Efforts to Criminalize Male Rape in Scotland

In Scotland police are investigating a number of sexual assaults on men perpetrated by what is believe to be a small gang. But under Scottish law, raping a man is not recognized as a crime.

Under Scotland’s definition of rape — which goes back to 1844 — rape is a crime which involves only a man sexually assaulting a woman. The perpetrators of this and other sexual assaults against men could be charged with assault, sodomy or possibly robbery if they stole from their victims, but not rape. And apparently, the maximum sentence for a first offense sodomy conviction is a mere three months.

The English legal system formally incorporated a gender-free definition of rape in 1996, but Scotland has yet to make that change, despite estimates that at least 400 men are victims of sexual assaults annually. That figure is likely higher since Scotland doesn’t keep statistics on the gender of sexual assault victims.

Keith Cowan, a spokesman for gay rights group Outright Scotland, has been trying to have the law changed. He told The Sunday Herald,

Rape is considered by the justice system to be much more serious than indecent assault or sodomy. The crime of sodomy confuses the very serious offence of male rape with the minor offence of consensual sex between men, which did not happen in a private place.

A crime as serious as male rape should carry an unambiguous and recognized rape charge so that it is clear from the charge, and from the record of any conviction, how serious the offence is. It must also be included in sexual assault statistics.

Such a change would seem to be a pretty straightforward, sensible thing to do. Why the law hasn’t already been changed is a bit mystifying.


Law failing victims of male rape. By Neil Mackay and Liam McDougall, Sunday Herald (Scotland), October 5, 2003.

Call for new laws after male sex attacks. Stephen Khan, The Observer, October 12, 2003.

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