Justice Department Redefines Rape, Matlack’s OpEd on CNN

Breaking the silence: Including men in the definition of rape challenges stereotypes

An important event happened  this week for male victims of sexual abuse — the Department of Justice changed its definition of rape to include rape against men. This is an issue often talked about on The Good Men Project, and we are thankful for this change and will continue to allow conversation, discussion and first-person stories around this topic. We are also grateful to all men who have had the courage to speak to us so far.

The Good Men Project is seen as a leader in the conversation about men’s issues, and so when the announcement  came through, we were the first ones that CNN.com called for an opinion. Tom Matlack wrote an op-ed which is currently appearing on their website. Here is an excerpt:

Stereotypes can rumble around in our collective brains for decades, sometimes centuries, before finally being edged out by a more nuanced understanding of reality. It’s been that way with our views about race, creed, sexual orientation and  gender roles.

The Justice Department’s announcement this week that it has changed the definition of rape to include men is one such step on the long road to better understanding.

The last few years have seen a growing shift in the way men are perceived, under the collective weight of celebrity bad boys, stay-at-home dads, written scholarship on the supposed “end of men,” an epidemic of male incarceration, two decade-long wars fought mostly by men  and a nascent men’s movement that is not about proclaiming male power but male capacity for depth and goodness.

We see men rejecting the stick-figure representation of manhood that gets played out in People magazine. We’ve gone from “Mad Men” to “Men of a Certain Age” in no more than a couple TV seasons.

At the front line of this transition is men’s understanding of what it means to be a victim. Historically, rape has been viewed narrowly as a crime against women. When I interviewed the first victim to come forward in the Catholic sex-abuse scandal in Boston , he legally wasn’t talking about rape. Nor were the countless other men we have featured on The Good Men Project who have been  sexually assaulted.

Why? Because of the belief that real men don’t get raped.

But in fact they do. What we know from working with thousands of men in our community of readers and writers is that men are often ashamed to come forward and say they were raped.

As the victim in Boston told me: “I don’t think that people in general, realize the long-term effects that it has on people. I think some people think just, okay, that happened twenty, forty years ago. Buck up, things happen. Be a man.”

Read the entire post on CNN, here.

About the Editors

We're all in this together.


  1. I’m a bit dissappointed that mr. Matlock hasn’t responded here or to the email I sent. Seems very off that he posted this page then hasn’t come back to respond to anyone.

  2. Good luck with the kids. I hope you are not refering to the urban myths as conventional thought. I always thought that the term “conventional thought” indicates the current state of rational empirical thinking specifically excluding anecdotes, urban myths and rumors.

  3. Thx rob.
    I stand by my statement. Tom has known victims since 1997. The individual in the interview is his personal friend for the last 15 years. It just does not stand to reason that he could hold the vampire myth out as fact, knowing a victim intimately as he does unless he is dumb or suspects his friend of being a potential pedo.
    I’ve skipped over to read the full interview and had to come back to make the point that Tom has stated he thinks the priests abuse starts with them being required to be celibate! Wouldn’t that mean a guy would just cheat the system with a woman or a man? These guys went after kid’s! it had nothing to do with whether or not they were allowed to have sex by the rules of the group they swore an oath to.

    Rob, Tom appears to be doing good work but like many bright folks he has blind spots, to my mind serious and dangerous blind spots.
    His promulgation of the vampire myth will as you and I both stated, encourage victims to continue hiding and suffering and to my mind it will give ammunition to the ignorant who know of victims who have spoken up to go ahead and abuse them as if they were actually perps. Finding the referenced interview and seeing that he thinks it was celibacy at the root of priestly pedophilia I have to stick with my criticism.

    People do not change if you do not point out things like this and hold them to a standard that is based in fact not urban legend. The insult is apt and it should work as intended to make him reconsider what he has said in the light of truth.

    • Correct Chris, We don’t know what we don’t know. Fallacy becomes fact when it lingers long enough.

      I’m hoping to gather useful primary data when I work with the Juvie Inmates. I’m guessing there will be some rather disturbing correlations and commonalities to either bolster or decay conventional thought.

  4. I suppose so. But why not leave the link on the other site so that those who saw you acuse me can come see you were mistaken? Or at least mention that you were mistaken and that I posted and said so, since you’ve removed it?
    You made some pretty serious accusations there and while I can forgive the misunderstanding I think it isn’t very cool not to letting people know I am not a monster.
    It’s not like the post was in Greek, the context is pretty clear. Fissy got it.

  5. I was indeed addressing the article. I was a bit hurt when I saw that I was misinterpreted but then I remember the damage doen and I realize we can often mis cues when somethign inadvertantly triggers us. I tried ot word it correctly enough that I did not mislead.
    I read the thing after linking here from where rob posted the link and then felt the need to add my voice to his condemnation of this man who it seems in spite of his apparent desire to help is perpetuating the worst sort of myths about victims. I hope that puts my comments in a new light for you Rob.

  6. FissyTsickens says:

    Surely Chris was replying to the article, and NOT to Rob, as Chris prefaced his reply with a reference to the objectionable part of the article. At least I hope that’s what Chris was replying to…

  7. From the full text of the article near the end, at the link provided;
    “Sexual abuse often follows a tragic pattern in which a victim, if left untreated, ends up becoming an attacker.”
    You cannot possibly know any victims yourself, or if you are one you are then telling us you would sexually abuse children and others if you didn’t have a therapist or psychiatrist.
    A tragic inserttion of fallacy as fact in a mediocre article that might have served to help the cause and now will facilitate the revictimization of thousand of male victims who made the mistake of telling somoene as dumb as you.

    • I do in-fact know many survivors (all male) of sexual abuse. Why would say “I cannot possibly know any?” I know countless survivors of childhood sexual abuse. I too am a survivor of seven years of childhood sexual abuse. I would not normally discuss my mental health treatment with anyone I don’t know, but since you prejudge me as a ready-made offender; I’ve been in therapy for a very long time. I’ve been away at seminar, workshops, retreats…I’ve studied the topic in depth and I will soon be working in juvenile jail with kids at risk.

      As for the balance of your hostility, I don’t “get it.” I don’t understand the motivation or advantage you gain. I’m sorry if I offended, but I was kept fearful of disclosing because of society’s embrace of the vampire-bite myth as well as many others. I’m not “dumb” as you claim. I AM heavily traumatized and still trying to heal from it

      I’ve lost everything in life except my life and my salvation because of the PTSD and other’s prejudiced views. I lead a fully transparent life, both in the media, in academia, in law enforcement and in my community. Anything further you have will be welcome. Seriously. Peace.

    • Point of clarification….

      Chris are you replying to Rob’s comment right above you or the comment in the article?

  8. *** “Sexual abuse often follows a tragic pattern in which a victim, if left untreated, ends up becoming an attacker.” ***

    Flat-out wrong, wrong wrong. That’s tantamount to saying “all cancer victims consumed milk as children, thus milk MUST cause cancer.”

    NO NO NO! If the vampire-bite myth were true, I’d be off the Mystic River Bridge – that hard way.

    A large percentage of sex offenders were abused as children, but NOT all abused children go on to offend.

    If it publishes, you can see my discussion on this myth being one of the greatest reasons men do not disclose sexual abuse/rape.

  9. I’m somewhat agnostic on the question of who abuses more, though I suspect men are more often the perpetrator of sexual assault than women.

    I do think there are very valid questions to ask here:

    “How do you KNOW that men are rapists more often than women?”

    “What counts as good evidence in coming to a quantifiable conclusion about the percentages?”

    “Are there areas in which rape may be under-reported or over-reported, and how do you KNOW that’s the case?”

    I don’t mean these questions as challenges to anti-rape programs or challenges to some forms of feminism. In fact, figuring out the best, most reliable, most accurate figures would be in society’s best interest all around, it seems to me. Survivors may turn into perpetrators, and that would apply to both men and women. How would we know if the situation is getting better or worse if we don’t have good figures either way?

    If it’s a matter of restating trite articles of faith, or refusing to ever change one’s mind about what you “just know for a fact,” then we’re not really having a rational discussion. If it’s unacceptable to analyze and ask questions of data, then we’re not having a rational discussion either.

    • 100%Cotton says:

      When an innocent man is raped in prison because of a woman’s false accusation, should it not count as sexual assault by proxy.

      I’ve never heard of a woman hiring another woman to murder her husband, but a woman hiring/instigating a male to do her dirty work is quite common, and when caught, she is held responsible…usually.

  10. wellokaythen says:

    I think part of the problem is that when a lot of people think of sex they think of penis-in-vagina intercourse, so when they think of “rape” they immediately think of an assault in the form of PIV intercourse. It’s the first thing that comes to my mind when someone uses the word “rape,” but obviously rape and other forms of sexual assault happen in many different forms. I suspect it’s a limited definition of sex, a certain lack of imagination, and not just a man-as-perpetrator brand of sexism. Once you add other body parts like the anus and mouth to the list, you have a whole new set of definitions.

    • Julie Gillis says:

      You absolutely do. Why do we define sex as penetration PIV? I have a piece coming up that discusses that.

  11. The Bad Man says:

    It’s interesting to note that the sidebar advertisement for endabuse.org doesn’t recognize male victims of anything.

  12. The Bad Man says:

    The definition is still lacking and doesn’t recognize that men can be coerced and that an erection does not equal consent.

  13. We could also say that these feminist lobby groups made sure female on male and child rape remained excluded as a definition and greatly expanding the definitions of male perpetrated rape.

  14. Please consider that the sentence: “Clearly, there are still far more women who are raped than men.” comes up without fail whenever male victims are mentioned or are telling their stories. It is almost like it’s utterance is a pavlovian reflex. It is tiring and it does come off as dismissive in it’s repetivness and reflexivness. Even more so now when the statistics from NISVS 2010 Report from CDC indicates that in 2010 (Last 12 months) that isn’t true at all if one ascribes to the belief that men being forced to have sex with a woman are raped.

    Please consider this the next time one feels the urge to type/say that sentence.

    • David Byron says:

      It is likely that the number of male victims is undercounted by much larger margins than that of women because they’ve only just started trying. When you try to do something a lot you get better at it. They are getting very good at measuring female victims.

      In fact they haven’t even started trying to count child sexual abuse by women against boys yet. Child sexual abuse is still pretending that it’s all men by using the ridiculous sexist definition of course.

      • Peter Houlihan says:

        This, the most recent Irish equivalent of the CDC survey queried virtually every sexual act except sexual intercourse between an adult female and a male minor. The manner in which it was left out can only have been deliberate.

        • It’s hard to get the maths right – you have four possible perps and 4 possible targets which is 4 multiplied by four which equals 16

          Perp vs Target
          Male Adult – Male Adult
          Male Adult – Female Adult
          Male Adult – Male Minor
          Male Adult – Female Minor
          Male Minor – Male Adult
          Male Minor – Female Adult
          Male Minor – Male Minor
          Male Minor – Female Minor
          Female Adult – Male Adult
          Female Adult – Female Adult
          Female Adult – Male Minor **
          Female Adult – Female Minor **
          Female minor – Male Adult **
          Female minor – Female Adult **
          Female minor – Male Minor **
          Female minor – Female Minor **

          I take it that the 6 Highlighted** combinations were all missed.

          I have seen it before where All males as adults or minors are seen as a risk factor, and only female adults are seen to be a risk to other adults, and not minors. Female minors are angelic – sugar and spice, so they can never do anything “BUT” nice!

          • Peter Houlihan says:

            Actually no, and the study was specifically about adult perpetrators and child victims. The study was conducted over the phone and asked participants a number of questions about abuse they may have suffered as a child, if any. The questions examined forced vaginal, oral and anal penetration aswell as forced genital touching and oral sex. I only had two major criticisms of the methodology:

            -The survey should have included some degree of institutionalised participants (prison and psichiatric hospital inmates) as well as homeless people. The decision not to do so cut out two of the most victimised groups of society, most of whom are male.
            -No questions were asked about boys penetrating adult women or men

            Given that almost every other form of sexual assault was covered it was odd that that should be singled out for exclusion. My initial thought was that they were focusing on acts that would legally qualify as rape of a minor in Ireland, but that would exclude genital touching (I’m pretty sure that thats indecent assault of a minor).

        • Julie Gillis says:

          Peter, do you have any cites easily available I could look at? If not no worries.

    • 100%Cotton says:

      If one counts prison rape, is it still “clear” that women are more often rape victims?

      I have my doubts.

      If one counts the number of males that don’t make rape accusations because they are told they “got lucky” wouldn’t that number pretty much equal the presumed number of women who don’t report rapes because they fear not being believed?

  15. The new law expands the scope of victims but its insistence on “penetration” as the sole measure of transgression enures that all men, and only men, will have proximity to the crime of rape. A women, by contrast, must equip herself with an object to transgress.

    If we believe all rapists are male, then we will only find male rapists. The law becomes self-confirming and recursive. When we reserve laws for the application and prosecution of specific groups, our justice ceases to be blind.

  16. tom matlack says:

    Jacobtk I was really trying to point out here how much male victims have been ignored and this change in the law is a positive thing. I see how you might read those two lines as minimizing but they were not intended that way.

    • Tom – I have to say that the whole Fanfare around the New Definition is flat and filled with Bum Notes!

      It has been accepted Internationally for 13 years that the definition of rape is:

      “a physical invasion of a sexual nature, committed on a person under circumstances which are coercive”

      It was adopted into International law as a result of 2 September 1998, ref International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda, THE PROSECUTOR VERSUS JEAN-PAUL AKAYESU, Case No. ICTR-96-4-T.

      I do see the advance by The FBI as having some validity – but sorry, after 13 years and so much work on a global scale they could have done a lot better.

      Just consider – a private individual in a war torn third world country has a better chance of seeing justice through the UN and the International Criminal Court than you do!

      Is that good enough?

      • David Byron says:

        Again this definition is NOT a legal definition. The US definition of rape (rather the 51 different definitions) for the most part are better than the formulation you quoted and have been around for decades. This is just the definition used by the FBI for collecting stats on what they choose to call “forcible rape”.

        Beleive me a man who is raped has a lot more chance of a fair shake in the US than in the Congo let’s say. In part because Western agencies tend to make sure that male victims are refused aid or they refuse funding. (Thanks feminists!)

        • Peter Houlihan says:

          “Beleive me a man who is raped has a lot more chance of a fair shake in the US than in the Congo let’s say. In part because Western agencies tend to make sure that male victims are refused aid or they refuse funding. (Thanks feminists!)”

          Its a perfect example of the road to wickedness being paved with good intentions.

          Trigger warning: Noone go near this if you don’t like reading about some pretty graphic sexual assault

          • Julie Gillis says:

            Horrifying. I’d read that before. Sometimes I just lose hope for people when they seem to have such a habit of putting poltical power/funding over actual progress. I guess I shouldn’t be surprised.

            • Peter Houlihan says:

              If you mean NGO Rape Crisis Charity workers in africa, I doubt they’re to blame. I assume that if they fully knew about the extent of male rape they’d do something about it. That said, its been a while since I read the article, maybe I’m missing something.

              • David Byron says:

                Actually its the opposite. It makes no sense for feminists to ban male victims unless they know there are significant numbers of them. After all if it was really just one or two men here and there as they pretend, then why even bother making a rule about it? Why make a rule saying no service to male victims if you are of the belief that it wouldn’t make any difference because there basically are no such people?

                Do they have a rule saying people with six legs won’t get helped?

                • Peter Houlihan says:

                  Some feminist arguments surrounding rape are founded on the idea that it only happens to women in large numbers, these stats are also considered to be backup for other areas of feminist theory.

                  I don’t think its that they are deliberately covering up male rape which they know to exist, I think its that they see attempts to expose male rape as a cynical assault on their position, and an attempt to diminish the voices of female victims.

                  This is possibly true of some MRA commentators (for some people rape stats really are just about moral high ground) but I’ve personally seen enough to suggest that theres a real issue at stake.

    • Tom, I understand what you were trying to do. My point is that you did not need make those comments, and I can only imagine that you made to shore up the feminist argument that only women are victims, not men and boys.

  17. It was a nice start, but Matlack could not help but throw in “Sexual abuse often follows a tragic pattern in which a victim, if left untreated, ends up becoming an attacker” and “Clearly, there are still far more women who are raped than men.” In other words, all male victims are potential rapists and women have it worse. Just once I would like to see feminists say that male victims deserve to be recognized and end it there.

    • David Byron says:

      It’s not at all apparent that statement is even true. It seem to me that it is quite possible that there are more female rapists than male rapists and more male rape victims than there are female rape victims. We simply do not have that information at this time. It seems VERY likely at this point that most rape is rape of men (which is a slightly different question from the other two).

      But why do we even care for god’s sake? The only reason for doing these sums is to either try to dismiss all victims of one gender (feminists) or to defend against such an act of prejudice (feminist critic). The legitimate reasons why you’d make an issue of one gender over the other on this issue and that is to point out that while both sexes get raped and commit rape the completely inaccurate sexist assumptions of the past have created a situation where male victims need especial help and where law enforcement needs to concentrate on female criminals because it is obvious they are in the habit of ignoring them right now. Both very serious problems regardless of which sex is raped more often or which sex does the raping.

      While I am happy for Tom that he gets asked for comment by CNN on this stuff, and he’s a lot better source than any other feminist I guess, still I wonder that they couldn’t find a men’s rights activist to ask about a men’s issue.

    • @Jacobtk,

      While I think there maybe could have been more tact in the phrasing “Clearly, there are more women raped than men” (As rape is still mostly under-reported for women, and only NOW legally applicable to men), the line about a victim becoming an attacker isn’t necessarily directed at men, specifically. While I can’t know what Matlack was thinking–couldn’t a women be an attacker? Have we not seen these cases in the news more-so now?

      Obviously I’m just ruminating here but in short, yes, this Feminist agrees that male victims should be recognized, and luckily, this is an issue coming into the public light.

      • Lisa Hickey says:

        Amanda and Jacobtk — My takeaway was exactly the point that Amanda is making — that a victim of sexual abuse (any victim, male of female) has a greater chance of then abusing someone else (male or female.) That sentence seemed completely non-gendered to me.

        As far as “women have it worse” — that, too, is not what was said, especially if you look at it at an individual level. Jacobtk, you and I have had this conversation before. ANY rape or sexual assault against any gender by any gender is horrific. We have to help those individuals. Period. This is not a game, this is not something to be argued over. Change needs to happen, and it can happen now, not years from now — victims need to be able to talk about it, get the help they need, and not feel shamed about any of it. And Jacobtk, I am a big supporter of all you’ve done in helping to make that happen for men who have been abused. We are on your side, Jacobtk. Please believe that.

        • Peter Houlihan says:

          Do we really need to throw out “most victims are women” every time we mention rape? How does this support victims of either gender? This even if it were true, and given the issues surrounding the observation and measurement of such behaviour I don’t see how anyone can really make a claim either way. I just don’t see the relevance, we don’t constantly crow about how the majority of the victims are white.

          • What we need to do is to “Ditch the Stats” altogeather. Especially since there estimates anyway. Really, if you (Man or Woman) were raped (by a Man or Woman) and you are 1 of 100, does that make you feel better or worse than if you were 1 of 1,000? As far as you feel, YOU ARE THE ONE WHO WAS RAPED!!! As I stated bfeore , I personally know someone who was raped (by a co worker) . This sweet wonderful woman is totally traumatized and probably will be for life. Her storybook marriage is no more. You see, it was’nt just her who was assualted, it was her relationship with her husband and family also.

      • @Amanda, I agree that his comment was not specifically directed at men, however, his article was about male victims. The idea that male victims will become abusers — the so-called “Vampire Syndrome” — is very common. To throw out “victims will become attackers” without adding that most victims never hurt anyone is pretty bad. I do not think someone more informed about male victimization and the stigmas male victims face would have made that comment.

        @Lisa, it is not a matter of anyone being on my side; it is a matter of respect for male victims. The “Clearly, there are more women raped than men” did not need to be written because the topic was about male victims and because it implies that what happens to male victims is not the real problem. I cannot think of one article Matlack wrote about violence against women where he wrapped up his article by reminding people that more men are victims of violence than women, and I assume he did not because it would undermine his point. So why do that to male victims? That is why I objected.

        • Lisa Hickey says:

          @Jacobtk, I understand that, and thanks for making that point. I had worked on the article with Tom, so I take some responsibility here as well. I also want to note that CNN had edited the piece heavily to make it punchier — so in his original article that sentence was not a standalone and there was much more context about men, stigmas, and victims.

          Also — with regards to the point about victims the cycle of abuse and the “Vampire Syndrome” — could you write a post for us about that? Maybe in conjunction with Archy, who has been a very vocal advocate for speaking up about these issues as well?

          I want to re-iterate that I believe it is extremely important that we keep talking about these issues in a way that respects the victims the most, that understands them first from the point of view of men, and works to solve these very difficult problems.

          • Peter Houlihan says:

            “I also want to note that CNN had edited the piece heavily to make it punchier — so in his original article that sentence was not a standalone and there was much more context about men, stigmas, and victims. ”

            I know that wasn’t addressed to me, but I’m glad to hear it. Would it be possible to post the original here? It might be worth presenting the context.

          • Then Ms. Hickey, please do all of us a favor and publish Matlacks article in total. I may not always agree with him , but he writes from his heart and I do respect that. Plus I enjoy his style as I’m sure many others do.

            • Lisa Hickey says:

              We agreed to CNN’s terms and conditions about the article, which includes that they own the post and we can only publish an excerpt of the final version. Sorry, I know someone else made the request also.

              Tom does write from his heart and I’m sure will be writing a lot more on this and other topics. Thanks for asking.

          • Lisa, I will write a post about the “Vampire Syndrome.” I should have it ready by the end of the week.

    • I think it would have been better to talk about the cycle of abuse in more detail, and to understand that only a few rape victims as far as I know ever go on to abuse. Whilst it may be true many abusers have been abused, not many abused will abuse. I think it’s important to understand if that carries through to rape, it at least indicates we need to help these victims so that we can try lower the amount that do harm.

      I know that people who’ve suffered mental and physical abuse can repeat that cycle, happened in my own family with generation after generation of abuse. It’s tough to say though since abuse victims don’t want to be known as abusers, more needs to be studied on all of these topics ESPECIALLY in men.

      Is there a way to mention the cycle of abuse without also insulting abuse victims? Also what are some good statistics on that area?

      • Lisa Hickey says:

        Archy — I just asked Jacobtk this and want to ask you as well, if you could write a post about this — either together with him or you could each write one and we could run them both.

        It’s important that we keep talking about the issues and thanks for your part in that.

        • I’ll see what I can do, not sure on a time frame but I’ll try keep you update if I do it or not. Guess I’ll have quite a bit of thinking to do to see if I can get enough down for an article.

    • 100%Cotton says:

      Since women are victims of sexual assault more than men, it would stand to reason that more women are sexual abusers than men.

      Isn’t that how it works?

  18. It is better, but there is still a way to go.

    The new definition is (my emphasis):

    “Penetration, no matter how slight, of the vagina or anus with any body part or object, or oral penetration by a sex organ of another person, without the consent of the victim.”

    This explicitly says that a women putting her mouth around a non-consenting man’s penis is not raping him while a man putting his penis into a non-consenting woman’s mouth is raping her.

    There is a real concern that also will be held implicitly that other forms of envelopment aren’t rape as well. It isn’t when it comes to oral envelopment, so why should it for vaginal or anal envelopment when it’s not explicitly stated? It’s not like it would be hard to write a sentence explicitly and unambiguously classifying envelopment as rape so why the failure to do so?

    • David Byron says:

      Especially as such gender neutral sentences have already been written decades ago as the legal definition (as opposed to this change to the statistical definition for FBI UCR purposes) of first degree sexual assault, aggravated sexual abuse or rape.

    • Peter Houlihan says:

      Same situation in Ireland:
      Man has sex with a comatose woman = rape
      Woman has sex with a comatose man = sexual assault
      (this is possible and I know at least one person whom its happened to)


  1. […] We’ve obviously been focussed on the plight of male victims of sexual abuse recently from my CNN column on the change in the Justice Department’s definition of rape to include men to “I’ve Got the T-Shirt and the Trauma Response to Go With It” to my buddy who was […]

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