We continue to blame rape victims

Researchers in Israel have found people, including psychologists, continue to allocate some blame to rape victims. The reason, they say, is that blaming rape victims allows us to maintain our belief in a just world, and to preserve our sense of control over our own lives.

Sixty male and female participants, including university students, and 24 psychotherapists (including clinical psychologists) who work with sexual offenders, were presented with a number of fictitious rape scenarios. The scenarios varied according to the sex of the victim and whether or not the rapist was a stranger, but all generally involved a victim hitching a lift from a male driver who would later rape them.

On a blame scale from one to ten, the participants held the victims responsible with an average score of 2.14. “This trend is moderate, but it exists among all subjects regardless of gender or occupation”, the researchers said.

Female participants tended to allocate less blame to a female victim than male participants did, while the opposite was true for male victims. However, overall, female victims were blamed more. The participants also blamed the victim more when the rapist was a stranger. Therapists allocated just as much blame as the student participants.

Overall, the more a participant held the victim to be responsible, the less severe they judged the rape to be, and the less serious punishment they said was deserved by the rapist.

Yael Ididis and colleagues concluded: “Despite growing public awareness of the problem of rape, this study shows that even among educated subjects, assumed to be free of prejudice, there is still a tendency to blame the victim”.

Idisis, Y., Ben-David, S. & Ben-Nachum, E. (2007). Attribution of blame to rape victims among therapists and non-therapists. Behavioural Sciences and the Law, 25, 103-120.

Post written by Christian Jarrett (@psych_writer) for the BPS Research Digest.

2 thoughts on “We continue to blame rape victims”

  1. on the attribution of (some) ’cause’ to the rape victim, in Israel – it is of particular interest that the President of that state now stands accused of rape – is it not now even more likely that, in wanting to maintain perceptions of a just world, lawyers and jurors might tend to attribute (at least some) blame to the plaintiff?Mallory Wober

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