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What are Rape Myths - Why Do Myths About Rape Often Blame the Victim?

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Young woman crying with tear drop.
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Question: What are Rape Myths - Why Do Myths About Rape Often Blame the Victim?
Answer: Rape myths are assumptions about the act of rape and the victims of rape that frequently reduce empathy for -- and even shift blame to -- the victim. Often unproven or downright wrong, rape myths are nonetheless widely accepted.

A concept first introduced by sociologist Martha R. Burt in 1980, rape myths are defined as "prejudicial, stereotyped, or false beliefs about rape, rape victims and rapists." Rape myths can lead us to justify acts of sexual violence by rationalizing that the victim did something wrong and therefore is at fault. When women believe rape myths, they frequently separate and/or distance themselves from the victim by saying, "That would never happen to me because...."

The following are common rape myths:

It's not rape if

  • they're dating
  • there was no force/violence involved
  • she didn't fight it
  • she went home with him
  • she wasn't aware of what was happening
  • she said no but really meant yes
  • she's a prostitute
She wouldn't have been raped if she wasn't
  • drinking alcohol
  • wearing tight/sexy clothing
  • leading him on
  • slutty/a bad girl/sleeping around
  • asking for it
  • young and attractive
  • in the wrong place at the wrong time
One example of how rape myths influence attitudes can be seen in the media coverage of the February 2011 beating and sexual assault of CBS reporter Lara Logan in Egypt. Although most media outlets were sensitive and respectful toward the victim, the LA Weekly blog described her in ways that played upon rape myths. Logan's attractiveness was repeatedly emphasized with descriptions such as "shocking good looks," "blonde reporter," and "War Zone 'It Girl.'" She was accused of "using her Hollywood good looks," having "a ballsy knack for pushing her way to the heart of the action," and being "impressive indeed -- but nobody's invincible." The female author, Simone Wilson, even went so far as to examine Logan's sex life, providing details that were irrelevant to the situation and portraying the victim in an unsympathetic light.

The tendency to take a judgmental view of rape victims is s direct result of viewing this violent crime through the lens of rape myths.

Sources:
Beere, Carole A. "Sex and gender issues: a handbook of tests and measures." Pages 400-401. Greenwood Publishing Group. 1990.
Raja, Sheela. "Rape Myths Persist - Reactions to the Assault on Lara Logan." WomensMediaCenter.org. 17 February 2011.
Wilson, Simone. Lara Logan, CBS Reporter and Warzone 'It Girl,' Raped Repeatedly Amid Egypt Celebration." Blogs.LAWeekly.com. 16 February 2011.

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