When a Man is The Victim: A Study in Rape Apology

by Cara on September 10, 2008

in Australia, courts, gender, International, media, rape and sexual assault

I’ve been asked by several people at this point to comment on the case of of an Australian female stripper who allegedly raped a man during a bachelor’s party through use of a strap on dildo.  I’m not sure what exactly those people were expecting, but here we go.

A FEMALE stripper whispered into the ear of the best man at a Melbourne bucks night, “Don’t worry, only you and I know”, after she allegedly raped him in front of his cheering mates.

Stripper Linda Naggs also allegedly told the man — who cannot be identified for legal reasons — that she did not mean to penetrate him with a sex toy during her show and that it was “only a joke”.

Ms Naggs yesterday pleaded not guilty to one count of rape after being committed to stand trial, following the party at a rented bayside suburb house on September 23 last year. Documents tendered to the Melbourne Magistrates Court reveal the best man told police he felt violated and that his “manhood had dropped a bit” since the alleged rape.

The man said he took part in Ms Naggs’s strip show after his mates called his name and egged him on.

He told police Ms Naggs took his top off, pushed down his jeans and asked him to “get down on all fours” before she strapped on a dildo.

The best man said he asked Ms Naggs not to penetrate him and that the stripper replied, “Not a problem, relax, it’s only fun, I won’t go there”, but she did it anyway.

My immediate observation is that if the same circumstances existed with genders reversed, we probably wouldn’t even be hearing about this case at all.  But the media loves a story where a woman — the prettier, the better — is the perpetrator of violence against men. They love it both because it’s so significantly less likely to happen and therefore of interest, and because their sharp focus on the case can exaggerate the social perception of the rate at which such instances of violence are committed.

But nothing in that observation is intended to indicate that this case is less serious than any other rape case.  It’s not. Instead, it’s a simple comment how I often see cases of rapes perpetrated against men and women treated differently by society and the media.

For example, the case of a woman who pulled down her pants and got on all fours in front of a naked man with an erection would almost certainly never make it to court in the event of a rape in those circumstances and would be publicly mocked if tried. Instead of this, I can see myself writing a post on why a judge or perhaps even police force was wrong to abandon it as entirely not prosecutable.  The victim-blaming would be so thick that you could wade through it.

I do think that this case is believed to be prosecutable because of the offense that society takes at the very idea of a man being anally penetrated.  This offense is understandably exaggerated when that penetration occurs by force.  And this woman used a (presumably) plastic object.  It’s so unnatural.  Whereas a woman being forcibly penetrated by a man . . . well, what’s the big deal, sexually penetrating women in various orifices is what they’re for, after all.  Simply put, there are different social values shaping the lenses through which people see this rape as opposed to many others.  Just like female rape victims vary on the rapeable scale, many fewer people assume that a man in such an exposed position was “asking for it” than would if it was a woman.  Because penetration is seen as something that men are supposed to do, not receive.  And for that bizarre reason, people generally perceive a straight man as less likely to consent to anal penetration in front of a crowd of people than a woman — and think that for a woman, it would be less of a big deal.

But none of that is to say that the man in this case is not experiencing victim-blaming or mockery. He absolutely is.  (Oh look, here’s an example.)  That blaming and mocking just occurs somewhat differently.  And from the majority of the many articles I’ve read on the subject, it seems to occur significantly less openly in the media.  There are few overly victim-blaming comments, a lack of references to the alleged rape as “sex,” and so far a lack of instances where the word rape is put into scare-quotes.

And yet, as I said, there is shaming. There are plenty of issues with the coverage — like the extended descriptions of the party, the attempts to make it all seem very sexy, and the constant referring to Linda Naggs as “the stripper.” Lots and lots of trivialization. Indeed, it was a remarkably familiar small section of the original Australian article I linked to that convinced me to write about the case at all.  This bit right here.

Defence lawyer Geoffrey Steward told the court the witness testimonies had inconsistencies, including the evidence given by the best man.

He said no jury in Victoria would find Ms Naggs guilty.

“This is an allegation that clearly arises from the most unusual circumstances … it’s an allegation that involves the time frame of about one second,” Mr Steward said.

“It is my submission that no jury could convict this woman on this count.”

Any of that ringing a bell with you? You see, in this case, the victim isn’t to blame for the rape because of his own actions.  It’s just that the rape was so short that it didn’t count.  What’s a teensy weensy little second (or five or ten)?  It was over just like that!

I’ll tell you what it is.  Without consent, it is rape.  Regardless of gender. Regardless of time frame.  And this is pretty clearly the “it wasn’t really rape” defense.

My point after all of this is yet again that rape apologism shifts.  It shifts for different reasons.  And often, it’s all very contradictory.  This is because rape culture has no Karl Rove, no public relations spokesperson.  Usually the talking points are there ready and waiting, but then something relatively unusual happens and there’s chaos in the ranks.  Many do indeed see, as described above, a man as a more sympathetic victim as compared to a woman and rape suddenly becomes a big deal.  Many see allure in pushing aside rates of male violence against women in order to point with exaggeration to the much, much lower rate of female violence against men.  Focusing on this case while ignoring all others is a form of rape apologism all on its own.  But these are the people who want to let rape culture thrive by covering it up.

Others want only to publicly reinforce it.  In this case, rape culture is not so much reinforced by explicitly defending the male right to rape, since there’s no need for it — cognitive dissonance, as described above, means that a society which calls this rape would likely not make the connection to rape in cases with reversed genders — but by upholding other social understandings of masculinity.  Men aren’t “supposed” to be penetrated, but they also aren’t supposed to be victimized.  Particularly by beautiful women.  Particularly by a sexual act.  In this case, dangerous understandings of masculinity are being upheld not by directly protecting male violence but by rejecting “feminized” victimization — and thereby reinforcing gendered understandings of the world where male violence is considered acceptable.  And here, it’s also being done at the expense of men, their safety and their rights.

Rape apologism shifts as it needs to.  And it may become less immediately clear to us.  But it doesn’t go away.

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{ 11 comments }

1 Ashley September 10, 2008 at 5:53 pm

Great post, Cara.

With the Palin pick, I’ve been thinking a lot about our cultural idea that women can never be a threat, and how dangerous that is… The cultural blowback for not taking women seriously is that a woman in the right position can inflict maximum damage on others before anyone notices.

The hardest part about that is that it’s really hard to debunk it without playing into a tendency to deny and justify male violence. You mention that women can be aggressive, and people will lock on to that as a way of dismissing the much greater problem of male aggression.

I don’t really have any resolution to that thought. Just something I’ve been knocking around.

2 Lisa Harney September 10, 2008 at 6:51 pm

This is a good analysis, especially on how it shifts (and specifically shifts in the context of female-on-anyone rape).

3 Keren September 10, 2008 at 7:15 pm

Yep, there’s no way that we would be hearing about this if it had been the other way round, especially if the victim had been the stripper- the kind of person who’s also been made unrapeable.

4 Jenn September 10, 2008 at 7:33 pm

Great analysis! I can totally imagine now the media zoo about what a “whore” a woman was if she got down on all fours, naked, at her bachelorette party in front of a man with an erection and objected to him penetrating her.

In fact, I don’t even think that it would make it to trial, and be thrown out by the courts for lack of evidence or settled outside. Of course, the woman might even refuse to testify because she probably internalized the feeling that she was “asking for it”.

Ugh, how sick. Male anus + plastic dildo = clear rape, little “ur a whore; lol it was sex” dialog (although, much can be said for the fantastic homophobia). Vagina + penis = sex, not rape because she was “stupid”.

5 Renee September 11, 2008 at 2:43 pm

Thank you for writing this. When I first came across this story I wanted to blog about it but found I didn’t have to the words to articulate what I felt. You said it all.

6 SunlessNick September 11, 2008 at 3:51 pm

Excellent analysis.

7 Alexa September 12, 2008 at 2:16 am

I agree with everyone else, well done. Jenn’s first paragraph was spot on as well.

8 Michael September 12, 2008 at 2:30 am

Don’t you think that Linda Naggs has been similarly abused in her job as a stripper in the recent past, and is ‘acting out?’ Especially the “Don’t worry, only you and I will know,” comment… In the article I read, it said that thye go to these events with a ‘minder’, who presumably has 111 on speed-dial, I bet that bucks parties get out of hand more often than they don’t, especially these days with the prevalence of party drugs.

9 Cara September 12, 2008 at 9:57 am

Michael — for all I know she has been abused. And if that’s the case, she is equally a victim who did not deserve what happened to her. That does not, however, have any relevance to whether or not she committed a rape. You know, many male rapists have also faced abuse, sexual or otherwise, in the past, and their rapes are in part a response to that abuse. They’re still rapists. And rape is not just “acting out.” That is a hugely offensive statement. I’m not going to treat this rape any differently just because a woman was the perpetrator.

10 Happy Lists September 12, 2008 at 2:34 pm

“dangerous understandings of masculinity are being upheld not by directly protecting male violence but by rejecting “feminized” victimization” – So true. Great commentary.

11 hututu November 17, 2008 at 11:39 pm

this case should be treated just like a woman raped by a man because the man is being penetrated here. although otherwise its very difficult for a woman to rape a man.

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