excerpted from: Tommy J. Curry and Ebony A. Utley, She Touched Me: Five Snapshots of Adult Sexual Violations of Black Boys, 28 (2) Kennedy Institute of Ethics Journal 205–241 ( 2018) (Bibliogrraphy) (Full Document)
Imagine: A 15-year-old girl has sex with a 20-year-old man. It is her first sexual experience. Her first time having intercourse. She remembers that “he basically took it from me,” but feels an affection for the person and the event. She was not at the age of consent, but describes the experience as “just pleasure.” Was this rape or simply a man ushering a young girl into womanhood? Now imagine her as a 15-year-old boy and him to be a 20-year-old woman. She “took it from him,” but he recalls it was pleasurable. Was he forced into sexual relations with an adult before the age of consent? Was he raped? Can he actually be raped?
It is often difficult to conceptualize male bodies as being victims of sexual violence, and even more so when the perpetrator of that sexual violence is female. Recent research has commented on male victims’ invisibility in the public’s perception of sexual initiation and exploitation. When the perpetrator is female and the victim is male, society is much more likely to view the sexual relationship between these two as one of mutual pleasure and sexual initiation. Male victimization, even when suffered by a child, is often overlooked or rationalized as something different and less violent than what would happen to a young girl.
In Matthew P. Mendel’s The Male Survivor: The Impact of Sexual Abuse, he argues that the visibility of male victims rarely is seen through their actual suffering or the symptoms manifesting because of the event. Often male victims are identified by the threat they pose to others. Mendel explains:
It is easier to recognize a male perpetrator than a male victim. This simple proposition has, I believe, profound ramifications for abused men, for the psychotherapeutic community, and for the field of criminal justice. The cultural stereotype of men as active, violent, and aggressive rather than passive, helpless, or victimized makes it easy to recognize behaviors that fit the former pattern and difficult to perceive the latter. Moreover, if we expect abused boys or male survivors of child sexual abuse to behave just like their female counterparts, we will miss a lot of abused males. The victimization of males is, unfortunately, only likely to come to light through their later sexual offenses, if at all.
While various studies have established that male victims of child sexual abuse suffer from an increased propensity towards self-harm, alcoholism, guilt, shame, emasculation, anxiety, and depression Coxell and King 2010) , there is a seemingly unshakable belief that as males, young boys are unaffected by sexual victimization—that they do not personally suffer and that sex with an older woman is pleasurable rather than traumatic . This silent suffering, the product of males’ inability to disclose their victimization because the world simply does not believe men and boys are victims of sexual violence, can be socially and psychologically debilitating Grossman 2008) .
Female perpetrators of child sexual abuse, commonly referred to as female sex offenders, remain an understudied and somewhat invisible population in the academic literature De Luca 1999) . Despite the documenting of a growing demographic of female sex offenders in the child sex abuse literature , cases reported to child protective services , and victimization surveys, there is no recognition of female sexual offenders and male victims of child sexual abuse within gender and race theory literatures regarding masculinity. As Katrina Williams and David Bierie write, “Sexual offenses committed by females are perceived to be uncommon and when they do occur, harmless or less harmful than offenses committed by males” . While there has been some recognition of the gap between the seemingly intuitive assertion that women do not sexually violate minors and the cases of minors sexually violated by females in the scientific literature , gender theory within liberal arts disciplines have continued to resist such acknowledgments. At the center of this failure is the (a priori) assumption that women, suppressed by patriarchy, are only the victims of violence—never perpetrators.
In Female Sexual Predators: Understanding and Identifying Them to Protect Our Children and Youth, Karen A. Duncan argues that the radical feminist perspective has fixed in the minds of scholars and policymakers the view that all sexual violence is unidirectional male-to-female violence. Duncan explains: the view of females as victims of dominant males was developed in the historical context and sociopolitical view arising from radical feminist scholarship. This particular feminist framework has been a significant influence in the literature on child sexual abuse and adult rape for several years. It may be that this traditional framework, even with its apparent limitations and possible bias, continues to have an influence on how female violence is viewed and child sexual abuse in particular is framed (i.e., coercion of a female by a dominant male) . This sociopolitical framework of violence may influence some groups of the public, law enforcement, and professional opinions in spite of the evidence indicating that females are capable and willing to exert violence against others without the influence or presence of a male.
Similar to previous works criticizing feminist theory for its erroneous accounts of male victimization that have argued the sexual abuse of men by adult females is in fact harmless, the harm from sexual violation or rape only occurs from penile penetration, or that men cannot be raped , Duncan suggests that the inability to see male victims of female perpetrated sexual violence is largely ideological. As Claire Cohen explains in her recent book, Male Rape Is a Feminist Issue: Feminism, Governmentality and Male Rape , “the reluctance to embrace male rape within the feminist rape model, as popularly conceived, is a result of the reluctance to adapt it, not an inability to do so. But this reluctance is understandable when the model itself is presented as so enmeshed with the legitimacy of the theoretical stance. One cannot revisit the feminist rape model without supposedly impinging on the feminist paradigm as a whole” . The theory of rape offered by feminism often focuses on women as victims, particularly the sexual vulnerability the female body has to the physical violence of men. The situating of the woman as victim a priori overdetermines maleness as the cause of violence and men the perpetrators of violence against women. When dealing with rape and the problem of sexual violence against men, feminist gender analysis has continued to assert that males are perpetrators of violence in their relation to women, not victims of sexual violence from women.
Despite the growing evidence of female-perpetrated sexual violence, female perpetration of child sexual abuse and the statutory rape of minors are not part of the West’s social construction of the woman, nor thought to be worthy of reporting by various law enforcement agencies. Myriam Denov , a noted scholar of child violence, explains “Societal perceptions of females as sexually passive and innocent appear to have an important influence on the criminal law, on victim reporting practices, and on professional attitudes, reflecting an implicit negation of women as potential sexual aggressors” . The stereotypical, and by effect theoretically centered, perpetrator of the various kinds of sexual abuse and childhood rape are imagined to be male. Psychologist Jacqui Saradjian explains, “Sexual offending has long been viewed within society as a male-only crime. Males are perceived as controlling all sexual encounters and females as passive and submissive recipients, even when the male is a child and the female is an adult” . Affording innocence to women and girls perpetuates an invisibility that perpetrators benefit from. Because female perpetrators of sexual violence are seemingly impossible to imagine, they are cloaked from the eyes of social scientists and theorists alike. As Deborah S. Boroughs remarks: “Sexual abuse of children by women is a crime that seems so unnatural that it offends society’s moral instincts, causing the issue to be relatively unexplored by social scientists. Like many abhorrent characteristics of human behavior, people often ignore or deny that which they are unwilling to accept or acknowledge” . Female perpetrators of sexual violence do not need to be able to physically overpower—or physically dominate—male victims to commit sexual assault or rape. In some cases, adult female perpetrators use extreme force to coerce adult males into sex. In these cases, weapons like guns and knives were used to make men submit as in the cases documented by Sarrel and Masters . However, such cases need not be the basis from which sexual violations are conceptualized. Duncan emphasizes that female perpetrators of sexual violence or statutory rape can be females at any stage of sexual development. The abuse of siblings, bullying, and dating violence are all possible scenarios where peer relationships can enable female perpetrators. Regardless of prevalence, the presence of female perpetrators in any number of relationships with minors does not worry society at large. As such, female perpetration of sexual violence against children and adolescents remains ever present throughout American society but ignored within the (gender) scholarship that claims to develop theories to explain the causalities of sexual violence.
It has been long documented that Black Americans report having their first sexual experiences at younger ages than their white American counterparts. Black males have the earliest sexual debut of any group in the United States. Black boys often report first intercourse between 12 and 14 years of age. The sexual debut of their peer girl group is much later, so their first intercourse is likely with older women al. 2013) . The earliest studies conducted by white social scientists in the mid-twentieth century interpreted the earlier age of sexual debut amongst Blacks as evidence of their racial inferiority, lack of morality, and hyper-sexuality. These mid-twentieth century studies observed that Black males were the group most likely to have the earliest first sexual intercourse when compared to white males and females as well as Black females. These studies were often used as evidence of the hyper-sexuality of Black men and boys, and attributed the early sexual debut of Negro boys to promiscuity, the cultural delinquency of Black families, and the innate hypersexual nature of the Negro race. Abram Kardiner and Lionel Ovesey’s The Mark of Oppression made the early age of Black male’s first sexual experience a lynchpin of Black sexuality studies for decades to come, and inadvertently published what may be the first account of the rape of Black boys in Black communities. Kardiner and Ovesey argue that unlike their white middle-class counterparts who learn about sex from their mothers and fathers, Black boys learn about sex in the streets, masturbation generally begins early six to eight. On the whole, masturbation does not play much of a role in the growing lower-class boy. This is due to the early opportunities for relations with women. First intercourse at seven or nine is not uncommon, and very frequent in early adolescence usually with girls much older.
This pathological framing of Black boys’ early sexual experience, which takes the earlier sexual debut of Black boys as evidence of their innate hyper-sexuality by social scientists and psychologists, is ever-present in theoretical accounts of Black male sexuality. Over a decade into the twenty-first century, scholars and theorists interested in race and Black masculinity have not yet attempted to interpret or analyze the early child sexual experiences of Black boys in the United States as a particular and peculiar sexual vulnerability.
Tommy J. Curry has argued that the history of sexual victimization experienced by Black men and boys has been erased in theory and ignored by scholars because of racism and anti-Black misandry. To correct this erasure, Curry has argued that a new field, Black male studies, is needed to examine the peculiar interactions between racialization and maleness under neocolonial patriarchal states. A Black male studies paradigm contends that the empirical and historical evidence of Black male rape, intimate partner abuse, and death requires new theories to account for the particular vulnerability of Black males beyond the language of hyper-masculinity. Regarding the sexual abuse and rape of young Black boys, Curry writes: “The hyper-masculinity of the Black male brute resonates in the minds of observers and theories as a denial of his sexual victimization and rape by women. The idea many hold is that a Black male could never be overpowered or abused by any woman—he is a lil’ Buck. . . . This overdetermined envisioning of the Black boy makes even his empirical suffering (his stories, the actual facts of the matter) imperceptible to the general public and academic audiences alike”.
This article explores the sexuality of young Black males in the United States as it contributes to Black Male Studies. Currently there is no scholarship that explains or documents sexual victimization or statutory rape by adult women as an early sexual experience of Black boys in the United States. While there has been some attention to increased sexual risk of this population , most knowledge concerning the sexual victimization of Black boys is anecdotal and often catches the attention of the public because they are celebrity confessions. Through interviews and a summary of present findings, this article is an exploratory study of the occurrence and consequence of sexual victimization amongst this population.