interviews helped to supplement such questions. This was also true for when some interview questions were partially answered; the questionnaires helped to supplement, or add to the interview questions that the participants partly answered.

I adopted an inductive method in the current research. Inductive work is theory generating, not theory driven, and so this work premised itself on theory being generated from the semi-structured interviews and from the qualitative questionnaires used in the current research. Bryman (2016) comments that it is important to utilise data collection methods that are sensitive to the social setting wherein data are generated and are flexible for the social researcher in order to inductively get a comprehension of the research topic one is researching. I felt it was appropriate and necessary to use an inductive approach because the current research is qualitative, and also because I interviewed police officers, male rape therapists, counsellors and case workers, recording what they said, who all intimately provide services for male rape victims. Some of my participants also filled out qualitative questionnaires that included open-ended questions, which gave the participants an opportunity to write their answers in detail. An inductive approach, therefore, enabled me to generate theory from my research data after I carried out primary research. With the use of both interviews and qualitative questionnaires, I was able to get a comprehension of how my participants interact with male rape victims, how they understand the conception of male rape, and how their understandings were formed.

I employed purposive and snowball sampling methods because they were the most appropriate sampling methods to purposively select state and voluntary agencies that deal with male rape cases, and that then accordingly gave information required to locate other state and voluntary agencies who have had experience of dealing with male rape cases or are dealing with such cases. This means that I selected specific people working in state and voluntary agencies because I believed they would provide me with the most appropriate information, since they work very closely with male rape victims on a one-to-one basis. These participants are solely dedicated to investigating cases of male rape and adult male sexual assault. They take initial and full statements, act as a liaison and support for male rape victims throughout the remainder of the legal procedure, and arrange forensic examinations for the victims. A random selection, therefore, would be inappropriate. It is also impossible to formulate a random sample of state and voluntary agencies that deal with male rape because the population is not only difficult to reach, but also there are not many agencies that deal with male rape in England. Therefore, the sample size for this research is low (n = 70; this study draws on 25 interviews and 45 qualitative questionnaires), but it should be noted that the aim of this research is to explore the specific, nuanced and detailed experiences of the participants who handle male rape victims, to formulate a thorough understanding of their attitudes toward, and responses to such victims.

The sample, as such, gives a useful indication of how male rape cases are handled, and it sheds light on the nature and impact of male rape. Given that there are not many voluntary agencies available that provide specific support for male rape victims, it is necessary to conceal the actual names of the voluntary services that were researched in this study. It was also considered appropriate to mask the names of the police forces because the rape departments in each police force are small and most of the police forces that were researched preferred to have the name of their police force concealed. This was also true for the voluntary agencies that were researched.

Prior to commencing the research, I already had access to a particular state agency in the North East, having already worked with them and published research on their organisation. As a result, this police force acted as a ‘gatekeeper’ for this research and introduced me to other police services and voluntary agencies that were interested in participating in my research. This process allowed for less skepticism and more enthusiasm to partake in the research. The initial point of contact, therefore, was with this particular police force in the North East. After having researched this police force, it was hoped that they would get me access to other police forces and voluntary agencies in England. This developed into a snowball sampling strategy, whereby they would pass on my details on to other state and voluntary agencies that they have connections with. I also had connections with several academics specialising in police studies, so they also acted as ‘gatekeepers’, facilitating access to several police forces in England. Moreover, a voluntary agency that was researched first was one based in the North East and acted as a ‘gatekeeper’ to facilitate access to other voluntary agencies that they have connections with. In addition, before commencing fieldwork, I had connections with academics specialising in voluntary agencies, so such academics also acted as ‘gatekeepers’ to facilitate access to other voluntary agencies. Despite this recruitment strategy, I also approached the state and voluntary agencies myself through email, describing my research and the benefits of participating to help increase my sample size.

I approached 13 police forces and 10 voluntary agencies in England. Ultimately, 5 police forces and 4 voluntary service provisions participated in the research. In respect of how many police forces and voluntary agencies declined to take part in this study, 8 police forces and 6 voluntary agencies refused. For the interviews, 15 police officers and 10 practitioners from voluntary agencies took part. For the questionnaires, 38 police officers and 7 practitioners from voluntary agencies filled out, completed and returned them.

The research participants are diverse in regards to amount of experience handling male rape cases, educational level, ethnic background and training of rape cases. The type of participants include the following: specialist police officers (4); police detectives (4); police constables (34); police sergeants (9); police response officers (2); male rape counsellors (7); male rape therapists (3); and voluntary agency caseworkers (7). Due to the lack of male rape counsellors, therapists, and caseworkers who deal with male rape victims across England, this made it difficult to get an equal representation across various stakeholder groups. The gender of the participants comprises of 33 males and 37 females. The sample is predominately white and most of the participants are under 40 years of age and are mostly from highly educated and middle-class backgrounds. The respondents provide services for many male rape victims, although they often serve more female rape victims due to the higher number of female rape victims who come forward. On average, the respondents have had around 7 years of experience of working with male rape victims and male victims of sexual assault; most of their clients are middle-class men. Some of my participants had no training on male rape and sexual assault against men, but most had training on female rape and sexual assault against women.

The qualitative findings were transcribed and reviewed by the researcher. I drew on thematic analysis. Thematic analysis requires the researcher to recognise themes or patterns appearing out of qualitative data. There was a concern to recognise differences and commonalities in the views and experiences of the participants. The researcher followed thematic analysis with thematic coding where codes/labels were placed onto segments of the data that looked important. Each transcript was read and reread by the researcher while noting down some initial codes and labels on the transcripts before transcripts were imported into the data analysis software NVIVO 10 for final coding. A stage of coding involved the analysis of sentences and words for common themes, concepts, and patterns across the data set. Analysing the data focused around organising the dissimilar concepts, conceptions and themes that developed from the data, not just on putting masses of data into order.

Researching a Sensitive Topic and Risk Analysis

It is essential to examine the nature of sensitive topics, such as male rape, that make it significant for researchers to carefully formulate a viable research strategy. It is significant to understand that the topic of male rape is an emotionally charged and sensitive area of research. Therefore, it was difficult, at times, to recruit participants who were willing to talk about the issue of male rape, considering that feelings of awkwardness, embarrassment, and discomfort that many people may feel when disclosing information on male rape. Many of the participants in this present study could have felt distressed, due to remembering and recalling male rape cases that they had worked on and found particularly harrowing. The idea of being ‘studied’, also, could have resulted in the participants feeling that they are just ‘being used’ for information. Thus, the psychological and emotional state of the participants remained paramount to the research project, and always ensuring that they were first priority in the research. To achieve this, an informed consent form and an information sheet detailing my research were provided to all participants, in order to ensure that they were sufficiently aware of potential distress and were able to accurately predict their level of anticipated distress to make an informed decision to partake. In order to get informed consent from the participants, I ensured that the following bullet points were highlighted to my participants, and it was hoped that, by following this procedure, the participants would be more likely to give their informed consent voluntarily to participate in the research:

• The purpose of my research (e.g., to understand more about male rape) was clearly and succinctly outlined;
• How long my participants’ participation would last in the research (after ethical approval, fieldwork ended on December 26th, 2015);
• The procedures and practicalities of the research were made clear, highlighting that they can drop out of the research anytime they like;
• I had asked my research participants for their consent to audio-record the interviews and to allow me to use the recordings once installed on to my laptop, and refer it over to the participants if they would like a copy of their recording;
• The benefits and risks of participating in this research were stressed;
• How the data will be used and managed, and how long it will be kept (I asked my participants if it would be acceptable to keep the data indefinitely, so that I can, for example, publish the findings in journal articles and a book) were notified to the participants;
• I ensured to the participants that the information they choose to impart would be completely anonymous in the written publications and their information would be kept confidential. In the findings section, I utilise the gender of the participant (male or female), their occupation, and a specific number. This approach perpetuates confidentiality and enables readers to track certain respondents all through the paper in addition to attribute several quotes to the same respondent.

Indeed, I ensured that confidentiality and anonymity were given to the research participants, which hopefully encouraged them to trust me with the knowledge they gave, possibly increasing the validity of the answers. Therefore, any information that could have possibly identified the participants was removed or reduced, so the participants were not identifiable. Because the data is kept anonymous in this research, it was hoped that this helped to alleviate any worries that the participants may have had. In the interviews, I used a voice recorder; and the data from the voice recorder was transferred on to my laptop that had a password, so nobody else could get access to it. The participants’ professional contact details were kept and stored in my laptop but were not kept in the same file as the transcripts, in order to preserve complete anonymity. This was important to do in case my laptop got hacked into or stolen. Moreover, any written (hard copies) documents regarding the participants’ views were kept locked in a storage at my home, which was accessible with a key that only I had.

Despite comprehensively and carefully considering the various forms of risk that my participants could have encountered, my safety and psychological and emotional state were also important and needed to be carefully considered, too. Therefore, I ensured to carry out the interviews in a place where other people were present, such as the participants’ workplace. This was their organisation, such as a state or voluntary agency, where there were other people experienced in dealing with crime who could be called on for help if necessary. It was, in addition, important to inform a family member of my whereabouts whenever I was conducting fieldwork. By doing so, it made sure that my immediate family member could ‘check up on me’ in case I did not arrive home at a certain time after doing fieldwork, seeking help if necessary.


Moreover, there was the notion of ‘going native’, which means identifying too closely with the group one is researching. For example, I could have become too immersed into the occupational culture that I was researching when conducting the fieldwork. I was aware that my access to the participants was in flux, and at the mercy of forces that was often beyond my control, considering that some participants were conveying ‘mixed signals’ in respect of participating. Thus, I needed to ensure that I executed a detached and objective view to prevent unleashing my personal opinions, not only to prevent immersion, but also to become aware of my status as a professional researcher. A sense of alienation occurred when switching in and out of the field, which caused me some discomfort and distress. Nevertheless, before I carried out the fieldwork, I did literature searches that helped me to identity any potential threats and conundrums that I could have experienced in a particular field. Bryman (2016) argues that sensitive research inevitably includes some cost, either in terms of inconvenience, time, or finance. Throughout the research process, I was financially constricted, which made it difficult at times to get to the places in which fieldwork was conducted. Holding down a part-time job, therefore, was necessary for me to financially support myself throughout the research project. Finding the balance of conducting research and part-time teaching to financially support the research project proved very difficult at times, in that the social aspect of my life drastically deteriorated.

A further issue to consider is the effect that the publishing of my research may have on my participants’ credibility. This is especially important in relation to my participants who may hold ideas about other people in society that are inflammatory or potentially dangerous. In these cases, I need to be prepared to justify my position and to explain the utility of my work to the development of knowledge on such groups, but, at the same time, this may put me in risk of being accused of misrepresenting the people who I was researching. To prevent this from happening, I ensured that I provided the finished transcripts for those participants who asked to see them, and, where possible, gave them an opportunity to amend the transcripts. The participants did not request their transcripts to be amended. The participants were also offered the opportunity, where appropriate, to see the results of the research. My participants generally believed that male rape victims face strong prejudice and were, therefore, more inclined to participate to help raise awareness of male rape and to help tackle the myths, shame and stigma attached to the issue of male rape. Rumney (2009) argues that male rape myths, such as male rape is solely a homosexual issue, and victims of male rape ‘asked for it’ by frequenting gay venues or by not showing physical resistance are, thus, blame-worthy, are all-important considerations when doing sensitive research. I felt, though, that male rape myths and the very nature of male rape being a taboo (Clark, 2014) could potentially contribute to the reluctance of people to take part in my research. Therefore, I made it essential to make sure that the research was carefully worded in a sensitive fashion when I sent the letter of introduction to potential participants and the letter of request to organisations that could facilitate my research. In the next section, I outline how notions of gender and sexualities affect and shape the participants’ understandings of male rape and their views of men as victims of rape regarding the (under)reporting of male rape.

Heteronormativity and Reporting Male Rape

This section critically details the issue of underreporting of male rape. From the findings, it was found that state and voluntary agencies believe that many male victims of rape are reluctant to report and to engage with the criminal justice system and the third sector. Reasons for this reluctance are to do with issues around gender and sexualities, which affect and shape the ways in which state and voluntary agencies perceive, respond to, and deal with male rape victims. For instance:

[W]e’ve had experience of men, who on the face of it, being married, have children, the stereotypical two plus two family, but actually, frequent the gay scene, and can become victims, so they won’t report because the effect it will have on their life basically. They could get caught or whatever you wanna call it, so there’s definitely an element of that, which is difficult to over come really from a police’s point of view….They think they are going to get a poor response from the police. Historically, if you think back over years and years, the police, historically didn’t really deal with that type of offence very well….They have to go through the whole scenario again in court and that can be traumatic in itself…so it’s a difficult one really for a lot of people if they are not strong to go through that process. I can understand why they don’t report....I’m not sure how we are gonna overcome the reporting issue (Specialist Police Officer 1, Male. Emphasis added).


[I]f we are talking about certain people who are maybe sexually haven’t ‘come out’, and maybe then put themselves in the situation where male rape occurs. And that’s maybe why there is underreporting as well (Police Constable 3, Male).

These passages suggest that some male rape victims will not report to the local authorities because they could ‘out’ them. The first respondent’s understanding and view of male rape is that, to conceal their clandestine sexual activity with homosexual men, ‘straight’ men will not disclose their sexual abuse to keep their heterosexual relationship intact, preventing their heterosexuality from being questioned, as they “think they are going to get a poor response from the police”. This respondent has pointed out that the police have not taken the issue of male rape seriously, though he makes it unclear as to what changes have been made in the police to date to reduce male rape victims’ trauma and to encourage male rape victims to come forward to report. This type of victim population, whereby ‘straight’ men sexually engage with other men and becoming ‘hard-to-reach’ victims is arguably due to heteronormativity. It hinders their engagement with the police, third sector, and societies because of ‘the idea that women and men are “made for each other”’ (Jackson, 2005: 29), so making it difficult and problematic to disclose their male on male rape; in other words, their penile-anal penetration with other men. Plummer’s concept of ‘telling sexual stories’ is useful to understand ‘straight’ men’s reluctance to admit being raped. He says the following:

The story telling process flows through social acts of domination, hierarchy, marginalisation and inequality. Some voices—who claim to dominate, who top the hierarchy, who claim the centre, who possess resources—are not only heard much more readily than others, but also are capable of framing the questions, setting the agendas, establishing the rhetorics much more readily than the others (1995: 30. Emphasis mine).


It can be argued that ‘straight’ men, who have been raped and are in a heterosexual relationship, may find it difficult to report their sexual victimisation for fear of losing control and of losing their place in the gender hierarchy. Because they may fear their heterosexual identity will be tarnished and their heterosexual relationship will ‘fall apart’ if they report their rape to the police, which adds to their shame, they may at the same time draw in sexist reactions, responses, or appraisals from others including the police. Plummer (1995) demonstrates that issues around gender and sexuality shape how particular ‘sexual stories’ are told or, in some cases, prevent certain stories from being told. Remaining silent enables them to maintain their heterosexual identity and relationship, while exercising their desire and homosexual practices at other times in a clandestine fashion. A heterosexual affiliation and identity are important for these men because, as Jackson (2005) maintains, heterosexuality is defined as ‘natural’ and ‘normal’, the ‘only “normal” and legitimate form of sexuality’ (p. 17). This suggests that other sexualities, such as bisexuality and homosexuality, are ‘abnormal’. As she further argues, ‘While heterosexual desires, practices, and relations are socially defined as “normal” and normative, serving to marginalize other sexualities as abnormal and deviant, the coercive power of compulsory heterosexuality derives from its institutionalisation as more than merely a sexual relation’ (ibid.). Male rape victims dissociating from a homosexual identity, affiliation, or relationship by concealing their rape allows them to avoid or prevent homophobic or sexist reactions, responses, or appraisals from others, including the state and third sectors. It also allows them to avoid getting “a poor response from the police” (Specialist Police Officer 1, Male). As heterosexuality is institutionalised across all institutions (Jackson, 2005; Acker, 2006; Pascoe, 2011), from police forces, the state, and the law to voluntary service provisions, it can be argued that male rape victims deviating from heterosexual normalcy are unlikely to engage with state and third sectors and vice versa. Heteronormativity, then, serves to worsen this underreporting of male rape to the police and to the third sector.

Stigma and Reporting Male Rape

Another related finding emerged in relation to the notion of stigma and reporting male rape. For example:

The issue is is the barriers for the victim of coming forward and reporting [male rape]…there isn’t the confidence in victims to come forward and report…because of the stereotypes and the stigmas that they perceive…that are there from the police (Specialist Police Officer 3, Female).

[T]here are many male rape victims who are reluctant to report for many reasons, mainly because of the stigma attached to male rape [and] that they will not be believed (Specialist Police Officer 2, Female).

There [are] issues of shame, so young lad[s] might be unlikely to report much less so than a female who is raped. There doesn’t seem to be the same stigma attached to a woman…I think there is definitely a lot of taboo and stigma around, and a lack of understanding on the issue of male rape…If a woman reported rape, ‘you sure you didn’t say yes?’, ‘You sure you didn’t consent?’ So, I think there are still kind of reminiscence of that within this idea of male rape…law enforcement almost use that as a ‘stick to beat the victim with’…so that their whole credibility is undermined, and so they are made to feel more of an offender than a victim. But unfortunately, I think that that sometimes does happen (Police Detective 1, Female. Emphasis added).

I think it would be helpful if the victims didn’t seek any help at all (Male Rape Counsellor 3, Female).

[T]he fact that people don’t go to report [male rape]…I think that is instinctive in men anyway. It’s a bit like men not bothering to go to the doctors in the same way. Men don’t like to make a fuss and that. They think that they are strong enough to be able to just cope with it and get on with it and not report it and/or, if they start to report it, and they feel they are not getting a positive reaction or they are not being believed, they’ll shut down (Voluntary Agency Caseworker 3, Male).

Macho males are less likely maybe to come forward, as they’ll see it as a sign of weakness. Maybe they’ll think the person who reports it will be humiliated….People who can’t look after themselves at night time (Specialist Police Officer 4, Male).

There is a pressure that many report feeling…that they should be strong (not show emotion) and not talk about it because the assault makes them look weak (Male Rape Counsellor 7, Female).


These excerpts highlight the issue of stigma, whereby the topic of male rape is embedded in stigma and seen as a taboo, and so the victims often face stigma in a social sphere. Specialist Police Officer 3 (Female) raised the issue that the police stigmatise male rape victims, arguably based on stereotypes embedded in police agencies. Stereotypes of men may, indeed, generate such stigma for these victims. As a result of their stigma, the victims are reluctant to report and to engage with the police. This reluctance is not only due to the potential stigma that the victims may suffer from the police and potentially the third sector, but also due to beliefs that the police will undermine their credibility, making them “feel more of an offender than a victim” (Police Detective 1, Female) due to stigma undermining their credibility as victims, which in turn may bring about disbelieving attitudes. Male Rape Counsellor 3 (Female) says that, “it would be helpful if the victims didn’t seek any help at all”, perhaps to prevent or avoid the stigma that state and voluntary agencies may generate for the victims as gender and other inequalities are highly legitimated and perpetuated in these agencies where discrimination is pervasive (Acker, 2006). Simultaneously, stigma may affect or challenge men’s masculinity, highlighting their weakness. Goffman (1963) argues that a stigmatised person is a “blemished person, ritually polluted, to be avoided, especially in public places” (p. 1), and he goes on to say that:

While the stranger is present before us, evidence can arise of his possessing an attribute that makes him different from others in the category of persons available for him to be, and of a less desirable kind – in the extreme, a person who is quite thoroughly bad, or dangerous, or weak. He is thus reduced in our minds from a whole and usual person to a tainted, discounted one. Such an attribute is a stigma, especially when its discrediting effect is very extensive; some-times it is also called a failing, a shortcoming, a handicap (p. 11. Emphasis added).


This suggests that, by male victims reporting their rape, they are revealing their vulnerability and powerlessness that could in turn induce stigma, generated by those who are not weak and have power, authority and control: police officers. Goffman (1963) demonstrates that men, who do not embody hegemonic masculinity, showing signs of weakness, are stigmatised as ‘inferior’ and are deeply discredited. This inferiority may propel many victims to remain silent. Because stigma is so powerful, the stigmatised individual can metaphorically and symbolically transpose his stigma onto anyone who associates with him (Goffman, 1963). This suggests that, when stigmatised male rape victims report to the police or seek help, their stigma may metaphorically and symbolically transpose onto police officers and onto practitioners working in the third sector, which in turn may bring about reluctance amongst the ‘professionals’ to engage with the victims, attempting to prevent or avoid the stigma being transposed and metaphorically ‘infecting’ them. It appears that the police are unlikely to take the issue of male rape seriously by stigmatising the victims. It also seems that the police can generate the victims’ shame, humiliation, embarrassment and guilt, which may discourage these victims to report or to seek help, or may propel them to drop out of the criminal justice process. As Gregory and Lees (1999: 113) note, stigma “appeared to be one reason few of the victims considered reporting to the police to be a serious option”. Similarly, Weiss (2010) argues that:

For men, the potential of skepticism may be even greater because of social definitions of sexual violence and ideals of masculinity that deny that real men can be raped. After all, when men report sexual victimization, they are publicly admitting that they were not interested in sex, were unable to control situations, and were not able to take care of matters themselves—all statements that run counter to hegemonic constructs of masculinity. It is not surprising that few men appear to be willing to risk negative scrutiny and potential ridicule (p. 293).


If a man discloses rape to whomever, he is publically admitting that he did not want sex. This public confession runs counter to hegemonic constructs of masculinity. Once a victim confesses that he was raped, he is susceptible to a public discourse of hate, disgust, distain and antagonism, all of which can easily be directed towards the victim. What gradually and increasingly unfold, then, are stigma, skepticism, scrutiny and ridicule. While these negative responses may seem determinist, essentialist, causal and inevitable, they are strictly not. They will unfold at particular contexts, times, spaces and places; so, through social and power relations, male rape victims have to negotiate these negative responses to prevent (or reduce) stigma. However, a key mechanism that male rape victims can adopt is to simply remain quiet, to not disclose their rape, to remain ‘invisible’. Silent discourses about male rape, therefore, begin to surface with the presumptions that ‘male rape does not exist’ or that ‘male rape is solely a homosexual issue’.

Homosexuality and Reporting Male Rape

Another issue that emerged in the data involves homosexuality and reporting male rape. The finding suggests that, when male rape victims report their crime, they may be seen solely as homosexuals and this has severe implications. For example:

The idea that they might be seen by the people who they reporting to as a homosexual (Police Detective 1, Female).

I would imagine that gay people have quite a rough time, and I think that will breed a reluctance to go forward and report it in the first instance and/or to go forward to try and secure any prosecution (Voluntary Agency Caseworker 3, Male).

I’m aware of friends of mine, who were men, who have reported being raped and one of them was a gay man. I know he is gay, but he made the allegation, but he fell that he was not taken seriously, and when he went to speak with his doctor, his doctor asked him, “Have you really been raped?”, almost like declining it (Police Sergeant 1, Male).


These quotes support Gregory and Lees’ (1999) findings. They found that male rape victims are reluctant to report because of “[f]ear that they will be considered to be homosexual…leads many to have qualms about reporting to the police….For men who are gay, the barriers to reporting may be even greater as they may assume that the police are homophobic” (p. 119). Their findings, as well as mine, draw on the issue of the police and other agencies subscribing to male rape myths, such as ‘men cannot be raped’, ‘male rape is a homosexual issue’ and ‘homosexual and bisexual individuals deserve to be sexually assaulted because they are immoral and deviant’. These myths, as my findings suggest, may be borne out of (implicit or explicit) homophobia that discourages men from reporting to the local authorities or from seeking help from the third sector. Sivakumaran (2005) develops the notion of the “taint” of homosexuality that doubly stigmatizes male rape victims since they engage with anal penetration with other men, regardless whether it was consensual, so they are forced to hide behind a “veil separating the public from the private” (p. 1276). What this suggests is that male rape is conceptualised as a ‘private’ issue rather than a public one, or that the “matter is considered best resolved within the community itself” (Sivakumaran, 2005: 1284), even though it affects men in the community and in intimate relationships.

For some men in state and voluntary agencies, homophobic discourse is, arguably, important to express because it is essential to the embodiment of heterosexual masculinity and of hegemonic masculinity. Drawing on Pascoe (2011), it becomes clearer why gay men are not taken seriously when they report their rape to the police or to seek support from the third sector. She illustrates that, for men who diverge from obeying normative practices of sexuality, they may well consequently suffer degrading treatment through discourse of language or through homophobic reactions, such as being called “queer” or “faggot”, as a way in which to police gendered identities and practices. This policing phenomenon can also take shape through discourse. For example, Pascoe (2005, 2007) explains that men can draw on the ‘fag discourse’ to police the boundaries between the ‘normal’ (heterosexuality) and the ‘abnormal’ (homosexuality), which includes enacting homophobic attitudes and practices to reject gay men, the unmasculine, and to perpetuate compulsive heterosexuality. Male police officers and male voluntary agency practitioners can draw on this ‘fag discourse’ if their hegemonic masculinity is threatened, fearing “men’s same sex desire” as Pascoe (2011: 177. Italics in original) puts it, when male rape victims report since the act of male rape is a non-masculine practice equated with anal penetration for the submissive victims. Producing gender inequality, sexism and homophobia through the ‘fag discourse’ in this way may intensify the underreporting of male rape, reinforcing secondary victimisation.

Getting an Erection During Rape and Reporting Male Rape

In respect of the underreporting of male rape, a finding emerged in relation to the male rape myth ‘if a victim physically responds to an assault, he must have wanted it’. For example:

I believe that heterosexual males, regardless of race or culture, are reluctant to report due to the masculine society we live in….Males do not have the confidence to report for fear of their sexuality or masculinity being put into question, especially if the male achieves an erection during the attack, which I believe is a regular occurrence and, therefore, less chance that they will be believed or it will be thought that they enjoyed it because of this and, therefore, not a ‘real’ victim! (Police Sergeant 2, Female. Emphasis added).

Due to some men getting an erection during their rape, they are often silenced by shame and embarrassment. What this means is that, for having an erection during their attack, men are unlikely to disclose their abuse to state and voluntary agencies because of the possibility of being disbelieved regarding their rape. Although getting an erection during an episode of rape is an involuntary physiological reaction (Groth and Burgess, 1980; Tewksbury, 2007), they are still likely to be seen as having engaged in ‘consensual sex’, as having enjoyed it, and, therefore, classified as not ‘real’ victims. Two important issues emerge from this analysis: first, this notion of consensual sex; and second, this idea of not a ‘real’ victim. To make sense of the former, Plummer (2005) points out that societies put pressure on men to have sex, lots of sex, so they are believed to have the power to be able to have sex with whomever they want and whenever. For a man to admit that he did not want sex, however, directly challenges this pressure and societal ideal. In itself, the erect penis is a personification of male power and dominance (Plummer, 2005), so male rape victims who are erect during their attack may be seen as having initiated the sex in the first place or that it was consensual since the erection ‘says it all’, that he ‘enjoyed it’, and his masculinity remains intact for the erection is a symbol of an embodied hegemonic masculinity. Societies, state and voluntary agencies’ thinking in this way may perceive male rape as a consensual phenomenon when a report is made. This links into the latter part of the analysis—not ‘real’ victims—whereby these agencies may find it problematic to classify a male rape victim who had an erection as a ‘real’ victim, considering the power and dominance that an erection symbolises. Admitting rape challenges this representation of power, making it difficult to take these victims seriously when they report their allegation.

Discussion and Concluding Thoughts

This paper has detailed the issue of underreporting of male rape that was frequent in the data. It covered this area using the theoretical frameworks of heteronormativity and hegemonic masculinity because stigma is attached to male rape, which makes it difficult for men to come forward as rape challenges their masculine and heterosexual identities, affiliations, and configuration of practices in everyday life. It was also found that, because of the taboo nature of male rape, state and voluntary agencies perpetuate a culture of disbelief that prevents many victims from reporting since they think that they will be disbelieved and not be taken seriously. Disclosing rape leaves men vulnerable to a ‘fag discourse’, whereby the police and voluntary agency practitioners are likely to perpetuate language to suggest that the victims are not ‘real’ men, intensifying their reluctance to report and to engage with the criminal justice system. Further, state and voluntary agencies are likely to silence men through shame and embarrassment if they had an erection during their rape, since getting an erection equates to a masculine identity that induces men to always initiate sex and to always be ‘ready for it’. Admitting that they did not want sex, however, may bring about disdain, disbelief, and homophobia when a report is made. The findings, overall, suggest that male rape victims are often positioned as ‘inferior’ and ‘abnormal’ because their victimisation often places them as marginal in a hierarchy of sexual violence that privileges the sexual victimisation of certain victims over others.

I argue that male and female rape victims, although they experience similar issues in terms of reporting rape, such as both suffering stigma, differ in some ways with regards to reporting rape. For example, male rape victims are expected to embody power, strength, self-reliance, insensitivity and unemotionality. In other words, they are expected to look after themselves, which may discourage some male victims to report their rape. In contrast, female rape victims are typically seen as weak, emotional and sensitive, cultivated by gender norms and values. These assumptions strategically shape what rape should be. Therefore, rape is often (mistakenly so) conceptualised as a ‘women’s issue’, meaning that only women can be raped, not men. Davies and Rogers (2006) support this, arguing that “sex role expectations of gendered behavior relate closely to victim blame towards male and female rape victims. Traditional views about masculinity and gender roles relate to homophobia…and both contribute to the negative evaluation of male rape victims” (p. 374). This suggests that, because of gender roles and expectations, male victims of rape are highly likely to be disbelieved in contrast to female rape victims when they report their crime. Homophobia is likely to manifest into victim blaming when men report their rape. Negative views about men failing to look after themselves and to prevent their rape from happening can contribute to negative judgments being made toward them, resulting in negative evaluations of male victims when their rape is reported. I argue that homosexual male rape victims are more likely to be blamed more than heterosexual male rape victims and women rape victims. They are more likely to be blamed by heterosexual men (Davies and Rogers, 2006). Although it is not clear which certain characteristics of the victim would create the highest level of negative attitudes and responses, I speculate that homosexual male rape victims who display “campness”, which is a style of homosexual conduct that is frequently exaggerated and effeminate for effect, are more likely to be blamed than ‘straight-acting’ male victims of rape.

Despite some police and voluntary agency workers in the current study have more insight into the reasons for the underreporting of male rape (and female rape), the findings from the interviews and questionnaires cannot be generalised to the wider population, so the sample may not necessarily represent the population of state and voluntary agencies that deal with male rape and sexual assault against men. However, from the data presented in this paper and the arguments made herein, I suggest that state and voluntary agencies become better trained in order to eradicate sexist, homophobic and gender bias attitudes and responses that were explored in this paper. Tackling harmful myths and misconceptions, particularly in male police officers and male practitioners working in the voluntary sector, would induce safer, sensitive and sympathetic responses directed toward male victims of rape. I believe that this sympathetic approach would not only encourage the victims to come forward to report and to seek help, but also would challenge gender inequality and injustice. The police and voluntary sector need to be aware of consciously or unconsciously perpetuating gender norms and values that can be harmful to male rape victims and ought to be prepared to counter these when serving male victims. Otherwise, some police officers are likely to conceptualise allegations of male rape as ‘false’, which may not necessarily be based on concrete evidence that the police can draw on to classify such allegations as genuinely false (Javaid, 2016c, 2017).

I also suggest that future research considers male rape victims. One way in which potential work can raise awareness of male rape discourse is by using both quantitative and qualitative approaches to understanding this phenomenon. Using these approaches in different contexts is beneficial, such as male rape occurring in, though not limited to by no means, train stations, institutional establishments, and airports. To my knowledge, there has been no research conducted in these areas within England. I hope that researchers would come up with different and nuanced ideas as to how to understand male sexual victimisation in order to help deal with this problem sensitively, sympathetically, and with hope that male rape victims can live a peaceful and optimistic life.


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Aliraza Javaid



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