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Television Viewing and Rape Myth Acceptance among College Women



Prior research has shown that people who consume pornographic movies and magazines are more likely to accept rape myths. The results of the present study build on that research to link the acceptance of rape myths to general, daily television use among college women. Furthermore, our data show that college women who watch more television are more likely to believe that rape accusations are false. In addition, the data support a positive relationship between conservative political ideology and rape myth acceptance. However, the data do not support the cultivation hypothesis; that is, television use did not correlate with the overestimation of rape in society. The results suggest the need for additional research focused on the role that general television viewing may play in perpetuating rape-related misperceptions.
Television Viewing and Rape Myth Acceptance
among College Women
LeeAnn Kahlor & Dan Morrison
Published online: 17 May 2007
Springer Science + Business Media, LLC 2007
Abstract Prior research has shown that people who
consume pornographic movies and magazines are more
likely to accept rape myths. The results of the present study
build on that research to link the acceptance of rape myths
to general, daily television use among college women.
Furthermore, our data show that college women who watch
more television are more likely to believe that rape
accusations are false. In addition, the data support a positive
relationship between conservative political ideology and
rape myth acceptance. However, the data do not support the
cultivation hypothesis; that is, television use did not
correlate with the overestimation of rape in society. The
results suggest the need for additional research focused on
the role that general television viewing may play in
perpetuating rape-related misperceptions.
Keywords Television viewing
Rape perceptions
Rape myth acceptance
Sexual assault
There is a large body of research on sexual assault in the
United States, which represents contributions from many
disciplines, including sociology, psychology, public health,
womens studies, and mass communication studies. The
literature covers myriad sexual assault-related topics that
range from the social construction of rape myths to the
effectiveness of specific interventions within targeted
populations (for an annotated bibliography, see Ward 1994).
Within this body of research, however, one area remains
relatively understudied: media effects. A number of studies
analyze sex-related content in the mainstream mass media
(for a summary, see Greenberg and Hofschire 2000 ), but
only a handful of researchers have looked specifically at
sexual assault-related content in the mainstream media (see
Greenberg and Busselle 1996), and there is a dearth of
studies that link such content to the audiences beliefs about
sexual assault. Thus, our goal in the present study was to
examine the link, if any, of beliefs about sexual assault
specifically rape mythsto television viewing. Such a link
has implications for risk-reduction campaigns, particularly
those aim ed at wom en, and can open the door to additional
research focused on the impact that television viewing may
have on the rape-related misperceptions that have been
linked to womens underestimation of their own vulnera-
bility to rape (see, for example, Grayson and Schwarz 1999).
Rape Myths
The U.S. Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality
(2003), which published a report to Congress on medical
examination and treatment for victims of rape and sexual
assault, defined rape and sexual assault this way:
As a general matter, rape is a term that refers to forced
or attempted sexual intercourse with a male or female,
by an offender that may be of the same sex or a
different sex from the victim. Sexual assault is usually
defined to encompass rape, attempted rape, forced oral
Sex Roles (2007) 56:729739
DOI 10.1007/s11199-007-9232-2
An earlier version of this manuscript received top honors from the
Entertainment Studies Interest Group of the Association for Education
in Journalism and Mass Communication at the associations 2005
conference in San Antonio, Texas.
L. Kahlor (*)
Department of Advertising and Public Relations,
University of Texas at Austin,
1 University Station, A1200,
Austin, TX 78712, USA
D. Morrison
School of Journalism and Communication, University of Oregon,
Eugene, OR, USA
and anal sex, penetration with objects, touching of
intimate parts, and other types of threats or coercion in
which unwanted sexual contact is attempted or occurs
between the victim and offender (p. 13).
Lonsway and Fitzgerald (1994) defined myths as false
or apocryphal beliefs that are widely held; they explain
some important cultural phenomenon; and they serve to
justify existing cultural arrangements (p. 134). Rape
myths, therefore, refer to false beliefs and stereotypes
regarding forced or attempted sexual intercourse and the
victims and perpetrators of such acts (Burt 1980; Lonsw ay
and Fitzgerald 1994).
As is the case with all myths, rape myths are believed to
be quite prevalent among the general public (Gilmartin-
Zena 1987). Two of the most common rape myths are: (1)
victims lie about rape when they regret consensual sex after
the fact, and (2) a victims provocative dress, suggestive
behavior, or bad reputation is often to blame for the
mixed signals that led to the rape (Cuklanz 1998;
Lonsway and Fitzgerald 1994).
Rape myths are believed to contribut e to the public
consciousness in myriad unproductive, damaging ways.
They serve to demoralize victims, bolster perpetrators, and,
ultimately, shift the blame for the crime from the rapist to
his victim (Lonsway and Fitzgerald 1994, p. 136). They
also perpetuate what some call the just world phenome-
non, which is that good things happen to good people and
bad things happen (deservedly so) to bad people (Gilmartin-
Zena 1987; Kelley 1967; Lerner 1980; Nisbett et al. 1982).
In addition, such beliefs bolster a pervasive error in attribution
of responsibility such that good outcomes are perceived to be
the result of ones own efforts, whereas bad outcomes are
attributed to external factors (Gray et al. 1993). In other
words, people think that they are not susceptible to rape
because rape victims are not like them. Such perceptions may
foster a false sense of security , which may, in turn, lead
potential victims to place themselves in situations in which the
likelihood of rape is elevated.
Rape and Sexual Ass ault in America: Fact and Myth
Ultimately, rape myths are believed to downplay the
significance of a crime that victimizes a substantial portion
of societywomen, men, and children. For example,
research conducted jointly in the mid-1990s by the Centers
for Disease Cont rol a nd Prev ention and the National
Institute of Justice indicated that, of the 8,000 women
surveyed, about one in six (17.6%) had been the victim of a
completed or attempted rape at some time in her life
(Tjaden and Thoennes 2000).
The National Institute of Justice published another report
(Fisher et al.
2001) that suggested that between one-fourth
and one-fifth of college women may become the victim of
rape or attempted rape during 4 years of college. Yet
another report (Na tional Institute of Justice 2004) indicated
that by the end of 4 years of college, 79% of women had
experienced at least one incident of sexual victimization.
Sexual victimization refers to experiences that range from
coerced sexual contact to rape.
In terms of unfounded accusations of rape (according to
data available on request through the FBIs Uniform Crime
Reporting Program), in the United States the number of
forcible rape complaints deemed unfounded was around 5%
of the more than 90,000 complaints received in 2003 from
law enforcement.
But it is equally important to note here
that, according to US Department of Justice records (2003),
only between 35 and 50% of rapes and sexual assaults are
reported to law enforcement officials. In fact, between 1993
and 2002, compared to robbery and aggrava ted assault,
rape was the most underreported violent crime in the United
States, (US Department of Justice 2003).
Despite the reality of rape in America, rape myths
pervade the public consciousness. For example, in their
extensive review of the research on this topic, Lonsway and
Fitzgerald (1994) reported that between 25 and 35% of
respondents agree with the majority of rape myths
presented to them by researchers. The acceptance of rape
myths is likely to have a notable impact on the publics
perceptions. For example, rape myths have the power to
impact the perceived relevance of rape among women.
They serve to obscure and deny the personal vulnerability
of all women by suggesting that only other women are
raped (Lonsway and Fitzgerald 1994, p. 136). This clear
distortion of the reality concerning sexual violence against
women can influence perceptions, which, in turn, can affect
public priorities and legislative agendas. It can also
facilitate the internalization of rape myths, which can lead
to men and women placing themselves in risky situations
(Nurius et al. 1996) or misinterpreting situations that are
likely to become risky (Rozee et al. 1991). It can also
undermine the effectiveness of education efforts intended to
make women aware of their actual vulnerability: Women
who be lieve that rape only happens to other women are
less likely to see rap e-r educt ion efforts as personally
relevant. Research shows perceived personal relevance to
be an important determinant of the effectiveness of health
or safety related interventions (c.f., Markova and Power
1992). Audiences who do not perceive a topic (e.g., AIDS)
to be personally relevant are less likely to see the relevance
of a related message to their own behaviors (e.g., sexual
To request data concerning unfounded offenses in the US, contact
the Communications Unit of the Criminal Justice Information Services
Division at the FBI, Module D3, 1000 Custer Hollow Road,
Clarksburg, WV, 26306-0154, or email
730 Sex Roles (2007) 56:729739
activity) and are therefore less rece ptive to messag es
designed to initiate changes in their own risky behaviors
(e.g., unprotected sexual activity) (Markova and Power 1992).
Although men are significantly more accepting of rape
myths, these distorted perceptions are held by both men and
women (cf. Brady et al. 1991; Check and Malamuth 1983;
Field 1978; Malamuth 1986; Malamuth and Check 1984;
Russell 1990; also see Lonsway and Fitzgerald 1994). Race
and ethnicity are also believed to influence the acceptance
of rape myths, if only as a function of cultural history,
religious tradition, sex role expectations, and sexual mores
for different groups (Lonsway and Fitzgerald 1994,p.143).
For example, African American and Hispanic college students
appear to be more accepting of rape myths than European
Americans (Dull and Giacopassi 1987; Fischer 1987).
Rape Myths on Television
Relatively little research documents the presence of rape
myths in television programming. However, the available
data indicate that myths are fairly prevalent when the topi c
of rape is broached in programming. For example, Brinson
(1992) analyzed 26 prime-time television storylines that
contained references to rape, and found that the average
storyline contained at least one reference to a rape myth.
Brinson found that 42% of the storylines suggested that the
rape victim wanted to be raped, 38% of the storylines
suggested that the victim lied about the assault, and 46% of
the storylines suggested that the victim had asked for it in
the way that she dressed or acted (male and female
characters were equally likely to make this accusation).
On the other hand, only 38% of the storylines contained any
opposition to the myt h that the victim had asked for it.
Cuklanzs(1999) data echoed those findings. Her results
indicate that prime-time depictions of rape have consistent-
ly, over the course of nearly 15 years, perpetuated rape
myths. However, Cuklanz also pointed out that there is an
increasing trend in the entertainment media to portray rape
with more complexity by infusing plots with proactive
female characters and more ambiguous rape situations (e.g.,
more references to date and acquaintance rape than to
violent stranger rape).
Althoug h rape depictions are becomin g increasingly
complex, they are also occurring with greater frequency
on television. In their review of the literature on television
sex, Greenberg and Hofschire (2000) reported that, in soap
operas, references to rape increased between 1985 and 1994
from one per every ten episodes to one per episode. They
attributed this trend partially to fluctuations in media
coverage of rape trials and the tendency of the soap operas
to draw plots from the headlines. However, as a further
testament to this trend, NBC has, since 1999, aired a prime-
time crime drama dedicated to the topic of rape and sexual
assault—“Law & Order: Special Victims Unit. The show
has been on the air for seven seasons. Typical storylines
involve serial rapists, date rape, stranger rape, gang rape,
incest, and pedophilia.
The ubiquity of these types of
depictions over the course of several decades has led mass
communication researchers to examine not only how rape
themes play out in the media, but also whether those
themes have an impact on their audiences.
Linking Media Content to Audience Effects
Cultivation theory (Gerbner 1969; Gerbner and Gross 1976;
Gerbner et al. 1994) is one of the most often cited media
effects the ories in mass commu nication rese arch. The
theory posits that heavy consumption of television leads
to the cultivation of distorted, media-influenced perceptions
of reality. For example, heavy consumers of television
estimate their own likelihood of becoming a victim of
violent crime to be 10 times higher than light consumers
estimates. Put simply, heavy consumers of television view
the world as a more violent place (cf., Gerbner 1998;
Gerbner et al. 1994; Morgan and Shanahan 1997; Romer
et al. 2003; Signorielli et al. 1995; Signorielli and Morgan
Cultivation effects surface regardless of the content
and regardless of audience race or gender. In addition to
crime and violence, cultivation research has located
relationships between media consumption and perceptions
related to such topics as gender roles (cf. Holbert et al.
2003; Morgan 1982; Signorielli 1989; Signorielli and Lears
1992), marriage (Signorielli 1991), aging (Signorielli
2004), the environment (Shanahan et al. 1997), nutrition
(Signorielli and Lears 1992),andrace(Armstrongetal.1992).
Two assumptions underlie the cultivation hypothesis.
One is that television-influenced perceptions of reality are
cultivated via television consumption over time. The other
is that television presents to heavy viewers a unified,
homogenized view of reality, one that reflects the dominant,
mainstream values of society (Gerbner et al. 1994). This
homogenized view of reality is internally consistent,
regardless of the specific content that is viewed. It is the
amount of television viewed, rather than the type of
television viewed, that predicts cultivation effects.
Plot summaries are available for each episode in the shows 7-year
history at
According to Gerbner et al. (1994), heavy viewing is a relative term,
based on the overall viewing habits of the sample under study. Thus,
heavy viewing is not standardized across samples, but must be
calculated on a sample-by-sample basis. Within a given sample, the
best way to determine heavy viewers is to split the sample evenly
three waysinto heavy, medium, and light segmentsbased on
viewing duration. The heaviest viewers of any sample of respondents
form the populations on which cultivation can be tested (p. 26).
Sex Roles (2007) 56:729739 731731
However, there is a related body of research that has
sought to illuminate the potential for specific television
content (e.g., situation comedies, news, cartoons, crime
dramas) to impact the cultivation of social reality (cf.
Hawkins and Pingree 1981; Potter and Chang 1990). The
researchers have focused on two types of cultivation
effects: First order (i.e., the cultivation of beliefs about the
prevalence of a social phenomenon) and second order (i.e.,
the cultivation of related beliefs about society). This body
of research shows that viewing specific types of program-
ming is still more predictive of both first and second order
beliefs than is total time spent viewing television (Potter
and Chang 1990). To date, it appears that neither cultivation
nor social reality researchers have explored the relationship
between media consumption and the cultivation of percep-
tions about rape or sexual assault.
In contrast, media effects regarding rape-related media
content have emerged outside of the cultivation research
approach. During the 1980s, several notable experimental
studies were conducted that focused on the effects of
exposure to printed rape depictions (Check and Malamuth
1983), audiotaped rape depictions (Malamuth and Check
1983), and depictions of noncons ensual sex and rape in
films released in mainstream theatres (Malamuth and Check
1981). These experiments demonstrated positive relation-
ships between mens exposure to these depictions and their
acceptance of violence against women and between mens
exposure to such depictions and their self-reported likeli-
hood of raping. In yet another experiment, Zillmann and
Bryant (1982) found a positive relationship between
viewing pornography and the trivialization of rape. This
finding was evident in both men and women. In a study of
only women, Mayerson and Taylor (1987) found greater
acceptance of rape myths among college women who read
pornographic stories. (For a review of this body of
literature, see Malamuth et al. 2001).
Survey research has also provided some support for such
media effects. For example, Malamuth and Check (1985)
found a relationship between exposure to sexually explicit
magazines, such as Penthouse and Playboy, and mens
acceptance of rape myths. Likewise, in a sample of men
and women, Perse (1994) found that self-reported exposure
to sexually explicit materials (e.g., X-rated magazines,
movies, and books) was directly and positively related to
rape myth acceptance.
Although informative for the curren t research effort,
none of these studies directly concerns exposure to tele-
vised images of rape and the acceptance of rape myths or
violence agains t women. In addition, only a few of these
studies addressed the effects of sexually explicit media expo-
sure on women. A meta-analysis published in 1995 (Allen
et al. 1995) illustrated that only a handful of 24 studies on
the link between exposure to pornography and rape myth
acceptance employed female respondents and only two
demonstrated a positive link (c.f., Zillmann and Bryant 1982).
There is a substantial body of research that links
exposure to violent television content and audience impact
(for a summary, see Anderson et al. 2003) and exposure to
sexual television content and audience impact (see Greenberg
and Hofschire 2000). Attitude and behavioral effects surfaced
for both women and men in both bodies of literature. For
example, Anderson et al. (2003) reported in their review of
the media violence research that Research on violent
tele vision and films, video games, and music reveals
unequivocal evidence that media violence increases the
likelihood of aggressive and violent behavior in both
immediate and long-term contexts (p. 81).
The first two-part hypothesis is consistent with the research
on media use and rape myth acceptance. H1a deals with
rape myths more generally, w hile H1b concerns o ne
specific rape myth.
H1a: Television use will correlate positively with the
acceptance of rape myths.
H1b: Television use will correlate positively with percep-
tions that rape accusations are false.
The specific myth identified in H1b was chosen because,
should the predicted relationship surface, we could also
compare the myths prevalence with reality; the reality in
this case is that 5% of the more than 90,000 complaints
received in 2003 from law enforcement are deemed false
The second hypothesis is consistent with the research on
rape myth acceptance and with the research on cultivation
effects (that is, the positive relationship between television
viewing, regardless of content viewed, and the overestima-
tion of crimes).
H2: Television use will correlate positively with a general
overestimation of rape in society.
The third hypothesis was based on research that
demonstrates that rape myths obscure the vulnerability of
all women to rape and thus have the potential to undermine
informational campaigns intended to highlight the personal
relevance of rape to women. Thus, if television serves to
perpetuate rape myths, as is advanced in H1, then:
H3: Television use will correlate negatively with the
perceived personal relevance of sexual assault.
To request data concerning unfounded offenses in the US, contact
the Communications Unit of the Criminal Justice Information Services
Division at the FBI, Module D3, 1000 Custer Hollow Road,
Clarksburg, WV, 26306-0154, or email
732 Sex Roles (2007) 56:729739
This sample consisted of 96 undergraduate women from a
large midwestern university. The womens ages ranged
from 18 to 21, with a mean age of 19 years. About 80% of
the sample indicated that they were college sophomores.
Nearly 4% of the sample indicated that their country of
origin was outside of the United States, and 5% of the
sample identified themselves as People of Color. Twenty-
four percent of the sample described themselves as
conservative on economic issues, 40% as neither conserva-
tive nor liberal, 31% as liberal, and 3% as very liberal (no
one in the sample described herself as economically very
conservative). Nineteen percent of the sample described
themselves as conservative on social issues, 25% as neither
conservative nor liberal, 46% as liberal, and 10% as very
liberal (no one in the sample described herself as socially
very conservative).
Rape myth acceptance Ten Likert-type scale items intended
to capture rape myth acc eptance were subjected to principal
component factor analysis (varimax rotation). These items
were primarily borrowed from Burt (1980; a 19-item scale)
and Field (1978; a 32-item scale).
Each item was chosen in
hopes that it was reflective of a modern college audience.
Thus, we selected items that did not use outdated
colloquialisms and added several items that explicitly
dealt with al coho l-re lated scenarios.
Scale pre-testing
indicated that the 10-item index was more stable (one
component, Cronbachs alpha=.78) than what surfaced in
the final analysis. In the final analysis, only seven of the
original ten items emerged on one factor. The Cronbachs
alpha for this factor was .64, which, although minimally
acceptable, fell within the range of alphas ( .62.88)
reported in Lonsway and Fitzgeralds(1994) review of the
rape myth literat ure. These seven items read: (1) The degree
of a womans resistance should be the major factor in
determining if a rape has occurred; (2) In the majority of
rapes, the victim is promiscuous or has a bad reputation; (3)
In order to protect men, it should be very difficult to prove
that a rape has occurred; (4) Women who make it a habit of
getting drunk at parties should expect to eventually end up
in a situation where a man will have sexual intercourse with
her while she is passed out; (5) Having sex with someone
when they really dont want to or when they are too drunk
to really talk about it is not rape; (6) Any female can get
raped (reserve coded for analysis); and (7) A woman who
goes to the home or apartment of a man on their first date
implies that she is willing to have sex. Response options
(and corresponding values) were strongly disagree (1),
disagree (2), neither disagree or agree (3), agree (4),
strongly agree (5); thus, a higher score indicated more
agreement with these myths.
Perception that rape accusations are false As another
indicator of rape myth acceptance, participants were asked:
On a scale of 0100, in your opinion, what percentage of
rape accusations are false? Responses ranged from 1 to
90%, with a mean of 18.6 (SD=15.98).
Estimation of rape in society Participants were asked: On a
scale of 0100 (with 0 = not at all and 100 = extremely),
how common do you think it is to go ahead and have
intercourse with another person when that person does not
want to or is too intoxicated to give consent? Responses
ranged from 1 to 100, with a mean of 39 (SD=21.98). This
is a measure of first order beliefs.
Perceived personal relevance of sexual assault To capture
whether they identified with the topic of sexual assault as
personally relevant, participants were asked: On a scale of
0100, how relevant is the topic of sexual assault to you?
Responses ranged from 0 to 100, with a mean of 60.73
Television use Three items captured general daily television
use: television entertainment, television news, and music
video programming. These items were subjected to
principal component factor analysis (v arimax rotation),
and all three loaded onto one factor. The Cronbachs
alpha for this index was .67, which makes it minimally
acceptable. On a typical weekday, the average respondent
watched 12 h of entertainment television, up to 1 h of
television news, and up to 1 hour of music videos.
Cultural identification
Two items captured cultural
identification: race/ethnicity and country of origin. These
items asked respondents to indicate their country of origin
and the racial/ethnic group with whom they most identify.
The response option was open-ended for both. The items
were subjected to principal compo nent factor analysis
(varimax rotation), and both loaded onto one factor.
Ulti mately, the lowest score indicated White individua ls of
US origin. The Cronbachs alpha for this index was .85.
Political ideology Two items captured political ideology.
These items read: How would you describe yourself when it
For a summary of more than 20 established rape myth scales that are
available to researchers today, see Lonsway and Fitzgerald (1994).
Studies point to the important role that alcohol plays in sexual
assault and rape scenarios. See, for example, Murphy et al. (1998).
Sex Roles (2007) 56:729739 733733
comes to economic issues, and How would you describe
yourself when in comes to social issues? Response choices
were very conservative,”“conservative,”“neither
conservative nor liberal,”“liberal, and very liberal, with
very conservative = 1 and very liberal = 5. These items were
subjected to principal component factor analysis (varimax
rotation), and both loaded onto one factor. The Cronbachs
alpha for this index was .78.
Knowledge of involuntary intercourse This variable was
captured with the item: Do you know someone who has
had intercourse with another person involuntarily or when
he/she was too intoxicated to give consent? Fifty-two
percent of the sample reported that they knew someone
who had, by this definition, been raped. This survey did not
differentiate between self-knowledge or knowledge of
others experiences.
Participants were recruited from an introductory mass
communication theory course. An announcement briefly
describing the study was made during lecture and students
were offered extra credit for participation. Students were
told the study was designed to help the researchers to learn
more about general media use among undergraduates, as
well as their knowledge of and beliefs about sensitive
campus topics. Students whose chose not to participate
were offered an alternate extra credit option. Participants
completed the consent form and survey in a supervised
classroom during specifie d hours offered outside of
scheduled class time. They were asked to answer all
questions thoughtfully a nd honestly, and they were repeat-
edly assured of their anonymity, which was of the utmost
importance given the sensitivity of the topics. The survey,
which consisted of opened- and closed-ended questions,
took about 30 minutes to complete. After they had
completed the survey, each student was directed to place
it into an unmarked envelope and then put it into a secured
box. Consent forms were coll ected separately. The survey
and its consent form were approved by the host universitys
institutional review board. Later in the semester, students
learned of the preliminary results during lecture and the
study was discussed in more detail within the context of
class readings.
A series of four multiple regressions were performed. Each
of the dependent variablesrape myth acceptance, percep-
tion that rape accusations are false, estimation of rape in
society, and personal relevance of sexual assaultwere
regressed on the following independent variables: age,
cultural identity, political ideology, experience with rape,
and television use. Consistent with multivariate analysis
concerning rape myth acceptance, age, cultural identity,
political ideology, and experience with rapeor, in this case,
knowledge of involuntary intercoursewere all included as
control variables (c.f., Lonsway and Fitzgerald 1994).
Hypothesis 1a predicted a positive relationship between
television use and rape myth acceptance. This relationship
was found to be significant, beta=.22, p<.05. As Table 1
indicates, the more one watches television, the more one is
likely to accept rape myths. Thus, Hypothesis 1a was
supported. Hypothesis 1b predicted a positive relationship
between televisi on use and perceptions that rape accusa-
tions are false. This relationship was found to be positive
and significant, beta=.29, p<.01. Thus, Hypothesis 1b was
also supported.
Hypothesis 2 predicted a positive relationship between
television use, regardless of content, and estimation of
prevalence of rape in US society. The relationship was
found to be negative, and it did not ac hieve a level of
significance. Thus, Hypo thesis 2 was not supported. We
also calculated a post hoc Pearson correlation between
television use and estimation of rape prevalence among the
heaviest television viewers (that is, those who viewed 7 or
Table 1 Summary of hierar-
chical multiple regression
analyses of rape myth accep-
tance, rape estimation, per-
ceived relevance, and false
accusations (N=96).
Standardized regression coeffi-
cients (betas) reported; *p .05,
**p .01, ***p .001,
Rape myths Estimation Relevance False
Age .05 .07 .03 .01
Culture .31** .07 .19 .05
Ideology .20* .03 .24* .05
change .15** .01 .09 .00
Know victim .14 .13 .15* .26**
change .02** .01 .02* .06
Television use .22* .11 .19§ .29**
change .04** .01 .03* .08*
Adjusted R
.16*** 0 .09* .09*
734 Sex Roles (2007) 56:729739
more hours per day and, therefore, fell in the upper one-
third television viewing segment within this sample).
Again, the relationship was not significant and was not in
the predicted direction, r=.04, ns. Finally, based on the
argument put forth by proponents of social reality theor y,
which suggests that specific television content is a more
powerful predictor of television e ffects than general
television use, we also calculated post hoc Pearson
correlations between estimation of rape prevalence and
three specific television conten t categories. Those were
television entertainment, r=.08, ns, television news, r=
.15, ns, and music video programming, r=.11, ns. All of
those relationships were not significant and were not in the
predicted direction.
Hypothesis 3 predicted a negative relationship between
television use and the perceived personal relevance of sexual
assault. The relationship was in the predicted direction, but it
did not reach statistical significance, beta=.19. p=.07;
thus, Hypothesis 3 was not supported.
Several unpredicted relationships also surfaced in the
analyses. There was a positive and significant relationship
between cultural identification and rape myth acceptance,
beta=.31, p<.01, which indicates that individuals of Color
and individuals with origins outside the U.S. were more
likely than other people to accept rape myths. There was
also a significant negative relationship between political
ideology and rape myth acceptance, beta=.20, p<.05,
which indicates that the more conservative individuals
were, the more likely they were to accept rape myths.
There was also a significant positive relationship between
political ideology and perceived personal releva nce of
sexual assault, beta=.24, p<.05, which indicates that the
more liberal individuals were, the more likely they were to
see sexual assault as a relevant topic. A significant positive
relationship also was found between knowledge of invol-
untary intercourse and perceived personal relevance of
sexual assault, beta=.15, p<.05, and a significant negative
relationship was found between knowledge of involuntary
intercourse and the perception that rape accusations are
false, beta=.26, p<.01.
The most notable contribution of the present study is that it
establishes a link between television viewing and rape myth
acceptance. Although prior r esearch has established a
relationship between the viewing of pornographic and
erotic media and rape myth acceptance, what really sets
this effort apart is the attempt to generalize these findings to
media content defined more broadly. Our data establish a
link between general, daily television use and the accep-
tance of rape myths.
The findings of the present study are consistent with one
aspect of the r esearch on televisions impact on the
construction of social reality. Hawkins and Pingree (1982)
explained that, despite its convincing realism, the tele vision
world contains systematic distortions and biases (p. 224).
From a social learning perspective, these distortions, if left
un-refuted, can lead to shared misconceptualizations of
realit y (Bandura 1994). Content analyses of tele vision
programs that depict rape scenarios confirm such system-
atic distortions; for example, prime-time depictions of rape
have, over the course of nearly 15 years, been shown
consistently to perpetuate rape myths (Cuklanz 1999).
The acceptance of these myths (e.g., only women who
are more promiscuous are raped) is particularly notable
because such beliefs may influence perceptions of self
efficacy and outcome expectations (Bandura 1994). In other
words, the acceptance of rape myths may lead individuals
to put themselves in risky situations; after all, bad things
only happen to bad people. Further research is needed to
see if this is the case.
The relationship between television use and belief in rape
myths is particularly problematic from a health communica-
tion perspective; it suggests that television use has the
potential to erase, over time, the already limited effects that
rape education campaigns have on audiences (for a discussion
of those limited effects, see Lonsway 1996). For example, it
is unlikely that one education effort can offer long-term
influence when contrary information continues t o be
disseminated through television content. Educators interested
in overcoming these barriers may wish to build some media
literacy training into their rape prevention efforts.
Our data also establish a positive relationship between
television use and perceptions that rape accusations are
false. As reported above, responses to the question of what
percentage of rape claims are false ranged from 1 to 90%,
with a mean of 19%. In reality, according to the FBI, the
number of unfounded rape accusations is closer to 5%.
Clearly mainstream beliefs about false rape accusations
are notably distorted. It is difficult to say, however, at
least based on the data presented here, whether television
is merely a reflection of an already well-established myth
or whether it is responsible for the propagation of that
myth. Still the data do indicate that watching television
increases ones likelihood to believe that women are lying
when they identify themselves as victims of rape.
However, knowledge of situations involving involuntary
intercourse makes one significantly less likely to believe
that rape accusations are false; reality does appear to have
To request these data, contact the Communications Unit of the
Criminal Justice Information Services Division at the FBI, Module
D3, 1000 Custer Hollow Road, Clarksburg, WV, 26306-0154, or
Sex Roles (2007) 56:729739 735735
the potential to temper this distorted version of reality that
is reflected in tele vision content.
In addition, because the literature indicates that, in order
to be successful, an information campaign must be
perceived as personally relevant (cf., Biek et al. 1996;
Liberman and Chaiken 1992; Markova and Power 1992;
Stockdale et al. 1989), it matters whether television content
is affecting audien ce members likelihoods to see sexual
assault as a personally relevant topic. On television, rape
victims are, after all, other women. Thus, we expected a
negative relationship between television use and percep-
tions that rape is p ersonally rele vant. This was not
supported. However, it is important to note that the
relationship approached significance. Thi s suggests the
need for further research.
It is interesting that our data did not support the
cultivation hypothesis, at least not entirely; that is,
television use did not correlate with the estimation (or
overestimation) of rape in societya first order belief. This
could be an artifact of the methodology. One criticism of
cultivation research (cf., Holbert et al. 2003; Hughes 1980;
Potter 1994) is that Gerbner and colleagues (cf., Gerbner
1998; Gerbner et al. 1994; Signorielli et al. 1995) employed
the universal term television and did not differentiate
among genres. We followed Gerbners lead and looked at
general television use. It may well be that, when the
universal term television is used, cultivation effects do not
surface among relatively homogeneous audiences who
share similarities in viewing habits. For example, if
audiences primarily watch situation comedies, such
programming is not likely to perpetuate the belief that
the world is a more violent place than it actually is
(Rubin et al. 1988). Research has shown that situation
comedies are one of the most watched genres of television
among college undergraduates (Hawkins et al. 2001). In
future research, we need to extend our breakdown of
television content beyond the three macro genres tested
in the post hoc correlation analyses (entertainment, news,
and music videos) to encompass more specific viewing
choices including situation comedies, types of news
programming, crime dramas, medical dramas, and reality
In addition, our methodology differed slightly from
those traditionally employed by cultivation researchers.
For example, we did not utilize a forced choice between
two responses when we asked about perceptions of
vulnerability to violence. As Hughes (1980) noted, Gerbner
et al. (1994 ) typically asked respondents to rate their
chances of being involved in violence, and they offered a
choice between only two options1 in 10 (10%) or 1 in
100 (1%). We offered the full range of response options
from 0 to 100 (0100%).
However, it is also important to note here that the
support we found for the relationship between television
viewing and rape myth acceptance is, in effect, support for
the relationship between television viewing and the
cultivation of second order beliefs, that is, general (rele-
vant) conclusions about society. Indeed, the lack of a first
order relationship could be evidence of the power of these
specific myt hs. That is, rape myths perpetuate beliefs that
not just anyone g ets rapedonly bad girls get raped
(Lonsway and Fitzgerald 1994). Such myths may work
against the cultivation of first order beliefs when in comes
to perceptions of rape. Further research is needed to
differentiate among, not just the type of content viewed,
but also the relationship between viewing and the cultiva-
tion of first and second order beliefs.
Our results regarding political ideology and rape myth
acceptance are consistent with the findings of Holbert et al.
(2003), who reported that the more liberal ones political
ideology, the more likely one is to support womens rights.
Our data similarly indicated that the more liberal ones
political ideology, the less likely one is to believe in rape
myths (wh ich could be said to be the very antithesis of
womens rights). In addition, our findings regarding the
relationship between cultural identification (race/ethnicity
and country of origin) revealed that women not of US
origin and Women of Color were more accepting of rape
myths than were White US-born women. This too is
consistent with previous research (Lonsway and Fitzgerald
1994). Our findings suggest that educational campaigns that
are intended to reduce rape myth acceptance should
consider that people who self-identify as conservative,
foreign-born, and/or People of Color may be more resistant
to the campaigns messages. In such cases, extra effort may
be needed to develop culturally relevant (or value-sensitive)
messages that truly resonate with the target audience. This
is an area that deserves immediate research attention.
In a 2003 report on crime victimization, the US
Department of Justice reported that People of Color
specifically Black peoplewere victims of rape and sexual
assault at rates significantly higher than White people. Yet,
according to Wyatt (1992), Black women are less likely
than women of other races to perceive themselves as sexual
assault victims and are less likely to define their sexual
assault experience as rape. This may explain why some
researchers (Kaukinen 2004 ; Wyatt 1990, 1992) have found
that Black women are less likely than White women to
report these incidents to the police and to seek social
service support. In this current study, the higher acceptance
of rape myths found among Women of Color and women
not of US origin might contribute to an increased
vulnerability and reluctance to report rape. This needs to
be explored in future research efforts, along with the
736 Sex Roles (2007) 56:729739
possible role that socioeconomic status
and the media may
play in this phenomenon.
There are some limitations in the present study that need
to be recognized. As mentioned earlier, the scales we
employed demonstrated only minimally acceptable reliabil-
ities. Our attempt to merge existing rape myth scales in
order to create an index more reflective of our audience of
modern college women yielded a less stable index than
was indicated in our pretest. Future research may be better
served through the consistent use of Burts or Fields scales.
In addition, we focused on a relatively small sample of
college-aged women, most of whom were White, which
means that we cannot generalize our findings much beyond
those limits. However, given the likelihood that college
women are exposed to more rape awareness activities (e.g.,
on-campus marches, related student organizations)
the average citizen, it is also possible that extending this
study to a more representative sample would actually yield
more powerful results. Women also tend to be less accept-
ing of rape myths than men, which further suggests that a
sample of both men and women would yield more powerful
results (cf. Lonsway and Fitzgerald 1994).
In sum, we were able to accomplish the primary purpose
of this research effort, which was to establish a statistically
significant, positive relationship between television viewing
and the acceptance of rape myths. Although this relation-
ship is based on cross-sectional data (i.e., it is impossible to
say whether people who hold rape myths seek out and
confirm those myths through the television that they view
or whether television viewing is a significant source for
those myths), further research can establish the parameters
of this relationship and lead us toward an even better
understanding of this socially signi ficant phenomenon.
Acknowledgement The authors thank Laura Prividera, Kurt Neuwirth,
the anonymous reviewers, and Joan Chrisler for comments on earlier
drafts of this article.
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... As one's political orientation implies endorsement of specific values and beliefs, it should therefore be the case that different political orientations should show different patterns of reactions toward victims. Overall, research on perceptions of victims and political orientation has found that conservatives tend to hold more negative attitudes toward victims of rape compared to liberals (Anderson et al., 1997) both in response to specific instances of rape (Gravelin et al., 2019), and overall Rape Myth Acceptance (RMA; Kahlor & Morrison, 2007). ...
... The three key partisanship variables (participant political orientation, victim political orientation, and perpetrator political orientation) influenced judgments of the alleged perpetrator and victim. First, the predicted effect of participant political orientation on reactions to rape were generally supported, and consistent with prior findings (Anderson et al., 1997;Gravelin et al., 2019;Kahlor & Morrison, 2007). Republicans displayed stronger rape-supportive attitudes and were more likely to blame the victim, support lesser punishment for the perpetrator, and endorse a political motivation for the victim's account than their Democratic counterparts. ...
... Although research has been conducted examining the role of political orientation in judgments of rape and sexual assault, it has focused almost entirely on observer political orientation, rather than that of the victim or perpetrator (Anderson et al., 1997;Chapleau et al., 2008;Gravelin et al., 2019;Kahlor & Morrison, 2007). Consistent with past research, we found that Republican showed more rape supportive attitudes than Democrats. ...
Full-text available
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... Undergraduate college women, when tested for RMA, showed no significant difference in RMA across their race and history of past victimization (Carmody & Washington, 2001). Apart from pornographic contents, general television-watching has been found to be linked with RMA among women (Kahlor & Morrison, 2007). ...
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This research attempts to address a widely under-explained phenomenon of female rape myth acceptance (RMA) among the female population. A total number of 500 literate women from India with a mean age of 28.89 years were selected to examine the different determinants of their RMA. The research explored the important correlates of RMA among women, where the stepwise regression model revealed the significant impact of sexual desires, rejection sensitivity, loneliness, and neuroticism/emotional stability on their RMA. This further implied that women high on these four constructs run a 17.7% chance of endorsing female rape myths. The model eliminated the construct of online pornography usage, owing to its non-significant impact on RMA. Further, it was revealed that the history of prior victimization had a significant effect on the rape myths endorsed by the women. The study also reflected on the identity of the perpetrators of the women with a prior victimization history, where 55.43% reported it was perpetrated by a “known” person in their last experienced assault (and 44.57% “stranger” perpetrator). Whereas most women were victimized by “known” perpetrators, there was no significant difference in the sample’s RMA, between the perpetrator identity groups (known and stranger perpetrators). The research concretely adds novel knowledge on identifying and predicting the female rape supportive attitudes among females.
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It has been well established that survivors of sexual assault are revictimized as they navigate the civilian criminal justice system. Significantly less is known, however, about how sexual violence is navigated within the military justice system. In this study, we use qualitative interviews with military lawyers about sexual assault cases to explore their constructions of victim legitimacy. Lawyers create a distinction between perceived and actual harm done to a victim and perpetuate the notion that victims falsely accuse men of sexual violence. Through these discursive strategies, lawyers suggest that the issue of military sexual violence is inflated. Finally, lawyers blame the institutional structure of the military for teaching victimization to young women. This helps them explain why victims who they do not perceive as legitimate report sexual violence. These findings emphasize the need for further inquiry into how those working in the military justice system perceive and interact with victims.
... The media's portrayal of sexual violence is particularly important because of the effect that it has on attitudes toward victims and sexual assault. Various media have been associated with acceptance of rape myths, including television programs, video games, and newspaper headlines and articles Franiuk, Seefelt, and Vandello 2008;Kahlor and Eastin 2011;Kahlor and Morrison 2007;Simpson Beck et al 2012). More specifically, Franiuk, Seefelt, and Vandello (2008, 298-299) explored the effect newspaper headlines have on students and found that when exposed to headlines that endorse rape myths, students are more likely to hold rape-supporting attitudes. ...
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The socio-ecological model of prevention focuses on how one's social environment supports rape-enabling attitudes. We propose that an analysis of students' narratives, as related to their personal opinions about sexual assault prevention, may provide a different perspective on their attitudes, and insight for the formulation of strategic prevention messages and programs. Our findings suggest that student narratives about sexual violence often blame the victims. We explore these topics by drawing comparisons between the frames for discussing domestic violence in various print media identified by Nancy Berns (2004) and the framing of sexual violence in student newspapers in our sample.
Background Sexual violence (SV) prevalence remains high among U.S. college campuses; prevention strategies may benefit from addressing socially oppressive beliefs, including racism, sexism, and heterosexism that all directly link to attitudes and beliefs related to SV. Aims The objective of this study is to evaluate the potential efficacy of a novel student-driven, theater-based intervention in shifting beliefs regarding racism, heterosexism, and SV. Method Data were utilized from paired pre- and posttest surveys ( n = 272) from undergraduate students, at a university in the Southeastern United States, who attended a student-driven theater production covering topics of SV, heterosexism, and racism. The survey included questions on rape myth acceptance, heteronormative attitudes and beliefs, perceived racism on campus, and relevant respondent demographic information. Results After viewing the theater production, participants demonstrated significant decreases pretest-posttest in rape myth acceptance, (Δ M = 0.04, SD = 0.25), t(261) = 2.57, p = .01, heteronormative attitudes and beliefs, (Δ M = 0.09, SD = 0.36), t(267) = 3.32, p = .0001, and an increased pretest-posttest in perceived racism on campus, (Δ M = −0.15, SD = 0.47), t(266) = −5.15, p < .0001. For rape myth acceptance and heteronormative attitudes and beliefs, no apparent differences were present by race, gender identity, sexual orientation, or year in school. Only White and mixed-race students’ levels of perceived prevalence racism increased when examined by race. Implications Findings from this study suggest that theater interventions may not only be an effective tool for addressing SV on campus, but also targeting other forms of discrimination, including sexism, homophobia, and racism among students.
The purpose of this study was to evaluate gender differences in determinants of bystander intervention (BI) participation among undergraduate students using the Reasoned Action Approach (RAA). Students (n = 291) were recruited via an online survey disseminated in general education courses at two US universities. The survey evaluated intentions, attitudes, perceived norms, and perceived behavioral control toward participating in BI. Two linear regression models (man/woman) were used to understand how constructs of RAA regressed on intentions. Students, 18–24 years old, were mostly women (60.1%) and lowerclassmen (80.4%). While both models were significant, the model better predicted intentions among women (adjusted R² = .598) compared to men (adjusted R² = .479). Women had significantly higher intentions, attitudes, and perceived behavioral control to engage in BI compared to men (p < .05). Results show that men and women have different views on BI, and ways to promote BI may be better if they were tailored by gender. This provides insight into the role gender plays in BI to prevent sexual assault and could enhance health education approaches on campuses.
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Overestimation of the prevalence of false accusations of sexual assault is prevalent among boys and men, with substantial consequences for their ability to be allies to sexual assault victims. This chapter provides an overview of how and why this overestimation has developed and is perpetuated. Accurate rates of false reports, experiences of prevention educators with discussing this topic, and recommendations for facilitators are provided.
In Australia, the rise of the #MeToo movement coincided with a major public reckoning with sexual and family violence, through two royal commissions. Across #MeToo and the royal commissions, a common picture emerged whereby the mutually reinforcing role of institutions such as the media and law was considered central to the production of problems such as sexual assault. Drawing on insights from feminist science and technology studies on the constitution of realities, this paper examines how the role of institutions has been constructed in public debate since, through an analysis of Australian newspaper accounts of #MeToo from 2017–2020. Some accounts materialise #MeToo problems as the product of mutually reinforcing institutional dynamics. More commonly, these problems are constituted as the product of “institutional exceptionalism”: rare features of particular institutions, not commonly replicated. We consider the implications of these media constructions.
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Empirical studies have unequivocally and consistently shown that rape myths are integral to the aetiology of sexual coercion and aggression. The present article reviews the literature on rape myth acceptance as an important risk factor in the sexual victimization of women and a precursor for a hostile social attitude towards victims of rape. Through the examination of the verbal reactions of the Moroccan public to the case of rape and torture of Khadija “the tattoo girl” (fata:t lwaʃm) on YouTube, it attempts to assess and debunk specific examples of rape myths present in the Moroccan sociocultural context. Discussion focuses on the social perception of female victims of sexual violence and the measurement and evaluation of its physical and psychological impact on them. Victims' emotional responses and psychic trauma constitute an important part of this discussion. Findings suggest the existence of immanently cultural rape myths, such as “the myth of the willing victim”, “it is impossible to rape a resisting woman”, and “women are prone to make false allegations”, along with deleterious victim-blaming cultural stereotypes, such as “she was asking for it”. Another noteworthy finding this paper presents is the social requirement of conspicuous "psychological/emotional harm" to legitimize the status of the victim.
Race/ethnicity, gender, and exposure to various types of media have been identified as important predictors of fear of crime (Callanan, 2012; Schafer, Huebner, & Bynum, 2006; Smith & Torstensson, 1997). However, previous research largely fails to take a truly intersectional approach when testing this relationship. Utilizing a unique data source that oversamples for minority respondents and includes measures for social media, Internet, and traditional media consumption the current study attempts to fill this gap. Our research finds evidence that the link between media consumption and fear of crime varies significantly across intersectional subsamples of race/ethnicity and gender. This identifies a need for future intersectional research on fear of crime.
Introduction to New Edition: Wife Rape: from the 1980s to the 1990s Preface Acknowledgments 1 Introduction: The Crime in the Closet Part One The Law 2 Wife Rape and the Law (updated) Part Two The Study 3 The Rape Study 4 What is Wife Rape? Part Three Theory and Statistics 5 The Prevalence of Wife Rape 6 A Continuum of Sexual Relations 7 Wife Rape and Wife Beating 8 Husband Battering, Wife Battering, and Murder 9 Characteristics of Wife Rape Part Four The Husbands 10 Husbands Who Rape Their Wives 11 Why Men Rape Their Wives 12 Abusive Husbands, Alcohol and Other Drugs Part Five The Wives 13 The Victims of Wife Rape 14 The Trauma of Wife Rape 15 Why Some Wives Stay Part Six Women as Property 16 Husbands Who WonOt Let Their Wives Go 17 Once a Wife, Always a Wife--Rape by Ex-Husbands 18 Women Who Marry the Men Who Rape Them 19 Lovers and Daughters Are Property Too Part Seven Torture and Femicide 20 Torture and Marriage 21 Femicide: The Murder of Wives Part Eight WivesO Strategies 22 Wives Who Report to the Police 23 How Some Wives Stop the Violence Part Nine An International Perspective 24 Wife Rape in Other Countries 25 Conclusions and Solutions Appendix I Husbands Accused of Wife Rape in the United States: Selected Cases Appendix II State-by-State Information on Martial Rape Exemption Laws, as of January 1990 Source Notes Selected Bibliography on Wife Rape (Expanded) Index
This chapter presents a theoretical review and meta-analysis of cultivation research. The authors examine the roots of cultivation analysis, as developed by George Gerbner and colleagues, and review the progress made in cultivation research since its inception in the 1970s. They also review some of the critiques that have been made of cultivation theory over the years and provide their own critical review and responses. They then offer a meta-analysis of empirical findings from 20 years of cultivation research. This meta-analysis shows an average cultivation effect of .09. Much, but not all, of the variation in cultivation findings reported in the literature can be attributed to sampling error alone. Yet, although the authors tested a variety of hypothetical moderator variables, they found no specific moderator variables. The analysis suggests that many theoretical arguments tend to fade into the background when the corpus of cultivation findings is viewed from a meta-analytic perspective.
This study examines relationships between television viewing and environmental concern. Using data from the 1993 and 1994 General Social Survey, we examine the associations between exposure to television's messages and respondents’ willingness to make sacrifices for the environment, perceptions of threat from pollution, and perceptions of the impact of science and technology on the environment. The results show that television viewing is associated with a general apprehension about the state of the environment, but is not consistently related to viewers’ perception of threats from specific sources. Heavy television viewers are generally less willing to make sacrifices for environmental reasons. Subgroup and mainstreaming relationships are explored.
To assess their risk in a particular domain, individuals may review domain-relevant behaviors. Thinking about these behaviors renders two sources of information available: the recalled behaviors and the subjective experience of ease of recall. Two studies demonstrate that individuals' beliefs about the domain can influence which source of information they use. Women high and low in Rape Myth Acceptance (RMA) were asked to recall few (easy) or many (difficult) behaviors that may increase or decrease risk for sexual assault. Women high in RMA relied on ease of recall and reported lower risk after recalling many rather than a few risk-increasing behaviors, or a few rather than many risk-decreasing behaviors. Women low in RMA relied on the content of recall, resulting in an opposite pattern of risk judgments.