Men’s Rights Movement Spreads False Claims about Women

Misogynists in the men’s and fathers’ rights movements have developed a set of claims about women to support their depictions of them as violent liars and manipulators of men. Some suggest that women attack men, even sexually, just as much as men attack women. Others claim that vast numbers of reported rapes of women, as much as half or even more, are fabrications designed to destroy men they don’t like or to gain the upper hand in contested custody cases. What follows is a brief look at some of these claims and what the best science really shows.

THE CLAIM Men’s rights activists often insist that men are victimized by sex crimes and abuse just as much as women are, if not more. This assertion is meant to support their contention that the courts and laws outrageously favor women.

THE REALITY A major 2010 study by the Centers for Disease Control’s National Center for Injury Prevention and Control thoroughly debunks such claims. Nearly one in five American women (18.3%), the study found, have been raped; the comparable number for men is one in 71 (1.4%). Not only that, but more than half (51.1%) of female victims reported that their rapist was an intimate partner — a current or former spouse or boyfriend, or a date. According to a 2000 study by the Department of Justice, female rape victims were also about twice as likely as male rape victims to be injured during an assault (31.5% versus 16.5%), even though many women do not physically resist their attackers for fear of injury. Overall, the studies found, most violence of all kinds against women (64%) came from current or former intimate partners, while that is true for only about one-sixth (16.2%) of men. Women were also far more likely to be stalked than men (16.2% versus 5.2%), and two-thirds of women’s stalkers (66.2%) were current or former intimate partners, compared to four in 10 for men (41.4%). A 2005 Department of Justice study also found that between 1998 and 2002, 84% of spousal abuse victims were female, as were 86% of victims of abuse at the hands of a dating partner. Males made up 83% of all spouse murderers and 75% of dating partner murderers.

THE CLAIM In another effort to show that men are discriminated against, many men’s rights activists assert that women attack men just as much as men attack women, if not more. The website MensActivism.org is one of many that criticizes what it characterizes as “the myth that women are less violent than men.”

THE REALITY Men’s rights groups often cite the work of Deborah Capaldi, a researcher with the Oregon Learning Center, to back their claim. Capaldi did find that women sometimes initiate partner violence, although women involved in mutually aggressive partner relationships were more likely to suffer severe injuries than the men. But Capaldi studied only a very particular subset of the population — at-risk youth — rather than women in general, invalidating any claim that her findings applied generally. In fact, the 2000 Department of Justice study found that violence against both women and men is predominantly male violence. Nine in 10 women (91.9%) who were physically assaulted since the age of 18 were attacked by a male, while about one in seven male assault victims (14.2%) were victimized by females. Similarly, all female rape victims in the study were attacked by a male, while about a third of male victims (35.8%) were raped by a female.

THE CLAIM Close to half or even more of the sexual assaults reported by women never occurred. Versions of this claim are a mainstay of sites like Register-Her.com, which specializes in vilifying women who allegedly lie about being raped. Such claims are also sometimes made by men involved in court custody battles.

THE REALITY This claim, which has gained some credence in recent years, is largely based on a 1994 article in the Archives of Sexual Behavior by Eugene Kanin that found that 41% of rape allegations in his study were “false.” But Kanin’s methodology has been widely criticized, and his results do not accord with most other findings. Kanin researched only one unnamed Midwestern town, and he did not spell out the criteria police used to decide an allegation was false. The town also polygraphed or threatened to polygraph all alleged victims, a now-discredited practice that is known to cause many women to drop their complaint even when it is true. In fact, most studies that suggest high rates of false accusations make a key mistake — equating reports described by police as “unfounded” with those that are false. The truth is that unfounded reports very often include those for which no corroborating evidence could be found or where the victim was deemed an unreliable witness (often because of drug or alcohol use or because of prior sexual contact with the attacker). They also include those cases where women recant their accusations, often because of a fear of reprisal, a distrust of the legal system or embarrassment because drugs or alcohol were involved. The best studies, where the rape allegations have been studied in detail, suggest a rate of false reports of somewhere between 2% and 10%. The most comprehensive study, conducted by the British Home Office in 2005, found a rate of 2.5% for false accusations of rape. The best U.S. investigation, the 2008 “Making a Difference” study, found a 6.8% rate.