Making the Connections: Harmful Masculine Norms and Non-Partner Sexual Violence

The 16 Days of Activism Against Gender-Based Violence is an international campaign used by activists around the world (November 25-December 10) as an organizing strategy to call for the elimination of all forms of gender-based violence. 

This year, we will be sharing out research on the links between harmful masculine norms and eight different forms of violent behavior, as well as insights and recommendations to eliminate all forms of violence.

While there is nothing inherent about being male that drives violence, how we socialize boys into their identities as men and what we expect of them – that is, society’s masculine norms – are undeniably linked with violence.

Indeed, boys and men are often raised, socialized, and encouraged to use violence in some form; on the whole, men and boys are disproportionately likely to both perpetrate most forms of violence and to die by homicide and suicide. However, the research affirms that this violence is preventable, gender equality is achievable, and nonviolent norms and ideas about manhood are prevalent and powerful. 

Promundo and Oak Foundation’s report Masculine Norms and Violence: Making the Connections, examines the links between harmful masculine norms and eight forms of violent behavior. This sixth blog in the Making the Connections, 16 Days of Activism series focuses on non-partner sexual violence. It breaks down the facts on non-partner sexual violence, explores its linkages to other forms of violence, and provides recommendations for action.

Non-Partner Sexual Violence

The Facts

There are various forms of non-partner sexual violence, such as verbal sexual harassment, unwanted sexual touching, and rape. Non-partner sexual violence is predominantly perpetrated by men against women and girls, although increasing evidence finds substantial sexual violence by men against other men and against boys.

The WHO estimates that 7 percent of women globally have been sexually assaulted by someone other than a partner (a number that excludes sexual harassment). Forms of sexual violence other than forced sex acts, particularly street-based sexual harassment, are prevalent. According to ActionAid, 79 percent of women living in cities in India and 89 percent in Brazil have been subjected to sexual harassment or violence in public, as have 75 percent of women in London. Consequently, men are considerably more likely than women to say they feel safe walking alone at night in their communities, according to data from 143 countries. 

Sexual violence against men and boys is widely underreported, largely due to normative ideas about masculinity, gender stereotyping, and the resulting stigma attached to being a male survivor of sexual violence.

The Links

Gender-inequitable masculinities are among the top causal factors of rape perpetration, according to a 2012 synthesis of approximately 300 qualifying studies. Likewise, IMAGES data from five countries demonstrate that men who hold attitudes of male privilege and entitlement are consistently more likely to perpetrate rape.

Perpetration of sexual violence can serve as a tool for men and boys to prove their manhood, achieve social status of a “real man,” and establish power and control over others. Sexual violence can also be used as a tool to police the gender performance of individuals of all gender identities. 

The array of culturally salient attitudes that drive male sexual violence – including harmful masculine norms – are so globally and locally pervasive that feminist scholars and cultural critics coined the term “rape culture” to describe it. Further, rape culture places blame on the person who is assaulted and effectively renders invisible the cultural dynamics that create an environment in which sexual violence occurs.

The Intersections

As with other forms of violence, experiencing childhood violence is linked with a significantly higher likelihood of men’s perpetration of sexual violence as adults.

Global data suggest complex, multidirectional relationships between educational achievement, income level, and sexual violence perpetration, making broad generalizations impossible.

In addition to adverse childhood exposures and gender-inequitable masculinities, research identifies three other top risk factors for rape perpetration: attachment and personality disorders, social learning and delinquency, and substance abuse and access to firearms. 

From Theory to Practice

Initiatives aiming to prevent non-partner sexual violence should focus on the following transformations of harmful masculine norms:

  • Ask participants to name and identify the harmful effects of gender norms on individuals of all gender identities, particularly as they relate to gender expression and sexuality.
  • Foster discussion and appreciation of alternative masculinities that provide healthy, nonviolent ideas of manhood.
  • Identify rape culture and engage participants in an exploration of how it manifests, its negative consequences, and how to change it (encouraging advocacy).
  • Demonstrate the broad, harmful effects of sexual violence, including intergenerational effects, and insist that sexual violence is never justified.
  • Recognize psychosocial support as particularly important for helping to disrupt intergenerational cycles of violence among young people who have experienced or witnessed violence while growing up.

Read the rest of the Making the Connections, 16 Days of Activism blog series to learn more about intimate partner violence; physical violence against children; child sexual abuse and exploitation; bullying; homicide and violent crimesuicide, and conflict and war.

back to news index