'Male rape should be taken more seriously'

The Local Sweden
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'Male rape should be taken more seriously'
A file photo of a man. Photo: Simon Paulin/SvD/TT

Senior research assistant Jens Lindberg and senior lecturer Stefan Sjöström from the University of Umeå's department of social work explain why male rape should be taken more seriously.


The media recently brought attention to a case where a female boss at a refugee centre was alleged to have sexually assaulted two boys in their upper teens. The investigation was subsequently closed.

The incident garnered attention, among other things, because it was perceived as being unusual due to having a female perpetrator.

But the fact of the matter is that even if it is much more common for women to be the victims of rape, male rape must also be seen as a serious problem in society.

In 2015, police in Sweden recorded 141 men aged 18 and over as having been raped, compared to 3333 recorded female rape victims.

But the real rape figures are larger. The Swedish National Council for Crime Prevention (Brottsförebyggande rådet) estimates that only 10-20 percent of all rapes are represented in police statistics.

There are therefore grounds to suppose that the real figures are also higher still for men.

Historically, male rape has been associated with homosexuality, paedophilia, or male-dominated institutional environments such as prisons and the military. Heterosexual adult men have rarely been considered potential rape victims.

In Sweden, this understanding of rape has had real significance for vulnerable men. Not until 1984 were men recognised as possible victims of rape in Swedish law.

But still today you come across the preconception that ‘men cannot be raped’. This means that social institutions, such as in welfare and justice, are not always sufficiently prepared to offer help to men at risk of being raped.

There are examples of Swedish hospitals which have no developed procedures for how male rape victims should be cared for, and that can in its own way greatly influence the police’s possibilities for investigating crime.

READ ALSO: Sweden opens first centre for male rape victims

Rape is a gendered crime. Because rape as a crime is coupled with notions of masculinity and femininity, it is important to not only see how male and female rape have significant similarities, but also how they take different forms and can each have specific consequences.

The World Health Organisation (WHO) has rightly identified male sexual violence against women as a global health problem. With this in mind, it is often relevant – and necessary – to consider rape of women as an expression of male domination of women in society.

However, the existence of male rape shows that there needs to be more perspective in order to gain a more comprehensive picture of the rape phenomenon.

Through studying male rape, a deeper understanding of how rape against women is gendered can also be gained.

Research on male rape is very limited in Sweden, there have only been a few isolated studies published.

We are trying to contribute towards filling that knowledge gap through the newly-established research project ‘Three perspectives on the police’s work on rape against men – victims, legal assistants, and police investigators.’

Rape is a horrendous crime, and for many victims – women as well as men – an immense trauma.

Furthermore, research shows that the experience is similar for women and men. Despite this, it seems that society’s difficulty in seeing men as victims creates particular circumstances for male rape victims.

The real figures are high, men are simultaneously expected to be strong and able to protect themselves. When combined this makes men highly likely to be mistrusted, and feel ashamed of abuse which they have suffered.

The case of the female manager and the teenage boys can serve as an example here. At such times, notions that men cannot be raped contribute towards rape victims not being taken seriously.

Healthcare and the justice system have a considerable role to play here.

It is important that they take male rapes seriously and that they develop considered approaches as to how they should handle male rape victims.

There is no contradiction in working against male rape and working against female rape – on the contrary, there is much to be gained from seeing them in the same context. 

This article was written by Jens Lindberg and Stefan Sjötröm from the University of Umeå and was first published in Swedish by SVT. Translated by The Local's intern, Jack Schofield.


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