ME(N) TOO: part 1
America’s Best Kept Secret
*Trigger Warning: This article deals with the difficult subjects of sex trafficking and domestic abuse. Though it is never explicit or graphic in its language, if you are a victim of such abuse, I suggest you read this with a friend you trust, as some parts of it may be triggering.
This series is the fruit of over a year’s worth of thinking, processing, researching, talking and praying. I began these articles in May of 2019 when the Me Too movement was still going strong. Now—a year later—in the age of Black Lives Matter and Covid-19, it is tempting to say that Me Too is decidedly out of fashion. It is not worth talking about, and if it is, I should at least use a less outdated title. This, however, I refuse to accept. The sex and gender conversation is such that the moment you say anything about it, you are already outdated. Societal construction moves more quickly than we can speak, and what plagues one generation may be the exact opposite of what plagues the next. We must therefore tread wisely, never assuming that anyone else’s experiences will be exactly like our own. But even in light of this rapid change, I contend that Me Too, domestic abuse, sex trafficking and the constant flurry of injustice faced by our culture’s men and women have not yet ceased to be relevant. On the contrary—they will only cease to be relevant when they entirely cease to be. I, therefore, retain my original title and lift my voice that the voices of those suffering may be heard. May God be with me in the accomplishment of this task and may you find blessing in the words that I have written.
Note: I am not a victim of abuse, sexual or otherwise.
Every year in the Spring, Biola University hosts the largest student-led “Missions Conference” in the United States. As a student at Biola, I can confidently say that this is one of the most anticipated events of every academic year. My first Missions Conference is still one of my most beloved Biola experiences.
As students, we are each required to attend five conference sessions. In 2019, one of these sessions was called “Global Awareness.” In this session, students were invited to explore classrooms in Sutherland Hall that were each dedicated to a different global problem, decorated with student artwork, statistics and other resources. Topics included things like poverty, racial reconciliation and adoption. It was one of the most powerful conference sessions that year.
There was, however, one Global Awareness room that was particularly powerful to me, both for what it included and for what it did not. The room was dedicated to the modern day slavery of sex trafficking. It included statistics on pornography, prostitution and other forms of sex trafficking both in the U.S. and abroad. It was eye-opening—but something about it felt off. The room exclusively focused on women who are trafficked for sex and had nothing to say about male victims. Every statistic dealt only with female victims and male perpetrators. All victim stats used the pronoun she—and every abuser or trafficker was assumed to be a he. Though I didn’t know the statistics for male victims of sex trafficking at the time, I knew they had to exist. So why didn’t this room include them? Why did it assume that all victims are female and all perpetrators are male?
This sent me tumbling down a rabbit hole that I never hoped to fall into—and the more I uncovered, the more furious I became. Why? Because it turns out men and boys are trafficked for sex nearly as much as women—and they are being marginalized and even vilified at horrifying rates, with little to no help in sight.
I bring this up not to attack Biola or the students who made the room. I firmly believe that Biola is the best university in the United States—Christian and non-Christian included. And I still adore Missions Conference. The reason I introduce this problem in the context of Biola is precisely because Biola is such a beacon of hope in this messed up world. The point is that even in this place that is doing so much good, countless people have given into the deadly idea that problems like sex trafficking are “women’s only” problems.
Why is this?
Before examining the facts about male victims of sex trafficking and domestic abuse, it is worth giving a preliminary answer to this question. I do not have all the right answers, but this question is too important to ignore.
The first reason for the marginalization and vilification of male victims is the simplest: ignorance. Not enough people know the facts. We are taught all the statistics on women, but hardly anyone can give the statistics on men.
Beyond this, America is currently overrun with the feminist idea that all men—especially white men—are privileged and that all women are disprivileged. The Satan of our day has become men (patriarchy) and our new Jesus has become women (feminism). Though feminism has and continues to do a great deal of good, the sweeping views of patriarchy and male privilege silence any claims to specifically male problems as illegitimate or unimportant by comparison to women’s problems. In doing so, they not only silence male victims of sex trafficking and domestic abuse but often vilify them (and anyone who tries to stand up for them) as anti-women. But feminism is not the only problem. The men’s rights movement, which rightly stands up for male victims, wrongly uses satire as one of their primary modes of communication. Thus, though many in the men’s movement are strongly pro-women, their overuse of satire makes them look like the most anti-women group in America. Carried away by justifiable anger, they ironically vilify their own movement and consequently marginalize male victims despite also giving them a voice.
On top of this, many conservative definitions of masculinity are particularly dangerous to boys and men who suffer from sex trafficking and domestic abuse. The deadly idea here is that males are (and should be) tough enough to defend themselves against sexual and domestic violence. This promotes a widespread belief that boys cannot be victims, thereby marginalizing male victims and also shaming those who are victims by making them think they will be viewed as unmanly if they come out about their abuse. But conservatives are not the only ones who place dangerous restrictions on what it means to be male. The trend in liberal circles is to favor the opposite extreme—the “Newt Scamander” more feminine type of male—as the only acceptable masculinity. This idea is especially prevalent in academia, forcing boys who do not fit this type to suppress their God-given aggression rather than direct it toward the right things. Ironically, rather than creating less abusers, this actually creates more, and consequently more victims as well. On top of all this, both liberals and conservatives tend to fit the trend of viewing males as the disposable sex, thus creating more male victims and marginalizing those who are already victims.
In other words, the silencing of, refusal to help, and even vilifying of male victims is coming from all sides—feminism, the men’s movement, conservatism and liberalism. An extensive solution, therefore, must be able to address the problem from all of these different angles.
In this four-part series, we will take a long hard look at the marginalization of male victims of domestic abuse and sex trafficking. We will explore the causes of this marginalization as well as potential solutions to it, focusing on the dangerous conservative and liberal visions of masculinity in Part 2, male disposability in Part 3, and the ways that both feminism and the men’s movement contribute to the problem in Part 4. But before we can get into all that, we need to start with the facts about male victims of domestic abuse and sex trafficking. That is what we will focus on in this—Part 1.
My goal with this series is not to give the last word, but rather to start a conversation. A long conversation. A conversation in which everyone listens to everyone else. In which we strive to converse in love, with the goal of finding the truth, agreeing about it, and then doing something about it together. All of us will get some things wrong—me especially!—and all of us will get some things right. We will need a lot of love, humility and forgiveness. The point is that this is such an important topic, but almost no one is talking about it. The public conversation on sex and gender is almost entirely one-sided and this subject is on the excluded side—the male side. For the sake of male victims, if not simply for the sake of truth and justice at large, we need to have a longer conversation. My goal with this series is to start that conversation.
So, let’s begin with the facts.
What Privilege?: The Statistics
Everyone has heard the stats on women who suffer from domestic violence and sex trafficking. But what about the stats on men? Many of us have heard the stats on women detached from the stats on men so many times that we have adopted the false cultural perception that only women suffer from domestic violence and sex trafficking. Women are always the victims and men are always the perpetrators. Fortunately for me, this idea is so absurdly false that it will not take too long to deconstruct.
According to the National Coalition Against Domestic Violence (NCADV), 1 in 3 women have experienced some form of physical violence by an intimate partner. The accompanying male statistic? 1 in 4. This means that approximately 43% of all victims of intimate partner physical violence are male. That is hardly enough of a difference to call this a “women’s only” problem. Also according to the NCADV, 1 in 7 men have been severely physically abused (hit with a fist or hard object, kicked, slammed against something, choked, burned, etc.) by an intimate partner at some point in their lifetime. While the statistic for women is 1 in 4—(and the fact that women suffer from this more is worth talking about)—1 in 7 is still significant and it is certainly significant enough for us to realize that this is not a “women’s only” problem. The NCADV goes on to say that 1 in 9 men in the United States have experienced severe intimate partner physical violence, intimate partner contact sexual violence, and/or intimate partner stalking with impacts such as injury, fearfulness, post-traumatic stress disorder, use of victim services, contraction of sexually transmitted diseases, etc.
According to the NCADV’s California specific statistics, “32.9 % of California women and 27.3% of California men experience intimate partner physical violence, intimate partner sexual violence and/or intimate partner stalking in their lifetimes.” That is a very small margin of difference for men and women.
But it is not only that sexual violence and domestic abuse affect men too—in some ways, it may actually affect men more.
Karen Straughan, a female men’s rights activist (MRA), explains on The Rubin Report that most cases of domestic violence are not criminally chargeable and only require some form of counseling to be resolved (this type of domestic violence typically only involves an intimate partner pushing or hitting their partner in a rare isolated moment of weakness). According to Karen, an astonishing 70% of all unilateral and criminally chargeable cases of domestic violence are female-on-male violence.
But you don’t just have to take Karen’s word for it. I found the peer-reviewed study that Karen is referring to and it is worth examining in more detail. The study was published in the American Journal of Public Health in 2007 and is the most extensive and inclusive study of domestic violence that I’ve found. Most studies of domestic violence focus exclusively on female victims and most use samples of around 100 to 500 victims. This study, however, examined 18,761 heterosexual relationships — making it both the largest study I found and the most gender inclusive (“heterosexual” means it studied an equal number of men and women). The study was conducted to determine the difference between intimate partner violence that is reciprocal (both partners abusing each other) and intimate partner violence that is non-reciprocral (only one partner abusing the other). In line with other studies, it found that 50% of domestic violence in heterosexual relationships is reciprocal. Which means that in 50% of all heterosexual domestic abuse cases, both the woman and the man are being physically abused. Of the other 50% of domestic abuse cases, those that are non-reciprocal, 70.7% of the abusers are the woman. It is worth noting that both the men and the women who were surveyed acknowledged this fact (women said that they were the abuser 67.7% of the time and men said that the woman was the abuser 74.9% of the time). So this isn’t something the men were just making up. But what does all this mean? It means that, if this study is right, men experience domestic abuse 35% more frequently than women do. It means that in 85% of all heterosexual domestic abuse cases, the male is experiencing some amount of abuse, whereas in only 65% of all heterosexual domestic abuse cases is the female experiencing some amount of abuse.
Though this study cannot account for everything (all participants were between 18 and 28 years old; it did not measure the exact severity of the violence; it only measured physical violence—not emotional, verbal, psychological or sexual violence)—it is still monumental. And it is certainly sufficient to prove that domestic violence is not a women’s only problem.
Karen Straughan admits herself that, in her experience, she has known more women who have abused men than she’s known men who have abused women. Almost all the people I’ve talked to have said the same. So the “wife-beater” stereotype is precisely that—a stereotype. Both women and men (and maybe men especially) suffer from severe domestic violence. You can watch Karen’s whole interview here (she refers to the study around 7:00–9:00) and you can access the study she is referring to here.
But it gets worse. Think that all sex trafficking victims are women? Think again. According to Fight the New Drug, an organization dedicated to helping men and women make informed decisions about pornography, “boys account for about 45% of child trafficking victims in New York City, while another study in 2016 found that boys make up about 36% of children in the U.S.-wide sex industry.”
That is substantial.
Furthermore, New York City was the only specific location in the U.S. for which I could actually find statistics on male sex trafficking victims. This leads me to believe that studies in other places have not even been done. A likely fact considering that every peer-reviewed study of male victims I could find (and there weren’t many) acknowledged explicitly that feminism has driven the research. The vast majority of studies on sex trafficking and domestic abuse have only focused on female victims because that’s what feminism does. Which means that it could very likely be this bad or worse…everywhere.
Ironically, this should have been obvious. You have to think about pornography for about five seconds to realize that there has to be a male in most videos, even if the camera focuses primarily on the woman. The gay porn industry is just as alive as the lesbian porn industry and heterosexual porn victimizes both women and men. Though I could not find exact statistics anywhere on how many men versus how many women there are in the porn industry (the industry is very secretive because most of it is illegal), we at least know this much—they are both victimized. Porn affects both women and men—albeit in different ways. Watch the following video to hear the story of the most successful male porn-star in history, and hear for yourself how it affected him:
(For more information on the links between pornography and sex trafficking, visit fightthenewdrug.org.)
So here is what we know. While studies do indicate that women and girls suffer more from sex trafficking and (potentially more from) domestic violence (though the primary reason we think that is because we haven’t studied male victims nearly as much), studies also indicate that men and boys suffer from the same problems at alarmingly similar rates. We know that when you actually look at the numbers it is undeniably false to claim that sex trafficking and domestic abuse are “women’s only” problems. And because we are decent human beings, we know that we should be helping all victims of sex trafficking and domestic violence regardless of their sex or anything else about them. The question is—are we?
As if the statistics we’ve seen so far are not already shocking enough, when you look at how much we are helping male victims of sex trafficking and domestic abuse, everything gets so. much. worse.
Of the 2000+ domestic abuse shelters that serve women, most turn away men and in some cases turn boys away as young as twelve. According to WebMD, more than 830,000 American men fall victim to domestic violence every year.
Yes. Two domestic abuse shelters for men is definitely enough.
But it gets even worse. Not only are male victims not being helped—they are being made fun of. Read Dr. Denise Hines of Clark University’s findings on what happens when abused men call domestic violence hotlines or shelters seeking help. As you read, keep in mind that these are the places that should be helping male victims most of all. These are the places that should be the least biased against men.
Hines’ study included 302 heterosexual men, ages 18 to 59, who had been in a relationship lasting at least one month within the previous year, had been physically assaulted by their female partners within the previous year, and had sought outside assistance/support. […] Of the abused men who called domestic violence hotlines, 64% were told that they “only helped women.” In 32% of the cases, the abused men were referred to batterers’ programs. [A batterer’s program is a place where abusers get help to stop abusing. This means that male victims of abuse were assumed to be perpetrators of abuse by domestic violence hotlines on the basis of their sex alone.] Another 25% were given a phone number to call that turned out to be a batterers’ program. A little over a quarter of them were given a reference to a local program that helped. Overall, only 8% of the men who called hotlines classified them as “very helpful,” whereas 69% found them to be “not at all helpful.” Sixteen percent said the people at the hot line “dismissed or made fun of them.” One abused man said: “They laughed at me and told me I must have done something to deserve it if it happened at all.”
This is the marginalization I am talking about. How many of these statistics did you know before reading this? Almost every person I’ve talked to about this problem didn’t know one of them. The reality is, by and large we don’t know that males are victims as much as they are. So it’s no wonder we don’t provide them with any help. But even those who do know, who could help save male victims—simply don’t care! For the most part, all they do is laugh and poke fun.
But is this a laughing matter? If 830,000+ U.S. males are victims of domestic violence every year—most of them with literally no where to turn for help—and if we have reason to believe that there are almost as many men being trafficked for sex as there are women—shouldn’t we care?
This is something we cannot ignore any longer.
Before you continue reading, I strongly recommend that you watch the following 30 minute short film Same Risk, Different Gender (2014). It was made by a young man who became a victim of sex trafficking when he was 15 years old. This is his story, and it is the very same story of countless other men and boys who feel far too petrified to come out about their abuse. This is what we cannot ignore. This is why we need a longer conversation.
(Some of the content in this film may be triggering for victims of sexual abuse. If you are a victim, I suggest you either watch this with a friend you trust or do not watch it at all.)
In this context, many of our cultural perceptions of maleness and masculinity—whether it be that all men are privileged, that all men should be strong enough to defend themselves, that all men are dangerously aggressive, or simply that sex trafficking and domestic abuse are women’s only problems—become highly oppressive. These stereotypes silence male victims and ensure that they remain without help. Some of these stereotypes even go so far as to vilify them. While American males undeniably have some privilege in some areas, they certainly do not here. Most male victims of sexual or domestic abuse—and there are a lot of them—have little to no help in sight, are mocked and told by our culture that they—of all people!—are privileged, sex-crazed, bloodthirsty and weak. It is time we get a little more nuanced. Women and girls are the ones being offered almost all the help both from our national government and from private institutions.
But if men and women are really equal, then why are we not helping male victims?
What would an extensive solution to this marginalization look like? And how can each of us help in our own small way? That is what we will begin to explore in Part 2 of this series by addressing the ways that the conservative and liberal definitions of masculinity contribute to the problem.