Rape Myths Are Involved In Victim Blaming In Sexual Assault Cases

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Blaming of the victim of sexual assault, for the facilitation of their own victimisation has been noted to be prevailing tradition (Ardovini-Brooker & Caringella-MacDonald, 2002). These stereotyped attitudes, otherwise known as ‘rape myths’ (Lonsway & Fitzgerald, 1994), typically centre around the idea that victims in some capacity have contributed to their victimisation and therefore can be held accountable (Koss & Butcher, 1991). An example of such beliefs is the linking sexual aggression to ‘provocative’ or revealing clothing (Burt, 1980), the premise of this belief being that women whom dress in such a manner intend to seduce men and silently convey interest in sexual advances. Perpetrators often use these claims as defence in ordered to diffuse or in some cases entirely shift blame from themselves to the victim. Rape myth acceptance has been described as a form of general cognitive schema which serves to unconsciously influence the way blame is attributed within rape scenarios. Evidence attests a fairly widely acceptance amongst wider society of ‘rape myths’, with over 50% of the public endorsing them to some degree (Buddie & Miller, 2001). More interestingly males appear to endorse them to a greater extent than women (De Judicibus & McCabe, 2001) indicating that gender may be an influencing factor in the acceptance of rape myths. This essay will examine the extent to which gender influences the acceptance of rape myths and the impact this has on victim-blaming over other factors such as culture and sexism.

Sexism has been implicated as an area of interest in rape myth acceptance(RMA) and in turn victim blaming. Sexism typically has been described as unitary hostility towards women, which traditionally was expressed blatantly but now is presenting in more subtle manners due to changes in social climates (Tougas, Brown, Beaton, & Joly, 1995). Sexism can be differentiated into a variety of dimensions, (Glick & Fiske, 1996) discern two forms of sexism: hostile sexism(HS)and benevolent sexism(BS). HS is characterised by attitudes that assert that women should be punished for defying traditional sex roles. For example, women whom dress in a provocative manner are regarded as contrary to traditional gender roles, thus are more likely to be subjected to antipathy, hostile sexism. Whereas BS is characterised as a set of interrelated attitudes towards women, which are sexist in nature through the placement of women in restricted and stereotypical roles but are subjectively positive in tone (Grubb & Turner, 2012). In this respect RMA occurs when, women who do not conform to expectations of BS would no longer be deemed as worthy of male protection. Research into the effect of sexism on RMA confirm these dynamics (Chapleau, Oswald, & Russell, 2007). Participants were required to complete The Illinois Rape Myth Acceptance scale, Ambivalent Sexism Inventory and Ambivalence toward Men Inventory scale, it was observed that HS toward women was positively correlated with RMA, indicating that HS is mediates RMA. It should also be considered that; for BS towards women complementary gender differentiation, a facet of HS, was positively associated with RMA. Indicating the belief that women are refined, may have translated into the perception that women who transgress, are partially responsible for making themselves vulnerable resulting in higher scores of RMA. The most interesting result of this research can be found in the fact that protective paternalism, another facet of BS, was negatively associated with RMA. These finding when viewed in conjunction to (Grubb & Turner, 2012) definition of BS, should be regarded with particular interest. As they are inconsistent with the assertion that RMA results in the withdrawal of male protection. Instead these findings indicate that the belief that men should utilise their elevated power to protect women is associated with decreased interest in encouraging sexually aggressive behaviour. Moreover, protective paternalism mediation of RMA acknowledges males have social leverage over women, that should not be exploited. Suggesting that individuals that are high in protective paternalism may be inclined to instead blame the male perpetrator because they perceive him to be the aggressor due to an acknowledgement of male’s dominance over women. These subfactors of BS towards women each have unique relationship with victim blaming and attribution of accountability. It has been suggested that when they are combined as a unitary construct the interplay between benevolent sexism and RMA is obscured. Thus, this may provide a feasible explanation as to why (Glick & Fiske, 1997) observed that benevolent sexism is not always related associated to RMA, highlighting a methodological constraint when attempting to measure influence of BS on RMA.

Literature has consistently highlighted that men are more frequently perpetrators of rape, they however are not the only group that ascribe to sexism (Taschler & West, 2017). (Nosek, 2002) notes that members of devalued groups, are susceptible to internalising negative messages about themselves, tailoring their expectations of themselves accordingly (Irving & Hudley, 2005). In other terms, women, as men do can hold sexist beliefs against women. A study assessing the role of RMA and situational factors in the perception of different rape scenes (Frese, Moya, & Megaias, 2004). Observed that female-female sexism was predictive of various counterproductive responses such as RMA and its related negative psychobehavioural effects. Indicating that women may use rape myths(RM) to deny their own vulnerability, belief that only women that dress provocatively get raped, can ‘protect’ her from the possibility of being raped by avoiding such acts. RMA when viewed as a cognitive schema may function to self-perpetuate a more general and encompassing cognitive motive, known as the ‘belief in the just world’ (Bohner, Eyssel, Pina, Siebler, & Vik, 2009). The Just World Theory asserts that people have a fundamental need to believe that the world exists in a vacuum of rationality and people tend to get what they (Lerner & Miller, 1978). Negative rape victim perception occurs as a result of overcompensation, in attempt to rationalise a largely unjustifiable act. Adherence to this cognitive schema, that implicates the victim is more to blame provides a form of congruence with prior beliefs that people tend to get what they deserve and permit the maintenance of feelings of security and beliefs of the world being a safe and manageable place (Lodewijkx, Wildschut, Nijstad, Savenije, & Smit, 2001). Although the individual may perceive their use of rape myths as a protective mechanism, RMA in victims may lead to self-blame and reduced likelihood of reporting the crime (Frese, Moya, & Megaias, 2004). Indeed (Ministry, 2013), report 89% of rape incidents in the UK are not reported indicating that this mechanism, although it may provide comfort individually, serves more detrimental on wider scale.

Sexism has been highlighted to also impact victim-blaming. As discussed previously research has established that ambivalent sexism is correlated to RMA (Manoussaki & Veitch, 2015). A study into the perceptions of stranger and acquaintance rape, required participants to read an acquaintance rape scenario after which they were required to complete The Rape Myth Acceptance Scale, Impression Management Scale and the ASI scale (Abrams, Viki, Masser, & Bohner, 2003). It was found that after reading the acquaintance rape scenario, participants that presented as higher BS, blamed the victim significantly more than HS. Indicating that sexism is not only a relevant factor in RMA, implicit sexism influences victim-blaming behaviour, through the belief of women as deserving of punishment translating into literal allegations of guilt.

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Attitudes towards rape seem to be associated with stereotypes of traditional gender roles(TGR). In order to aptly discuss the role of gender in rape myth acceptance it is first important to discuss the differences in socialisation between males and females. From birth men and women are assigned differing gender roles; said roles impact our behaviour and our beliefs about ourselves and others. Gender role socialisation impacts numerous areas of human behaviour, including that of human sexual behaviour (Grubb & Turner, 2012). (Bridges, 1991) notes that males tend to be reared into more sexually aggressive roles whereas females are encouraged to be more passive. Research conducted to examine RMA and variables associated with it confirm the role of gendered belief systems in RMA. It was observed within a population of 330 university students, that participants with more TGR, racist and fundamentalist beliefs displayed more RMA and more negative attitudes towards victims (Mulliken, 2006). These findings lend themselves to the argument that heightened gender role beliefs directly impacts RMA, by highlighting a direct correspondence between traditional beliefs in gender dynamics as a predictive factor in RMA. The correspondence between gender role beliefs and rape myth acceptance may be explained through The Sex Role Socialisation Analysis of rape (Burt, 1980). Which posits that men and women develop expectations of gendered behaviours during sexual encounters as a result of learned social beliefs. Men are viewed as more powerful, dominant and aggressive whereas women are viewed as weak and feeble. It can be suggested that participants that held more TGR displayed increased rape acceptance as a consequence of viewing male sexual aggression as a normalised part of male-female interaction. Therefore, are more inclined to harbour more negative blaming attitudes towards victims of rape and attribute more blame to the victim.

The act of rape is engrained within modern society and is seen indiscriminately across a variety of cultures (Grubb & Turner, 2012). Despite sexual assault being noted as a universally prevalent phenomenon (Jewkes, Fulu, Roselli, & Garcia-Moreno, 2013), RMA and victim-blaming beliefs have almost exclusively been studied within Western cultural contexts. (Kanekar & Kolsawalla, 1977) found that victim-blaming was highly prevalent in India, male participants were observed to show higher sympathy for the rapist and attribute more blame to the victim than females. Thus, providing universality to the suggestions of (De Judicibus & McCabe, 2001) by reiterating that males tend to victim blame more, regardless of cultural differences, it could be contended that gender should be considered the strongest predictive factor in RMA and victim-blaming. Although interesting (Kanekar & Kolsawalla, 1977), these findings must be treated with care, the research was conducted using university student samples. Generalisability to the general Indian public problematic as education at degree level is related to more liberal attitudes (Phinney & Flores, 2002). It may be possible that India has higher victim blaming beliefs than originally observed. Additionally, this study was conducted over 30 years ago and India has undergone vast cultural change in this period. To further explore the relationship between RMA, attitudes toward women and sexism, 112 Indian and 117 British participants, completed attitude towards rape victims scale (Hill & Marshall, 2018) . These samples were selected due to their widely differing gender role traditionalisms, this critical manipulation sets this research apart from afore- mentioned research as it adds a comparative dimension to the exploration of RMA research that receives little attention. It was confirmed that there were cultural differences in RMA, interestingly more traditional Indian culture accepted myths to a greater extent than the more egalitarian culture Britain. These findings should be regarded as the most interesting as they reconfirm the importance of holding gender stereotypes as indicated by (Burt, Cultural Myths and Supports for Rape, 1980). The fact that the difference in RMA and victim blame between India and Britain was attributed India being more traditional and Britain being more liberal reaffirm the importance of holding gender stereotypes in the acceptance of rape myths.

Research has persistently shown that rape myths have the potential to influence the perception of consent and rape (Gray, 2015), as they provide schemas that shape expectations of what should or shouldn’t be considered rape. Jurors are given the opportunity to engage with all factors and systematically process evidence, (Chaiken, 1980) this is not enough to ensure that the verdict reached is unbiased and unaffected by rape myths. Furthermore, regardless of depth of processing it has been observed, jurors may selectively process the evidence in line with their pre-existing beliefs about rape (Chaiken, Giner-Sorolla, & Chen, 1996). When defence counsel utilises rape myths, they reconfirm the beliefs of those who maintain those beliefs, whilst potentially inducing doubt within those that do not carry those beliefs. Thus, perpetuating a cycle of victim blaming within the Justice system contingent on RMA held by those at institutional level of proceedings.

To conclude after consideration of the aforementioned factors, it is reasonable to conclude that acceptance of rape myths is heavily mediated by sexism and beliefs in gender roles. Core research into the area has favoured sexism and gender role beliefs as viable explanations for acceptance for the phenomena, nevertheless it should not be ignored that more research is emerging and highlighting other areas such as cultural background as a mediating factor in the acceptance of rape myths. However, it should be acknowledged that the cross-cultural research discussed does not invalidate the role of sexism and gender roles in rape myths acceptance and victim blaming but instead reconceptualises their roles within a global context. Methodological disparities in executions of experiments in this area have also affected the ability of research to be aptly extrapolated to the general public. It should not be ignored that research into this area is broad, consequently research approaches are continuously evolving to compensate for prior gaps in literature.                                   

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Rape Myths Are Involved In Victim Blaming In Sexual Assault Cases. [online]. Available at: <https://writingbros.com/essay-examples/rape-myths-are-involved-in-victim-blaming-in-sexual-assault-cases/> [Accessed 8 Dec. 2021].
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