Rape of men to be surveyed

23 October 2018

The rape of men is an area where there are large gaps in knowledge. Now a survey is under way of all rapes of men that have been reported in the past three years, with a particular focus on the work of police officers.

Stefan Sjöström is professor of social work.
Photo: Mikael Wallerstedt

“There is a great need to describe the real situation, to try to understand how common rape of men is and if there are any patterns regarding who commits such crimes and who is subjected to them,” says Stefan Sjöström.

He is a professor of social work at the newly established Centre for Social Work (CESAR) at Uppsala University. Several different studies of crime and social work are under way here, and one of them concerns the rape of men. The researchers will conduct a survey focusing on the work of police and review all crime reported over a three-year period in Sweden.

Stefan Sjöström thinks that an interesting aspect is the fact that we seldom regard men as victims. “There are gender role patterns that make it difficult for men to see themselves as vulnerable and for others to accept men as victims. This is both good and bad. It is not necessarily good to be considered a victim, but at the same time, of course, there can be a problem if too much guilt and responsibility is ascribed to someone for something they have been subjected to,” says Sjöström.

The researchers are very interested in gender aspects and are analysing the rapes of men in relation to the much more common rapes of women.

“Of course, rapes usually are partly viewed from the perspective of gender power, the superior position of men over women in society. Rape of men becomes an interesting contrast in this case. Obviously, all rapes cannot be understood in those terms; there must be other aspects. We hope that this will also lead to a deeper understanding of the rape of women.”

In connection with the project, interviews have been conducted of men who have been subjected to rape and police officers who have investigated such crimes to study how both the victims’ experience and the investigative work are affected by the fact that rapes of men are so unusual.

“One pattern we have seen is that when you talk with the police, they consider the rape of men as something that is especially problematic and difficult. But when we talk with the men, they are not very preoccupied with this and do not talk much about the fact that they are men,” says Sjöström.

“Another finding is that many of these men have some form of vulnerability, such as substance abuse, criminality or some disability. Those who commit these crimes target weak and vulnerable people.”

The survey includes about 500 crimes, which amounts to about 150 reported rapes per year. There are certainly many unrecorded cases, because many people do not report the crime. In only one case did a report to the police lead to prosecution and conviction – a pattern that also applies with respect to rapes of women.

“A preliminary result is that men, in most cases, do not think this is so strange. They understand that it is often very difficult for the police to unravel the crime. When reporting the crime, they have had no expectation that the perpetrator would then be apprehended and punished. The most important thing for them personally has been to file the report.”

These results were a bit surprising, because an oft-held criticism in the public debate about rape is the failure of the police or inability of the judicial system to bring rapists to justice.

“This is a somewhat brighter picture, and that might also be the case with respect to women who are subjected to rape, but we don’t know that. It may also be true that men and women interpret and experience this differently.”

The project is also studying how victims are treated. The major challenge for the police is their need to ask many questions, to investigate whether a crime has taken place, to hold someone responsible and to collect evidence.

Evidence often is a bit more complicated than following an assault with clear physical evidence. It is common for the perpetrator to admit having had sex but to claim that the other party consented. In such a situation, it becomes difficult for the prosecution to prove that rape has occurred.

“Then rather detailed questions have to be asked, which of course is quite difficult for someone who has been subjected to this. It is important for police officers to act professionally in sorting out the crime and at the same time ensuring the victim is cared for as best as possible. Sometimes people refer to “double victimisation” – that the legal process makes the victim feel bad one more time. It doesn’t have to be that way.”

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Facts:

  • CESAR, the Centre for Social Work, was inaugurated on 17 October 2018 at Uppsala University. In connection with the opening, a scholarly symposium was held with the theme Violence, gender and crime.
  • Research at the centre will explore several key areas related to social work, such as violence and crime, communication and treatment, and mental illness. In addition, CESAR is responsible for the doctoral education, social work programme and a planned master’s programme in social work.
  • CESAR collaborates with the National Centre for Knowledge on Men’s Violence Against Women, the Department of Law, nearby higher education institutions with social work training (Gävle, Mälardalen) and others.