A woman tells her friends before her date that she plans to have sex with her boyfriend that night. He is taking her to a campus party, and she dresses in a very skimpy halter top, short skirt, and heels. To get ready for the date, she takes several shots before the night begins. When she arrives at the party, she proceeds to consume many more alcoholic beverages, as well as an ecstasy pill, and asks her date to take her to his room. She initiates kissing and takes off her clothes. Her date follows her lead and the couple begin making out on his bed. After a few minutes, however, the woman changes her mind about sleeping with her date. He inserts his penis, and she tells him that maybe they should slow down. He says, “Come on, I know you want me too.” Her body has become physically aroused. She says, “No,” but does not physically attempt to stop him. Tears roll down her cheeks, and she feels defeated.
Many of us have heard stories such as these and some may have even made judgments about the rape victim. Those judgments are called rape myths. Rape myths are defined as false beliefs about rape, which are influenced by the individual’s prejudices and sexist beliefs (Burt, 1980; Lonsway & Fitzgerald, 1994; Ullman, 2010). It is important to abandon rape myths because they serve to ignore and justify male sexual assaults against women (Lonsway & Fitzgerald, 1994). Examples of rape myths people may believe about the example above are:
• It is not really rape if the victim has previously had sex with the perpetrator
• If a woman originally consents to sex, it is not rape
• Consent must be given during each sexual encounter
• California Law states that consent can be revoked at any time, including after penetration (California State University Los Angeles University Police, 2012)
Belief in rape myths hinders victims from seeking out resources after being raped (Fisher et al., 2000; Hayes-Smith & Levett, 2010; Norris & Cubbins; 1992; Olson, 2004; Ullman, 2010). In reality, it is not the victim’s fault even if she: was drinking, using drugs, going out alone, talking to strangers, staying out late. If a victim blames herself for the rape, then she is less likely to seek legal ramifications for the attack, which in turn means that the perpetrator will not be punished, and may continue to assault other women.
Written by: Rebecca Rodriguez, M.A.
Burt, M. R., & Albin, R. S. (1981). Rape myths, rape definitions, and the probability of conviction. Journal of Applied Social Psychology, 11, 212–230.
California State University Los Angeles University Police (2012). Annual security and fire safety report [PAMPHLET]. University Police, California State University: Los Angeles.
Fisher, B. A., Cullen, F. T., & Turner, M. G. (2000). The sexual victimization of college women (NCJ 182369). Washington, DC: U.S. Department of Justice, Office of Justice Programs.
Hayes-Smith, R. M., & Levett, L. M. (2010). Student perceptions of sexual assault resources and prevalence of rape myth attitudes. Feminist Criminology, 5(4), 335-354. doi:10.1177/1557085110387581
Lonsway, K.A., & Fitzgerald, L.F. (1994). Rape myths: In review. Psychology of Women Quarterly, 18, 133-164.
Norris, J., & Cubbins, L. A. (1992). Dating, drinking and rape: Effects of victim’s and assailants alcohol consumption on judgments of their behavior and traits. Psychology of Women Quarterly, 16, 179-191.
Olson, L.N. (2004). The role of voice in the (re)construction of a battered woman’s identity: An autoethnography of one woman’s experience of abuse. Women’s Studies in Communication, 27(1), 2-33.
Ullman, S. E. (2010). Talking about sexual assault: Society’s response to survivors. American Psychological Association. doi:10.1037/12083-000