When Women Sexually Abuse Men: The Hidden Side of Rape, Stalking, Harassment, and Sexual Assault
Authors: Phillip W. Cook and Tammy L. Hodo
Publisher: Publisher: Santa Barbara, CA,. Praeger, 2013. 193p.
Reviewer: Amber L. Morczek | May 2014
For most people, summoning a mental image of predatory sexual behavior will likely bring to mind a male perpetrator and female victim, as statistics, literature, media, and societal norms alike suggest this dynamic to be the most prevalent. Indeed when male victims of sexual violence are considered, they are likely children, not adults. In When Women Sexually Abuse Men: The Hidden Side of Rape, Stalking, Harassment, and Sexual Assault, authors Phillip Cook and Tammy Hodo have produced one of the first texts that offers a more comprehensive and multifaceted construction of power-based personal violence. These authors give us a juxtaposed scenario to the one typically assembled: an adult woman taking physical and sexual advantage of a man via coercion, threat, and/or violence.
This organizationally dexterous text judiciously begins with the author’s description of an egregious domestic violence case in Spokane, Washington involving the physical torture and repeated sexual victimization of a 41 year-old man perpetrated by his common-law wife and another woman residing within their home. This example not only prefaces the important social, statistical, and legal information denoted in later chapters, but it promptly overpowers a gross societal misconception that men are always more physically dominant than women and desire sexual advances regardless of the form; one consequence of which is the belief that men cannot be raped. It also challenges the antiquated idea that women cannot, would not, and do not place adult male victims in sexually degrading situations by coercion and force.
Noting the ever-evolving views on sexuality, the authors rightfully highlight how the mechanics behind contemporary sexual pursuit are much different now than in years past. Violence toward men, especially sexual violence, occurs due in part to the notion that women are becoming equitable to men sexually. Although many feminists remain unconvinced and find this assumption misguided, the authors do introduce examples from music and other forms of popular media of changes that could lead to a climate more amendable and accepting of increased female sexual aggression. Although the causal mechanism behind this change in female sexual behavior could not be properly ascertained via the authors’ work, it is noteworthy at the very least to identify societal and cultural changes that could be the impetus for it.
Cook and Hodo point out that although similar reactions are felt for victims of sexual assault of either gender, male victims additionally experience an impromptu introduction to various institutions that customarily serve only female clientele. Institutional unfamiliarity with male victims thereby presents additional unintended negative collateral consequences for men, such as lenient sentencing for female offenders (compared to male offenders) and unwittingly dismissive social service agencies — all amidst a societal framework which explicitly negates the likelihood of men being victimized in the first place. The authors implore the reader to reassess the current paradigm where sexual assault services and policy are constructed predominantly for female victims and male perpetrators, but not male victims. Expanding on this notion, the authors acknowledge that society is accepting of violence for both genders, but in divergent ways: women are thought to be victims of sex-based crime and men the antithesis — willing and eager participants or worse, perpetrators. In other words, the authors note, men are often ignored when seeking help, given societal constructions of how the victim – perpetrator dichotomy customarily looks.
One criticism of these claims by the authors is that the evidence they use to back up their argument about institutional discrepancy appears to be quite fragmentary. Indeed, there are only a few subheads on each subject. It would have been more useful to provide more information within this framework to build upon their argument.
One of the strong points of the authors juxtaposing the current rhetoric on what many denote as a rape culture, to include men, is their argument that much like women, adult men who are victimized are often met with explicit skepticism, disbelief, and sometimes even jokes when telling their stories. The authors demonstrate that both genders are susceptible to societal glorification of the violence against them. Thus, it is not sexual violence toward one gender over another that is particularly troubling, but rather that we culturally accept both forms, just in contrary ways.
Cook and Hodo make good use of anecdotes from individuals who are on the front lines of this form of sexual victimization. For example, readers will likely find the passages from individuals associated with MaleSurvivor, the leading sexual victim organization for men, enlightening. This is especially true given that such victim advocacy organizations are most generally focused on helping women who have been victims of violence, and that they treat adult men as an afterthought, or more commonly, as the perpetrator. Stories from victims of sex-based crimes perpetrated by women pepper the text, permitting the reader to put both relevant terminology and statistical information into a real-life context.
In addition to information from those in the field and from survivors, the authors also offer the reader a synopsis of not only the historical underpinnings and current practices regarding sexual violence, but also information regarding policy. Antiquated definitions of rape have been criticized for limiting the scope of what actions or inactions can be deemed to be sexual assault. Definitions of sexual harassment, stalking, and domestic violence have also rightfully been criticized for failing to account for and to take seriously women victimizing adult men. Thus, the authors take note of the need for gender-neutral language, sensitivity training for those in the field, and heightened therapeutic outlets specifically for male victims. Moreover, a candid discussion is required about unique male physiological responses to sexual violence that may lead to the perception of consensual sexual relations; erection and ejaculation do not necessarily indicate willingness or consent, nor negate the victim’s fear, distress, or discomfort.
Overall, When Women Sexually Abuse Men: The Hidden Side of Rape, Stalking, Harassment, and Sexual Assault is a comprehensive and sophisticated read, offering key gender-based dynamics of sexual violence that other books generally fail to adequately address. Phillip Cook and Tammy Hodo have contributed to an expanding body of research that suggests sexual violence perpetrated by women against adult men occurs more frequently than previously believed, and needs to be given more credence in the literature, in the criminal justice system, and in the various institutions charged with advocating for the rights of victims. In sum, this text does a good job of asking readers to redefine how sexual violence is conceptualized — not to negate sexual violence toward women, but to widen the net to include male victims.
Amber L. Morczek, M.S.,
Graduate Assistant, Violence Prevention Programs,
Washington State University