Social research on rape: reviewing the literature and asking where we go now. Part 1

Here is the research that I put together for my Sociology BA Capstone. A few things to note and a request.

I’m posting this paper in parts as it’s long and likely too cumbersome to be had in just one post. In-text citations are still in place, however I have not included my reference list. If by chance you read something from an article or book that I have cited and want more info or the full information on the material just leave me the author’s name in the comments and I will reply with the correct full reference.

I also ask that if you find something within this paper that you would like to use for your own blog or elsewhere, please give me proper credit. While this paper was never formally published, I did spend a good deal of time on it, and well…you know the saying about giving credit where credit is due.

Link back to this blog and specific part number if you like, and I have also given a simple APA citation if you quote directly from my words please:

Tecca, D. (2014). The right to rape as a socially accepted myth. Sociology Senior Capstone. Retrieved from (*my blog link with appropriate Part #). That’s good enough for me and I will feel extremely important and academic, thank you very much.

The paper itself was assigned as a literature review of any current social issue/topic. As with 95% of my sociology work, my focus was on women’s issues within society. The title of the paper: “The Right to Rape as a Socially Accepted Myth.”



     Rape:  a word that in most languages, among most ethnicities and cultures, defines an act of terror, control, and domination. Rape: a word that has been argued to be motivated by deviant sexual proclivity, cultural violence or gendered power. Rape: a word that alters individuals, communities and society without discrimination to age, sex, race, religion, or ethnicity. Rape: a word that fulfills a truly equal opportunity position no matter how it is defined. While some will argue a circular pattern, an interlocking performance between sex and control informed by both psychological and social locations, feminist theory located within the discipline of sociology has long held rape to be a manifestation of the male social order conceptualized by status, power, control, domination, and oppression. Often spoken of as a male entitlement, pervasive attitudes and acceptance of rape seem to be perpetuated and possibly little changed even after decades of discourse and educational endeavors within our American society. It is both timely and relevant to ask then, as a feminist and sociologist, where the current status and engagement regarding rape is located. In that regard, this review of current literature focused on rape, education and theoretical perspectives seeks to answer a basic question: In the last decade has American society witnessed amelioration in patriarchal rape culture attitudes as evidenced through educational models related to evolving masculine gender identities and roles?

Sexual assault has often been utilized as a synonymous descriptive for rape, however Susan Shaw and Janet Lee (2009) create a distinction between the two by stating that “individuals may be sexually assaulted without being raped” while both are “acts of power, control, and domination” (p. 511). They go on to clarify that sexual assault implies “sexual contact without consent and/or that involves the use of force” while rape is “the penetration of any bodily orifice by a penis or object without consent” (Shaw & Lee, 2009, p. 511). This descriptive coincides with the definition used by the United States Bureau of Justice Statistics, who note rape to be “forced sexual intercourse,” either vaginally, anally or orally by an individual or multiple offenders focused on penetration with both bodily parts and/or foreign objects (BJS Terms 2014, para. 1).

Rape is classified as a violent crime. The National Crime Victimization Survey (NCVS) lists reported rapes in 2012 as 346,830, although the accuracy of rape statistics is often contested as rape is a crime earmarked by underreporting (BJS, 2014). While attempts to remain unbiased in discussion of rape can prove to be difficult the facts seem to speak clearly enough, and as noted earlier, rape is a crime that does not discriminate by sex. For the purpose of this literature review rape is located in a gendered social system in which women are the focus. Shaw & Lee (2009) report statistics that show roughly 95% of reported broad category sexual assaults are committed against females and Felix Amato (2012) provides that in 2007 81.8% of all violent crimes (of which rape is included) were committed by males. Lastly, Eliana Suarez and Tahany Gadalla (2010) detail that “one in six women has been a victim of sexual assault or rape, compared to 1 in 33 men” (p. 2011).

                                                                            The Right to Rape

Rape has been traced to the earliest known interactions between humans. Some accounts can only be conjecture, based in part on viewpoints associated with historical patriarchy and dominance creating an assumptive relationship between men, violence, and the control of women. Feminists who follow the origins of patriarchal society can accept that the right to rape was an inevitable outcome of male domination. Numerous feminist writers, activists and academics have written volumes on the historical significance and use of rape as an instrument of religious oppression, militarism, racism, and even heteronormative aggression. Rape, in patriarchal society, may well be considered by many to be an accepted social norm based upon the ideology of gender. Gender, as defined by Margaret Andersen and Dana Witham (2011) is the socially constructed process by which society identifies and normalizes specific behaviors and expectations associated with men and women.

Foundationally, contemporary feminists speaking out about rape have built on the collective voices of classic feminist sociologists from the 19th and early 20th centuries. Two such sociologists who took up the subject of gender are Charlotte Perkins Gilman and Marianne Weber. George Ritzer (2011) notes that Gilman found stratification practices, what we would term to be “gender inequality” to be the primary contention within society at the time (p. 300). She essentialized the “sexuo-economic relation,” men became the “master class” while women were “subordinated and disempowered social beings” (Ritzer, 2011, p. 301). Marianne Weber, also characterized by Ritzer (2011), took this concept further whereby men were able to gain the authority to bind social institutions to patriarchy while women were denied “autonomous action and will” (p. 321). Within this context contemporary feminism, specifically radical feminism centered on the oppressive nature of gender conceptualized by Gilman and Weber, suspend assumption and regard patriarchal systems of hierarchy and privilege as supportive of normalized, gendered masculine behavior. These social systems, known as institutions, condone power and control over women and the acceptance of attitudes that support rape.

In 1975 feminist author Susan Brownmiller wrote Against Our Will: Men, Women and Rape. Brownmiller (1975) opened a door to theorize rape from the gendered standpoint of dominance, power, oppression, and control rather than blaming the victim from a situational standpoint, basing rape on inherent male biology, or claiming psychopathologic deviance. Brownmiller’s writing at the height of the feminist movement, and her opinions discussed in text, have been mediated as feminism and society have engaged in greater discourse over the last forty years. She was influential in introducing concepts associated with masculinity, violence, aggression, and intimidation as one means to control women in society.

Evolving from that discourse, the concept of a rape culture was formed. In a compilation of varied essays and opinion pieces, Editors Emilie Buchwald, Pamela Fletcher, and Martha Roth (1993) define a rape culture as “a complex of beliefs that encourages male sexual aggression and supports violence against women”  while also noting that “in a rape culture both men and women assume that sexual violence is a fact of life…” (p. iiix). A rape culture can encompass any language, image, law or daily aspect of social process that validates, condones, and/or perpetuates sexual coercion and violence against women as normative. However, Buchwald et al., (1993) also point out that the attitudes regarding rape that have been taken for granted as inevitable are attitudes and beliefs that can be changed. Those attitudes and beliefs, originally formulated for discussion in psychological terms, are now commonly utilized by sociological studies and within feminist discourse. In a study by Sarah McMahon (2010) of Rutgers University, rape myths are defined as widely held and often extremely persistent prejudicial, stereotypical, and generally false beliefs about rape which justify “male sexual aggression against women” (p. 4).

Rape myths and the accompanying attitudes associated with them can be varied. Some common rape myths focus on how a woman dresses (sexy) or acts (flirtatious) as indicative of her “asking for it” (McMahon, 2010, p. 4). Some rape myths are associated with a woman verbally saying no to sex but in reality meaning yes. Rape myths that blame the victim are common while others focus on men, fundamentally finding that men are simply unable to control any sexual urges they may have and therefore rape is the natural result. Rape myth attitudes have long been measured using a Likert type scale. For a specific example see Figure A1, Illinois Rape Myth Acceptance Scale (IRMA), in Appendix A.

Many sociological studies undertaken in the last decade have focused on either qualitative research or quantitative measures associated with hostility, aggression, violence, and rape myth acceptance variables. This work has continued to be essential to the discourse by feminist activists seeking to change patriarchal ideology and practice in American society.

                                                                            Literature Review

In attempting to determine amelioration within our society as pertaining to the concepts associated with rape an extensive review of current peer-reviewed literature follows. These articles focus on concepts of patriarchal entitlement, definitions of masculinity, and variables associated with rape myth attitudes and acceptance. This review also incorporates articles associated with the social response to rape culture and rape myth acceptance within the last decade. This response has come chiefly in educational programs found to be employed at the high school and collegiate levels. Research on those educational models and their efficacy will also be disseminated.

Patriarchy, rape myth attitudes, and acceptance

Contextually, masculine gender characteristics and the social roles that follow have been defined in terms of a socialization process linking males with strength, toughness, bravado, power, aggression, and even control (Andersen & Witham, 2011). Research within the last decade has set out to define and discuss varied levels of masculine socialization in response to changing masculine embodiment. Introduction of discourse focused on socially acceptable masculine traits has motivated the term hypermasculine to be associated with males who portray an overly zealous and/or extreme display of masculine gender traits. In two qualitative studies published roughly four years apart, hypermasculinity and extremely rigid adherence to specific gendered traits is discussed as relevant to violence against women and rape.

Karen Franklin (2004) approaches the subject in analysis focused on antigay violence by male teens as relational to group rape incidence against females. Bob Pease and Michael Flood (2008) approach the topic of violence against women in an adult community having strong ties to hostile, even misogynistic hypermasculine attitudes toward women, both making a case for the need of amelioration not only on an individual basis but at a macro level as well. Each study details accepted socially normative behaviors and attitudes based on social surroundings or environment.

Interestingly, Franklin (2004) shows a functional correlation between antigay violence and the violence of group rape toward women by defining a clearly public display of heteronormative masculinity which in turn strengthens male social bonding and provides a “celebration of power” over both females and males perceived as feminine (p. 25). An important model of socialization as functional to gender identity creation and gender role performance, in this case hypermasculine domination and power, is formulated by Franklin (2004) as she contrasts both the influence of peer behavior and collective action to the achievement of social status focused on Simone de Beavoir’s concept of the Other. Rather targeting marginalized female or opined deviant homosexual, socialization regarding male entitlement expressly allows for violence and violation toward those perceived below status level.

Pease & Flood (2008) validate, through review of numerous studies, the patriarchal social structure that allows for entitlement beliefs as well as sexual aggression, however they carry their analysis further by noting a broader component that both sustains and sanctions violence against women. Just as the micro level social bonding mechanism was presented between teens in the work by Franklin (2004), Pease & Flood (2008) present a comparative social atmosphere in which the “situational factors” associated with the acceptance of violence and aggressive beliefs at the macro level reinforce community norms (p. 555). Both Franklin (2004) and Pease & Flood (2008) conclude their research with findings and conclusions that support a critical need to further educational endeavors.

     Quantitative work during this same time frame has been centered heavily on the analysis of variables associated with rape myth attitudes and acceptance. The research questions and hypotheses in the majority of the following articles utilize a clear social acceptance of patriarchal attitudes surrounding entitlement, male power and control in general, and masculinized norms adherent with heightened levels and expectations of hostility and violence as correlating to the acceptance of rape. The studies themselves are not generally large in sample size, but all use survey analyses with documented scales for measurement. No significant bias was noted in review of procedures and analysis.

Two studies in particular must be discussed in conjunction with the qualitative work of Franklin (2004) mentioned earlier. Felix Amato (2012) provides a follow-up to the discourse by Franklin (2004) using empirical work with male felons. This study, much like Franklin’s work, looks to generalized overall violence and victimization of both sexes, but does so using the analytic of gender role conflict theory (GRC) and a heightened conformity to socially defined masculine norms (Amato, 2012). Kathryn Gallagher and Dominic Parrott (2011) introduce the term hegemony to this discussion. Their analysis focuses on the role of hegemonic norms and masculine gender role stress as participatory with hostility toward women. For clarity, Gallagher & Parrott (2011) use the definition of hegemony produced by Raewyn Connell (2005) in her text entitled Masculinities, however the concise descriptive of hegemonic masculinity is simply a form of masculine attitude and behavior that both promotes and accepts male dominance over women.

Impactful in terms of detriment to health in our society, Amato (2012) uses concepts based upon gender role strain and later gender role conflict (GRC), both of which detail a male fear of femininity and resultant “maladaptive and restrictive behaviors” to hypothesizes a significant increase in violence levels among men who score high on GRC surveys (p. 189). Amato (2012) also builds on existing research to expand his hypothesis to include the levels to which males conform to traditional masculine norms, assuming that greater acceptance and display of normative attitudes will result in greater degrees of violence. Incorporation of a large number of predictor variables, in an attempt to control for variance in his data somewhat confounds review of the research. Also, Amato’s (2012) study participants, all imprisoned felons, are not generalizable to a larger population. His findings however did show a significant correlation between both GRC and greater conformity to masculine norms as associated with greater levels of violence. As noted in Franklin’s (2004) study, relational factors between the appearance of femininity in a society which rewards male dominion, control, hostility, and violence directed outward toward groups who appear weak or extremely effeminate, seems to express a degree of validation in Amato’s (2012) work.

It is worth noting also that not all men in society are determined to embrace rigid masculine norms and behaviors. Feminism is not a woman-only enterprise and authors such as Terrence Crowley, writing for, and cited in (Buchwald, Fletcher, & Roth, 1993, p.343) describe a first-person socialization scenario whereby men are taught to both differentiate from socially defined feminine norms and learn the gendered control of women by stating bluntly: “I was either in control or I was a pussy.” Crowley (1993) goes on to discuss the ascribed privilege and entitlement afforded males in our society which in turn both isolates and insulates them from the recognition that they are, in fact, privileged. His intent, in defining and transforming a socially accepted rape culture lies in breaking the inherent silence among masculinized men, to stop a lie by changing the paradigm of what it means to me a man (Crowley, 1993). In that regard, hegemony may not only help to define manliness and masculinity, but in later discussions of theory, may bring insight into changing the right of the entitlement and privilege ideal.

Gallagher & Parrott (2011) come to a slightly different conclusion in their study of hegemony and gender role stress. While noting findings that suggest that hegemonic attitudes have association with male aggression toward women in a number of credible studies, they also explicate the need for a better understanding of specific correlation between normative beliefs and masculine gender role stress discussed in the study by Amato (2012). Not discounting normative beliefs in general, they focus specifically on hegemonic masculine norms of status, toughness, and antifemininity as influenced by and influential to gender role stress thereby hypothesizing that these three variables may be a key to the manifestation of insecurity, personal weakness, and discontent as motivation for hostility and aggressive violence toward women (Gallagher & Parrott, 2011). In a study of 338 men, using Likert-type scale survey measures, Gallagher & Parrott (2011) establish data toward confirmation of their hypotheses. Findings include a confirmation of feminist models showing a correlation between aggression toward women and socialized adherence to masculine gender roles. The expectation by men that women submit to these practices is noted as well, along with the consequential increase in hostility toward women who fail to accept a dominant male gender ideology (Gallagher & Parrott, 2011). In a correlation with the work of Franklin (2004), men adhering specifically to status and antifemininity norms could be seen to exhibit increased gender role stress leading to “lashing out” toward women as a possible reaffirmation of dominance and power (Gallagher & Parrott, 2011, p. 578).

Turning now to attitudes toward rape and the acceptance of rape myths, which are often thought to be indicative of sexual aggression and rape proclivity, the following two studies focus on predictive variables associated with rape. Melanie Hill and Ann Fisher (2001) continue the theme of entitlement as crucial to mediation between rape-related attitudes and masculine gender roles. Following this discussion is an analysis specific to domination and sex-based oppression as predictive of rape myth acceptance and negative attitudes toward rape victims formulated in a 2009 study by Jericho Hockett, Donald Saucier, Bethany Hoffman, Sara Smith, and Adam Craig.

It must be conceded that the study by Hill & Fischer (2001) is not only rather dated, but it also stems from the discipline of psychology in which the variables are behaviorally based.  With that in mind, the study is included for discussion as relevant on the basis that, by design, male entitlement is integrated as a variable with two distinct definitions: general entitlement and sexual entitlement. Hill & Fischer (2001) believe that the concept of generalized male entitlement can be defined in terms of male power, superiority, and precedence over women. This structure is familiar to feminist theory. Sexual entitlement however is focused on an assumptive belief that men have the right to act upon their sexual desires and needs. Both of these forms are based within a society condoning strong socialized patriarchal attitudes, and Hill & Fischer (2001) note that related research in their field indicates that “sexual entitlement has been linked directly to rape, especially acquaintance rape” (p. 40).

Hill & Fischer’s (2001) findings indicate that masculine gender roles preclude attitudes of entitlement, and entitlement, specifically sexual entitlement, informs rape proclivity. This validation is of import to the overall discussion of rape amelioration in our society. A strong recommendation of this study also informs the social-psychology arena as education and rape-prevention models are employed in society and in later discussion within this paper.

Research by Hockett et al., (2009) is designed to determine significance between dominance and rape myth acceptance. This research, while utilizing known feminist theoretical concepts associated with rape, once more attempts to determine a specific link between underreported factors. Credit must be given to Hockett et al., (2009) as they introduce and review significant prior research in their study. Theories of why men rape, from evolutionary, psychopathological, and sociocultural are reviewed. Predictors of rape myth acceptance are also reviewed and help to validate earlier studies discussed here. Hockett et al., (2009) establish measures using scales specific to the ideal of superiority and the belief that one group should dominant others within society as well as oppressive sex-based measures focused on a specific sex or sexual orientation as superior to all others. On completion of analysis, Hockett et al., (2009) display findings that indicate a strong correlation between high dominance and sex-based oppression scores and rape myth acceptance corresponding to negative attitudes toward rape victim. A limitation to this study must be noted however that concerns the small sampling of males within a predominately female driven sample group. Generalizability then must be questioned until larger parameters are met.

To conclude the reviews centered on rape myth attitudes, two final studies will be discussed. Rebecca Hayes, Katherine Lorenz, and Kristin Bell (2013) posit an entirely new dimension to the discussion of predictive factors associated with rape myth acceptance by introducing the just world belief “which argues that individuals believe that people get what they deserve” (p. 202). Lastly, a meta-analysis of thirty-seven studies focused on rape myth acceptance is discussed and leads to a review of prevention and education models. Eliana Suarez and Tahany Gadalla (2010) provide a measureable synthesis, but also introduce a query on oppression that provides insight. An overarching theme central to both studies is manifested in the ideal of victim blaming.

Hayes et al., (2013) focus their work on the concept of the just world belief. It must be acknowledged that this study is based to a significant degree in psychological work, yet the relationship to rape myth acceptance discussed provides relevancy to my original research question. Hayes et al., (2013) design a study that informs the influence of a just and fair world rewarding the good and punishing the bad. Thus victims in rape scenarios are often blamed, discredited or pronounced as getting what they deserve based upon subjective evaluations of their behavior and role in the rape activity itself. Hayes et al., (2013) discuss through their research that rape myth acceptance is viewed as a form of victim blaming and that validation has occurred in previous studies to show that males display greater levels of rape myth acceptance. With numerous hypotheses, a large participant sample, although biased in it’s diversity, and a somewhat confusing descriptive of just world belief as applied to both the self and others, Hayes et al., (2013) did not provide substantial evidence to show a clear correlation between rape myth acceptance and just world belief. The process though, by which victim blaming may be influenced by the ideal that one gets what they deserve from society is intriguing when analyzed from a gendered standpoint based on the proper expression of masculinity and femininity. This paradigm is worth future sociological study.

The work of Suarez & Gadalla (2010) is paramount to this paper’s research question. Compiling data published between 1997 and 2007, the authors focused on the analysis of thirty-seven studies. The ability to synthesize a large data set related to patriarchal beliefs and rape myth acceptance establishes a correlation to the ongoing concept of an American rape culture. The resultant findings combine to validate the theoretical underpinnings associated with feminist theories of patriarchal power, control, and dominance as definitive to rape myth acceptance and attitudes outlined within this review. Key findings of the analysis by Suarez & Gadalla (2010) are discussed briefly.

Gender is a strong indicator of rape myth acceptance “with men displaying significantly higher endorsement of RMA than women” (Suarez & Gadalla, 2010, p. 2019). The study does note that effect size was previously determined to locate findings of 0.5 as moderate. The ES established for gender in this analysis is 0.58. Education levels, an item not significantly detailed in the studies reviewed earlier, did show however to have an ES of 0.57 indicating greater rape myth acceptance correlates to lower education levels. Sexuality and gender related attitudes showed high effect size (0.8 or higher) in categories associated with sexism, oppressive and adversarial sexual beliefs, victim blaming, dominance, general violence, hostility toward women in particular, and homophobia (Suarez & Gadalla, 2010). The most significant finding related to sociocultural attitudes shows a strong correlation between other oppressive beliefs and rape myth acceptance. Simply, the greater number of “isms” one subscribes to, the more accepting one is of rape myths found in our society (Suarez & Gadalla, 2010, p. 2020). Lastly, Suarez & Gadalla (2010) note that sexual aggression and sexual coercion, both behavioral/situational factors, showed significant correlation to rape myth acceptance.

Suarez & Gadalla (2010) thus enable a confirmation of associated variables with rape myth acceptance outlined within this review. They also corroborate the assumption that socially defined gender roles and inequality help to perpetuate rape myths and justify rape itself as well as victim blaming. This association between victim blame and rape myth acceptance is highlighted by the overall concept which concludes that rape myths focus on shifting responsibility away from the perpetrator and onto the victim.

Suarez & Gadalla (2010) conclude their report with an important discussion. In a limited number of the studies reviewed during their analysis they found a rape prevalence rate of roughly 33% for female participants. Addressing the high rate of rape occurrence within this small percentage of studies alone indicates to the authors that social change regarding rape may be significantly lacking. They state that the adherence to oppressive beliefs and the “endorsement of rape myths minimizes the need for…changes…by placing responsibility for sexual violence on the victims rather than on the perpetrators and the society as a whole” (Suarez & Gadalla, 2010, p. 2026). Social change is also noted as a suggestion in the study by Pease & Flood (2008).

Touching on rape education and prevention programs, Suarez & Gadalla (2010) suggest a broadened standard be designed to incorporate redress of overall oppressive beliefs as relevant to rape myth acceptance. The following section of this review will address education and prevention programs.

**Continues in Part II

***The Illinois Rape Myth Acceptance Scale (IRMA) mentioned as an Appendix in the original paper can be found here:







One thought on “Social research on rape: reviewing the literature and asking where we go now. Part 1”

  1. Thanks for posting–am looking forward to reading this in its entirety! (May take me a while to get through–I try not to have *everything* I read be rape/rape culture/DV/intimate partner violence 😉 and am experiencing a bit of a backlog in my blog-reading right now as a result…)

    Liked by 1 person

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