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 Rape – the act of coerced sexual activity of any type (Burt,
1981) – has been a worldwide problem for decades, however has only come under a
lot of scrutiny in the last few years, with more and more women standing forward
to name their accusers and grabbing the attention of the public and the media.

But why now? With the most recent wave of rape and sexual assault accusations
sweeping across Hollywood, most notably the ongoing Harry Weinstein cases, we
are left wondering why it has taken so long for these woman to come forward.

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And when you see the backlash from a small group of individuals, you see why. Many
individuals do not believe that rape is real.

 

There are many rape myth beliefs and this essay will look
into what factors cause people to believe rape myths. A rape myth is a
stereotyped, bigoted, malicious belief towards victims of rape and the act of
rape itself. A rape myth tends to justify the offender’s actions and often
leads to victim blaming and shaming. An example of a rape myth is that if a
woman is dressed in what some may describe as ‘provocatively’, it means she is ‘asking
for it’, or if a woman is walking alone at night, again she is asking for it
and another is if she is drunk, she is again asking for it. And the most
popular excuse is ‘she didn’t say no’ (Burt, 1981). Rape myths can also sway a
jurors and a judge’s conviction. In a study conducted by Jacqueline Gray
(2006), in which participants had to complete a ‘Rape Myth Acceptance scale
(RMA)’ – a scale created by Burt in 1980. Participants then had to give a
verdict after reading a written scenario of a date rape that ends with guidance
which is either in support of rape myth, against rape myth or neutral. Gray concluded
that rape myth biased guidance could influence verdicts in rape cases. Although
the majority of rape cases involve women as victims, it also important to
remember that men also suffer from the same crime.

 

One factor that has been found to associate with rape myth
belief is gender. Rape Crisis England and Wales reported that in the year 2016 –
2017, 93% of people who used their service were female. They approximate that
85,000 women and 15,000 men are raped every year, however only 15% of these
crimes are reported to the police, a male-dominated job sector. It is widely known
that women tend to show more empathy than men (Christov-Moore et al, 2014).

Therefore, women would be less likely to judge a woman who has been raped –
regardless of the circumstance of the rape – than men. In 1992, a study was conducted
by Mark Barnett and Steven Quackenbush which involved psychology students
reading one of 4 scenarios – a female student being raped inside her house by a
stranger, a female student being raped inside her house by an acquaintance, a
female student being raped outside at night by a stranger or a female student
being raped outside at night by an acquaintance. Results showed that women
showed higher levels of empathy, as well showing more likability to the victim
when compared to males. However, their results also show that participants,
both female and male, applied an immense amount of responsibility to the rapist
rather than the victim. Although the male participants did blame the rapist
mostly, they attributed the rape to the victims’ behaviour and victims
character more then the female participants. Female participants attributed the
rape more towards sex biases. These results show that men are less likely to
support a victim of rape, yet women are supposed to report rape to police, a
male-dominated workplace. More research needs to be conducted on the gender
differences in views when a male is raped.

 

 

Another factor that associates with people’s rape beliefs is
the media. A lot of things fall under the scope of media, but for this topic we
are looking specifically at social media and celebrities. This past decade has
seen social media grow bigger and bigger every single day. With thousands of
platforms available for anyone to post anything, without repercussion most of
the time too. This has allowed many individuals to speak openly about and
spread their views and opinions regardless of the impact their words could have
on other people. Zaleski et al (2016) collected and analysed data which was
published either on publications or in comments sections that followed a
newspaper article between December 2014 and March 2015. Once all the data was
analysed, the researchers found that the most conspicuous theme was victim
blaming. In this generation, social/digital media is the main way people
communicate, it is what many young adult’s wake up in the morning looking to
read. So for the most prominent factor regarding rape is to blame the victim,
then no wonder only 15% of sexual assault crimes are reported. Rape culture is
not condemned enough on social media, therefore it grows, creating more
believers of rape myths. Another important result from this study is that if
the accused rapist had a job in pop culture, i.e. was a celebrity, not only was
there an increase in victim blaming, but also an increase in what researchers
described as ‘perpetrator support’. However, in recent months, an initiative called
TimesUp was created by females, offering support and legal access to other
females in the media industry and has been widely spoken about by celebrities
as well having received donations by famous male actors, bringing more attention
to rape and how the current generation will no longer stand for it.

 

Lastly, culture and race play big roles in rape myth
beliefs. Asian and Middle Eastern cultures and Asian and Middle Eastern men are
typically portrayed as people who oppress women through controlling what they wear
and who they can be around, where as White culture and White males are
portrayed to be more open with women. Lee et al (2005) conducted a study
looking into the whether there will be a difference in Asian college student’s
attitudes towards rape compared to Caucasian college students. The
Attitudes Toward Rape scale was used to measure beliefs about rape. Lee et al
added three items regarding stranger rape myths. The researchers’ results
indicate that Asian students blame the victim for rape and find that sex is the
foremost motivation for rape more than Caucasian students. Their results also
suggest that again Asians are more likely to have the view that victims brought
the rape onto themselves and that most rapists are strangers. It is clear that
culture plays a role in individuals believing rape myths. This may be due to
the strict religions that certain cultures follow and the misinterpretations of
them.

 

To conclude, there are many factors which
associate to rape myth beliefs, more than what is mentioned in this essay. It is
important when looking at future research that more research is done into
attitudes and rape myths for when a male is raped. It also important for
programmes to be set up to educate everyone on rape and rape myths, it is
important for the mind-sets of all humans to agree that rape is not the victims
fault and rape is not okay. Rape myths allow rapists to rape, they give rapist
an excuse, a reason to think that rape is appropriate if the victim is drunk or
wearing short shorts. There needs to be more education regarding sexual assault
all over the world. Just prior to this essay, a six-year old girl, Zainab, was
raped and killed in Pakistan. News sources claim that some individuals are blaming
Zainab. They are victim shaming and blaming a child which is why it so
important for governments and communities to come together and put a stop to
victim blaming caused by rape myths. The TimesUp movement is just the start of
this but more needs to be done.

 

 

References:

 

Barnett, M., &
Quackenbush, S. (1992, November). Factors affecting reactions to a rape victim.

Retrieved from Journal of Psychology.

 

Burt, M. R.

(1980). Cultural Myths and supports for rape. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology

 

Burt, M. R. and Albin, R. S.

(1981), Rape Myths, Rape Definitions, and Probability of Conviction. Journal of
Applied Social Psychology, 11: 212–230. doi:10.1111/j.1559-1816.1981.tb00739.x

 

Christov-Moore, L.,
Simpson, E. A., Coudé, G., Grigaityte, K., Iacoboni, M., & Ferrari, P. F.

(2014). Empathy: Gender effects in brain and behavior. Neuroscience & Biobehavioral Reviews, 46, 604-627. doi:10.1016/j.neubiorev.2014.09.001

 

 

Gray, Jacqueline M. (2006) Rape
myth beliefs and prejudiced instructions: effects on decisions of guilt in a
case of date rape. Legal and Criminological Psychology, 11 (1). pp. 75-80.

ISSN 1355-3259

 

Lee, J., Pomeroy, E., Yoo, S.-K., & Rheinboldt,
K. (2005, February 1). Attitudes Toward Rape: A Comparison Between Asian and
Caucasian College Students . Retrieved from Violence Against Women

 

Zaleski, K., Gunderson, K.,
Baes, J., Estupinian, E., & Vergara, A. (2016). Computers in Human Behavior. USA: University of Southern California, School of Social
Work.

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