Reporter's Notebook

Gender Stereotypes of Rapists: Your Stories
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Spurred by Conor Friedersdorf’s piece “The Understudied Female Sexual Predator,” readers share a broad range of personal experiences around nonconsensual sex and grapple with their meaning. If you have something to add, please send us a note: hello@theatlantic.com. (For related threads, see “On Rape and Empowerment” and “How Should Parents Talk to Their Kids About Rape?”)

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The Understudied Female Sexual Predator, Cont’d

A reader shares her thoughts over Conor’s piece, “The Understudied Female Sexual Predator”:

I am incredibly grateful to see research and coverage of this undiscussed epidemic. I was trafficked as a child and about a third of my rapists were women.

I cringe when I hear most people talk about rape culture, because the mere existence of female perpetrators and male rape victims is so rarely considered. And I am far more concerned with the gap in research and services for this demographic than whether or not I am cat-called. I feel so alienated by the feminist movement because so many feminists are very dismissive of my attempt to even discuss the existence of female perpetrators because it is so against the stereotypical image of what a rapist looks like. It is true that not all men are rapists, just as it is true that not all women are rapists. Just as not all humans are horribly predatory.

It is tragic to comprehend the lack of services and sympathy that are available to male rape victims, perpetuated by this stigma that men aren’t raped and women don’t rape. Female rape victims already face such obstacles in reporting—but almost all of the male rape victims I know faced complete incredulity from the police when they reported. It’s shamefully tragic that at least as a female, people are willing to believe that I might have been raped at all, regardless of why or whether a judge is willing to excuse my rapist’s actions.

I try to advocate for all victims of rape and domestic violence as much as possible, but it heeds yet another gap in research—very few longitudinal studies exist to show data on positive outcomes for rape victims. Part of this is due to the nature of the injury; you don’t exactly want to be poked, prodded, and monitored after being raped, but the current stigma for all victims is nothing good, and that makes recovery feel all the more hopeless.

Another reader dissents over the way I’ve framed this series thus far:

When I saw Conor’s article on sexual assault perpetrated by women, I was thrilled. This is, as is stated in the title, a vastly understudied part of experience that needs to be discussed more widely.

I think, though, that the headline for readers’ submissions changed between last night and today [the series was temporarily titled “Stories of Women Raping Men”—for reasons explained below], or, if not, I know the chosen subject matter didn’t match the broader headline: a discussion of “The Understudied Female Sexual Predator” turned suddenly into, exclusively, a discussion of men being raped.

This ignores one of the major points that Conor makes:

That’s the personal narrative this reader struggled with:

I’m a genderqueer and male-identified but assigned-at-birth female. I am so glad Conor is writing about this [“The Understudied Female Sexual Predator”], even if I don’t always agree with his writings (I’m much less of a libertarian than he is). Your reader stories by men were sad to read, but they also made me not feel so alone in terms of going through my own experience.

It was only after really dealing with, mentally, my rape (by a female) that I could even start to tackle issues of my own gender identity. That is, the predominant narrative of rape as “male perpetrator/female victim” really did a number on me in terms of thinking through my gender identity—deciding to transition to a more male body—because I was like, “Wait, what did this mean that I was raped by a woman? Can I really be the dude I think of myself as?” Etc, etc. My rape meant that actually devoting time and energy to thinking about my gender identity was delayed for almost 20 years, which is a shitty way to go.

In the end, I’m glad these dynamics are getting more covered by the mainstream press (versus just LGBTQ publications). Those of us who’ve been isolated for so long at least have more narratives to connect to.

Our reader’s own narrative started two decades ago:

I went to law school as a pretty confident person. I had done a lot of non-law-related stuff, and I was hoping legal training would allow me to be a more effective advocate in areas I cared about. The first part of my 1L year was fine. I met a lot of awesome people, broadened a lot in terms of thinking about the world, etc, etc. I also had a study group of people I mainly hung out with.

One of the people in my study group was X. I thought we were friends. We had a similar way of zippy dancing and a similarly energetic attitude towards life. We had the same birthday. Like I said, I thought we were friends.

Then came our law-student LGBTQ-group party. I drank too much, passed out, and woke up to X fingering me while I was slipping in and out of consciousness. I was not proud of the amount I drank that night. But, given my state at the time, I couldn’t stop what was happening to me, because I wasn’t particularly coherent.

And yeah, yeah, it’s the regular date-rape situation, I know that. It took me at least a day or three to realize it wasn’t particularly consensual. You might ask, “WTF, why didn’t you realize that right away?” But when you’re in that moment, it’s hard to understand. It’s a lot to process. It’s hard to figure out. It’s just, well, a lot at once, and if your brain is like mine, you would just rather think about other things (nerdy nerdy administrative law things) and just ignore it all. Which is what I did for a few days. Until I emailed X about it and was like, “You know, I really didn’t consent to any of that.”

Her response? “Yeah, if I were a guy, I guess it’d be rape.”

And so here was my response to X, which is enumerated because it’s easier to think about things in terms of enumerated lists: