The Assessment of Forced Penetration: A Necessary and Further Step Toward Understanding Men’s Sexual Victimization and Women’s Perpetration

Date01 November 2020
Published date01 November 2020
Subject MatterArticles
Journal of Contemporary Criminal Justice
2020, Vol. 36(4) 480 –498
© The Author(s) 2020
Article reuse guidelines:
DOI: 10.1177/1043986220936108
The Assessment of Forced
Penetration: A Necessary
and Further Step Toward
Understanding Men’s Sexual
Victimization and Women’s
RaeAnn E. Anderson1,2, Erica L. Goodman1,3,
and Sidney S. Thimm1
A unique form of sexual victimization that often goes undiscussed and, therefore,
underassessed is that of being forced to penetrate another person (i.e., forced
penetration). Due to forced penetration being a relatively novel addition to the definition
of rape, there is a lack of assessment tools that identify forced penetration cases. Thus,
the goal of this study was to assess the utility and validity of new items designed to assess
forced penetration. More than 1,000 participants were recruited across three different
studies to assess forced penetration victimization and perpetration. The rate of forced
penetration victimization ranged from 4.51% to 10.62%. Among men who reported
victimization of any type, 33.8% to 58.7% of victimized men reported experiencing
forced penetration across the samples, suggesting this experience is common. All new
and unique cases of sexual victimization identified by the forced penetration items were
those of heterosexual men. These findings suggest that assessing for forced penetration
would increase the reported prevalence rates of sexual victimization, particularly in
heterosexual men (and correspondingly, rates of perpetration in women).
forced penetration, sexual victimization, sexual perpetration, men, measurement,
assessment, female perpetration
1University of North Dakota, Grand Forks, ND, USA
2Kent State University, OH, USA
3Northwestern University, Evanston, IL, USA
Corresponding Author:
RaeAnn E. Anderson, Department of Psychology, University of North Dakota, Grand Forks, ND 58201,
936108CCJXXX10.1177/1043986220936108Journal of Contemporary Criminal JusticeAnderson et al.
Anderson et al. 481
Although most scholarship and clinical work focuses on the sexual victimization expe-
riences of young women due to the high prevalence of this crime, recent data suggest
approximately one in six men in the United States experience sexual violence victim-
ization as well (Black et al., 2011). However, the research on sexual perpetration over-
whelmingly focuses on men as perpetrators (Fisher & Pina, 2013); and until recently,
definitions of rape frequently outright excluded the experiences of men being harmed
and women harming them (Stemple & Meyer, 2014). We define sexual violence as any
form of sexual contact without consent (Basile et al., 2014). In this study, we will use
the term sexual victimization to refer to the experiences of those who have been
harmed by sexual violence and the term sexual perpetration to refer to the behavior of
those who harm others through sexual violence, irrespective of gender identity. Rape,
the most severe form of sexual violence, is oral, anal, or vaginal penetration by means
of substance use intoxication, threats of physical force, or use of force (Basile et al.,
2014; Koss et al., 2007). The consequences of sexual victimization can be profoundly
serious. Rape is associated with high rates of posttraumatic stress disorder and poorer
health (Dworkin et al., 2017; Koss, 1993), regardless of a person’s gender (Choudhary
et al., 2009; Weiss, 2010). The purpose of this study was to evaluate the usefulness
(i.e., utility) and validity of three new items designed to assess forced penetration, a
form of sexual violence more often experienced by men, and thus propel research on
this topic.
Prevalence and Characteristics of Sexual Victimization
in Men
Forced penetration is when someone is forced to use parts of their body to penetrate
another person’s body. Until recently in the last decade, most legal definitions of rape
excluded forced penetration and many research tools have also excluded this experi-
ence (Stemple & Meyer, 2014). Not only does this strategy underestimate and discount
men’s experiences of victimization, this also systematically obscures women’s perpe-
tration. Yet, research suggests that this experience is traumatizing for men and may be
an underrecognized form of violence against heterosexual men by heterosexual women
(Brousseau et al., 2011; Fisher & Pina, 2013; Weare, 2018b; Weiss, 2010). However,
it is notable that although initial research suggests forced penetration victimization
may be more common for heterosexual men, forced penetration can occur in any cir-
cumstance and with many combinations of people with varying gender and sexual
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) data suggest that approxi-
mately 22% of American men experience sexual victimization. Data from college men
indicate higher rates, 28% to 50% (Anderson et al., 2018; Turchik, 2012), with reported
rates of rape being slightly lower than those reported by college women. In any case,
the rate of sexual victimization in men is much higher than previously purported, con-
sistent with Stemple and Meyer’s (2014) suggestion. In light of old assumptions about
men being much less likely to be victimized sexually, research is just beginning to
examine how men’s experiences may differ than women’s (Weiss, 2010).

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