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Understanding attribution of blame in cases of rape: An analysis of participant gender, type of rape and perceived similarity to the victim

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Abstract

This study examined a variety of factors that may influence attributions towards rape victims. A total of 156 participants completed a questionnaire, which included a measure of attitudes towards rape victims and a vignette depicting one of three rape scenarios (a stranger rape, date rape and seduction rape). Participants rated the extent to which they blamed the rape victim as well as the degree to which they identified with the victim and perpetrator. Results indicated that male participants blamed the victim to a greater extent than did female participants, with participants consistently attributing most blame to the victim in the seduction rape scenario, then the date rape scenario, and finally the stranger rape scenario. Perceptions of similarity to the rape victim and perpetrator were correlated negatively with attributions of blame. These findings have important implications for juror selection, jury decision-making and attempts to improve the conviction rate in rape cases.
Journal of Sexual Aggression
*Corresponding author: Amy Grubb, Coventry University, Coventry,
CV1 5FB, UK. Email: Amy.Grubb@coventry.ac.uk
A dissertation submitted in partial fulfilment of the degree of M.Sc. in
Forensic Psychology at Coventry University in September 2005.
Understanding attribution of blame in cases of rape: an analysis
of participant gender, type of rape and perceived similarity to
the victim.
Amy Grubb* & Julie Harrower
Psychology Department, Coventry University, Coventry, UK
Word count = 6358
A. Grubb Journal of Sexual Aggression
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Abstract
This study examined a variety of factors that may influence
attributions of rape victims. 156 participants completed a
questionnaire, which included a measure of attitudes towards rape
victims and a vignette depicting one of three rape scenarios (a
stranger rape, date rape and seduction rape). Participants rated the
extent to which they blamed the rape victim as well as the degree to
which they identified with the victim and perpetrator. Results
indicated that male students blamed the victim to a greater extent;
with students consistently attributing most blame to the victim in the
seduction rape scenario, then the date rape scenario and finally the
stranger rape scenario. Perceptions of similarity to the rape victim
and perpetrator were negatively correlated with attributions of blame;
a finding that is consistent with the notion of “judgemental leniency”
presented in Shaver‟s Defensive Attribution Theory (1970).
Keywords: Rape; blame; defensive attribution
A. Grubb Journal of Sexual Aggression
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Introduction
Rape victims occupy a unique position in that, although they
are targets of assault, they may not be sympathetically perceived and
in some cases, may even be assigned the responsibility by observers
for having precipitated their own victimisation (Amir, 1971; Curtis,
1974; Goldner, 1972; Schultz, 1968; Wood, 1973). Numerous
studies have pointed to the tendency of observers to denigrate the
rape victim, holding them responsible for the assault (Calhoun, Selby
& Warring, 1976; Cann, Calhoun & Selby, 1979; Donnerstein &
Berkowitz, 1981; Janoff-Bulman, Timko & Carli, 1985; Muehlenhard,
1988; Muehlenhard & Rodgers, 1993). Investigations of rape from
this attribution perspective have typically involved laboratory-based
experiments on undergraduates at North-American universities. The
experimental participants are normally asked to make a series of
judgements about a rape vignette, including how they define the
crime, the extent to which victim and perpetrator are to blame, and
the extent to which the perpetrator should be punished.
This propensity to blame the victims of rape translates
worryingly into a tolerance of the crime itself. This tolerance toward
rape has several extremely negative consequences for the victim, as
she is more likely to blame herself for the assault, which then has an
important impact on her recovery. Trauma-related guilt has been
highly positively correlated with post-traumatic stress disorder,
depression, negative self-esteem, shame, social anxiety and suicidal
thoughts (Kubany et al., 1995). Furthermore, this social perception
of rape makes its eradication more difficult as it reduces the
likelihood of reporting the crime as a result of the perceived negative
connotations associated with the crime. Prevalence studies have
repeatedly shown that rape victims, more so than victims of other
crimes of comparable severity, keep their victimisation hidden (Koss,
1992). Therefore, assailants perceive that the law will not punish
their actions, which then makes victims feel even more helpless and
A. Grubb Journal of Sexual Aggression
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unsafe. In a robust attempt to understand and challenge such rape
victim denigration, a huge amount of empirical research has tried to
determine the factors that make victim blame more likely (see
Pollard, 1992, for a review).
The tendency to blame female rape victims has been
investigated from many disparate directions and by various
methodologies. Two such approaches have dominated the study of
blame attributions in sexual violence. The first approach examines
the effect of victim, perpetrator and situational characteristics on
negative attributions in rape, and it is often referred to in social
psychology as the “rape perception framework” (Pollard, 1992;
Krahe, 1991). Factors such as the victim’s respectability (Luginbuhl
& Mullin, 1981), physical attractiveness (Tieger, 1981; Deitz, Litman
& Bentley, 1984), provocativeness (Scroggs, 1976), previous sexual
activity (L‟Armand & Pepitone, 1982; Cann, Calhoun & Selby, 1979),
victim resistance (VanWie & Gross, 1995; Wyer, Bodenhausen &
Gorman, 1985; Yescavage, 1999), degree of victim intoxication
(Richardson & Campbell, 1982; Stormo & Lang, 1997) and what the
victim was wearing at the time of the attack (Edmonds & Cahoon,
1986; Workman & Freeburg, 1999) have all been found to influence
negative attributions in rape. It should be noted that in the majority of
cases, participants tend to attribute more responsibility to the rapist,
usually very much more, and that attributions of fault to the victim are
usually low (Pollard, 1992). Experimental manipulations are thus
typically aimed at investigating whether in some circumstances victim
blame will be increased, rather than decreased.
In addition to attributes of the victim, the perception of a rape
victim and attribution of responsibility is subject to the influence of
observer/participant characteristics. The second approach has
therefore focused on investigating the influence of different observer
characteristics on the attribution of rape blame. Such studies have
examined the influence of participants’ attitudes towards rape (Field,
1978b), attitudes towards feminism (Krulewitz & Payne, 1978), belief
in a just world (Kerr & Kurtz, 1977), status as students or non-
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students (Field & Barnett, 1978), likelihood of identifying with the
victim or defendant (Kaplan & Miller, 1978) and gender (Calhoun,
Selby & Warring, 1976; Fulero & DeLara, 1976; Kerr & Kurtz, 1977;
Rumsey & Rumsey, 1977; Selby, Calhoun & Brock, 1977; Seligman,
Brickman & Koulack, 1977). Proponents of this second approach
have drawn upon theories of victim blaming, such as the Defensive
Attribution Theory (Shaver, 1970) and the Just World Hypothesis
(Lerner & Matthews, 1967), which are based upon motivational and
ego defensive processes, to explain the negative attributions often
directed at rape victims.
According to the Defensive Attribution Theory, people
increase or reduce blame depending on their perceived similarity with
the victim and the perceived likelihood of similar future victimisation
befalling them. Defensive attributions predict negative victim
perception to decrease as the similarity of the observer to the victim
increases, this being a defence mechanism to protect the observer
from being blamed themselves if a similar fate should befall him or
her in the future. Research has consistently supported Shaver‟s
Defensive Attribution Formulation, with females repeatedly displaying
self-protective distortion, in order to minimise the perceived
possibility that such an incident could happen to them harm
avoidance (Shaw & McCartin, 1973) and to avoid the possibility of
being blamed should they encounter the same situation blame
avoidance” (Shaw & McCartin, 1973). Similarly, the Just World
Theory accounts for negative rape victim perception as the result of
overcompensation for a seemingly undeserved act. According to this
perspective, one has a motivational need to believe that the world is
a fair place and that behavioural outcomes are deserved (“people get
what they deserve and deserve what they get”), thus maintaining a
sense of control and efficacy over the environment. To believe that
unfortunate things happen to people without any apparent reason
would prove chaotic and would subsequently threaten one‟s sense of
control. Thus, according to the Just World Theory, to perceive the
A. Grubb Journal of Sexual Aggression
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victim as deserving of the misfortune helps to restore the comfortable
view of the world as being ordered, fair and just.
Gender
As research has consistently demonstrated, the perception of
a rape victim and attribution of responsibility is subject to the
influence of observer characteristics. One of the most studied
demographic characteristics is the observer‟s sex, which has been
found to influence rape victim judgements, with regards to victim and
perpetrator responsibility. Several studies have reported that
females attribute less responsibility to a rape victim than do males
(Brekke & Borgida, 1988; Calhoun, Selby & Warring, 1976; Deitz,
Littman & Bentley, 1984; Edmonds & Cahoon, 1986; Gerdes,
Dammann & Heilig, 1988; Gilmartin-Zena, 1983; Johnson & Jackson,
1988; Johnson, Jackson & Smith, 1989; Kanekar & Kolsawalla, 1977,
1980; Kanekar & Nazareth, 1988; Kleinke & Meyer, 1990; Luginbuhl
& Mullin, 1981; Selby, Calhoun & Brock, 1977), although others have
reported no sex differences (Acock & Ireland, 1983; Calhoun, Cann,
Selby & Magee, 1981; Check & Malamuth, 1984; Feldman-Summers
& Lindner, 1976; Jones & Aronson, 1973; Krahe, 1988; L‟Armand &
Pepitone, 1982; Paulsen, 1979; Yarmey, 1985a). Some studies have
even revealed that women attribute more responsibility to victims, at
least under certain circumstances (for example, Kruelwitz & Payne,
1978; Luginbuhl & Mullin, 1981). Results regarding gender
differences are therefore not clear cut, revealing inconsistent and
contradictory effects on victim judgements.
Type of rape
Early research on reactions to rape and rape victims focused
almost exclusively on what Coller & Resick (1987) have called the
“classic rape” situation, wherein the victim is sexually assaulted by a
stranger. However, the evidence that acquaintance rape is vastly
A. Grubb Journal of Sexual Aggression
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under-reported by victims (Williams, 1984) and occurs more
frequently than stranger rape (Koss, 1990; Koss, Dinero, Seibel &
Cox, 1989; Russell, 1984) has tended to shift the focus of research in
recent years. Literature suggests that acquaintance and stranger
rape may be quite different “types” of rape, which elicit different
reactions from their victims as well as from their observers (Tetreault
& Barnett, 1987). Research seems to indicate that there are
significant differences between observers‟ responses to victims of
acquaintance versus stranger rape. Some studies (Calhoun, Selby &
Warring, 1976; Check & Malamuth, 1983; Smith, Keating, Hesler &
Mitchell, 1976; Tetreault & Barnett, 1987) have shown that observers
attribute greater responsibility to victims of stranger rape than to
victims who were better acquainted with their attacker. Conversely,
other studies (Bell, Kuriloff & Lottes, 1994; Frese, Moya & Megias,
2004; Johnson & Russ, 1989; L‟Armand & Pepitone, 1982;
Quackenbush, 1989; Whatley, 1996) have shown that more
responsibility and blame is attributed to victims of acquaintance rape,
with the probability that a victim is held responsible for her
victimisation being higher when she is acquainted with her rapist
(Bridges & McGrail, 1989). As with gender, the research findings
regarding acquaintance with attacker are therefore also inconsistent.
Perceived similarity to the victim
The degree to which observers identify with individuals
involved in a rape has also been considered as a possible variable
that may explain differential attributions of responsibility and blame.
Similarity between the target person and the participant has typically
been shown to increase identification and empathy (Krebs, 1975).
There are many ways that this similarity phenomenon might apply to
the rape situation. Studies have shown that similarity between
participant and defendant or victim on the basis of gender, race,
social status and experience affect identification and in turn,
attributional decisions (Barnett, Tetreault, Esper & Bristow, 1984;
A. Grubb Journal of Sexual Aggression
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Fulero & Delara, 1976; Kahn et al., 1977; Thornton, 1984).
Unfortunately, the few studies in this area have revealed
contradictory results. When subjects were asked to rate the degree
to which they identified with rape victims, Kahn et al. (1977) failed to
find a relationship between identification and attributions of blame.
However, positive results have been found in studies that defined
identification in terms of personal similarity between participants and
victims. Thornton (1984), manipulated personal similarity, by
assessing participants‟ attitudes on 12 topic areas (e.g. sports,
money, war etc.) and presenting victim profiles that were consistent
or inconsistent with these views. A significant negative relationship
between identification and attributed fault was found, with greater
attributions of responsibility occurring in participants‟ responses to a
personally dissimilar victim and less attributions to rape victims who
hold similar world views.
While these studies suggest that similarity between observer
and victim may play a role in determining attributions of blame, more
extensive work is needed to understand this relationship. To begin
with, while actual personal and experiential similarity between the
observer and victim seem to be important mediators of attributions, it
is not clear how perceptions of these similarities affect participants.
In addition to this, the degree of similarity felt by the participant
towards the rape perpetrator may also influence attributions of
responsibility. Finally, it is important to differentiate the role of
identification with a specific rape victim from the role of more
dispositional differences in participants‟ ability or propensity to
empathise with others. The present study aims to establish which
variables are related to identification with the victim and with the
perpetrator and how these resulting perceptions are related to
attributions of rape blame.
To this end, the present study investigates three variables
which have previously produced contradictory results; gender, type of
rape and perceived victim/perpetrator similarity. It attempts to
understand how observers make attributions about rape victims in
A. Grubb Journal of Sexual Aggression
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different rape scenarios. A sample of undergraduate university
students was used to ascertain how demographic differences
(gender of the participant) as well as differences in the type of rape
situation (stranger rape, date rape and seduction rape settings) affect
participants‟ perceptions of rape victims, in particular their attributions
of blame and responsibility allocated to the victim and/or perpetrator.
The role of contextual perceptions of similarity in determining the
degree to which a rape victim is blamed was also explored.
Participants‟ perceptions of similarity to the victim and perpetrator in
the differing rape scenarios were measured, allowing an examination
of the relationship of this factor to participants‟ attributions of
responsibility in the scenario to be carried out.
Method
Design
In this study there were two independent variables: gender and type
of rape. Dependant variables were: a) participants ARVS1 scores, b)
participants judgements about victim/perpetrator responsibility, c)
victim blame and d) participants‟ perceptions of similarity to the rape
victim/perpetrator.
Participants.
Participants consisted of 160 undergraduate students (105 women
and 55 men) from Coventry University. The data from 4 participants
was excluded due to non-completion of the questionnaire; resulting in
a total sample of 156 participants. Participants were recruited from
two courses, Physiotherapy and Occupational Therapy and
completed the questionnaire during one of their lectures. Women
ranged in age from 19 to 35 (mean age = 23.74; SD = 4.71). Men
ranged in age from 18 to 35 (mean age = 24.90; SD = 4.64). The
1 Attitudes towards Rape Victim Scale
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three versions of the questionnaire were randomly ordered to ensure
random distribution of the three questionnaire versions.
Procedure.
Each of the students in the study completed a 53-item questionnaire.
The questionnaire consisted of 3 sub-sections. Participants were
initially asked to complete The Attitudes towards Rape Victims Scale
(Ward, 1988). They were then asked to read one of three scenarios
in which a woman is raped by a man. After reading the vignette,
respondents were asked a series of questions concerning the
responsibility of the man and woman for what happened and how
similar they felt to them. A final set of questions assessed
participants‟ perceived similarity to the victim and perpetrator in more
detail. Participants were informed of the sensitive nature of the
research prior to consent being obtained and details of a local rape
crisis centre were made available to participants, in case they felt the
need for support or advice.
Measures
The Attitudes towards Rape Victims Scale (ARVS) (Ward,
1988) was used to assess participant‟s attitudes towards rape. This
scale consists of 25 statements (8 positive and 17 negative)
designed to assess favourable and unfavourable attitudes towards
rape victims. The instrument uses a 5-point, Likert-type rating scale
with response options ranging from 0 (disagree strongly) to 4 (agree
strongly). Individual item scores were then added to obtain an ARV
score out of 100, with higher scores denoting more unfavourable
attitudes toward victims.
Three short vignettes were developed for this study. The first
vignette depicted a “stranger rape”, the second depicted a “date
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rape” and the third depicted a “seduction rape2”. The vignettes
consisted of approximately 350 words and were chosen to depict
possible rape scenarios in a naturalistic way. The expression “rape”
was not used in any of the three descriptions, so that participants
would be less likely to answer questions on their individual
preconceptions about the meaning of the word. Participants in this
study each read one of these three vignettes contained in three
randomly distributed versions of the questionnaire.
After reading the vignette, respondents were asked a series of
10 questions devised for the purpose of this study to assess 1) a
general perception of similarity to victim/perpetrator and 2) the
degree of blame/responsibility assigned to the victim/perpetrator in
the vignette. The 10 questions were each rated on a 5-point, Likert-
type scale, ranging from not at all (1) to completely (5). Participants
were asked to rate: how similar they felt to the male and the female,
how much they could see themselves being in a similar situation as
the male and the female, the degree to which the rape victim was
careless* and lead the man on*, and the degree to which the
woman’s behaviour* and character were to blame for the rape*.
Finally, participants were also asked to rate how responsible the
woman was overall for what happened with the man* and the degree
to which participants blamed the man for the incident*.
Victim blame was measured by collapsing several of the
questions that dealt with responsibility of the woman in the rape into
a single scale. Principle Component Factor Analyses indicated that
six of the items3 assessed a single victim blame variable. This
measure of victim blame was found to be very reliable ( = 0.90).
A third and final set of questions was developed in order to
assess participants‟ perceived similarity with specific reference to
personal characteristics. Participants were asked to answer 9
questions assessing their perceived personal similarity to the victim
2 Please refer to Appendix 1 for a synopsis of the rape vignettes.
3 Questions marked with a * above were collapsed to form a single scale to measure Victim
Blame.
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on 9 different aspects (age, build, background, people you interact
with, places you go, things you do, physical fitness, ability to fight off
attacker and attractive target to perpetrator), and 9 questions
assessing participants perceived personal similarity to the perpetrator
on 9 different aspects (age, build, background, people you interact
with, places you go, things you do, physical fitness, ability to
overpower victim and respect for women). These questions could be
answered as not at all, somewhat, or completely and were scored as
0, 1 or 2, respectively. Participants responses were then totalled to
provide two similarity scores out of 18, with higher scores denoting
higher perceived similarity.
Results
1. Male vs. Female ARVS Scores
A one-way between-groups ANOVA was conducted to explore
the impact of gender on attitudes towards rape victims, as measured
by the Attitudes towards Rape Victims Scale (ARVS). There was a
statistically significant difference at the p < 0.001 level in ARVS
scores for males and females, F(1, 154) = 21.22, p < 0.001, with
male participants scoring significantly higher (M = 26.73) than female
participants (M = 19.60; Table 1). These results indicate that males
exhibit significantly less favourable attitudes towards the victims of
rape than females. It is worth noting that although males scored
significantly higher than females, both scores were relatively low;
indicating an overall favourable attitude towards victims of rape in
this student population.
2. Factors influencing perceptions of similarity to the victim
A two-way between-groups ANOVA was conducted to explore the
impact of gender and type of rape scenario on perceptions of
A. Grubb Journal of Sexual Aggression
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similarity to the rape victim. There was a statistically significant main
effect for gender, F(1, 150) = 16.44, p < 0.001, with female
participants feeling more similar to the victim (M = 4.70) than male
participants (M = 3.22; Table 2). A significant main effect for type of
rape was not obtained, however, there was a significant interaction
between gender and type of rape, F(2, 150) = 5.53, p < 0.05,
showing that although the same pattern of perceived similarity held
for male and female participants, there was a more dramatic
difference between how similar female participants felt to victims in
the three kinds of rape situations (see Table 3).
3. Factors influencing perceptions of similarity to the perpetrator
A two-way between-groups ANOVA was conducted to explore the
impact of gender and type of rape scenario on perceptions of
similarity to the rape perpetrator. There was a statistically significant
main effect for gender, F(1, 150) = 27.50, p < 0.001, with male
participants feeling more similar to the perpetrator (M = 2.98) than
female participants (M = 2.08; Table 2). A significant main effect for
type of rape was also obtained, F(2, 150) = 4.47, p < 0.05, with
participants feeling more similar to the seduction rape perpetrator (M
= 2.63), than the date rape perpetrator (M = 2.32) and the stranger
rape perpetrator (M = 2.18; Table 3). A significant interaction was
also obtained between gender and type of rape, F(2, 150) = 4.05, p <
0.05 showing a more dramatic difference between how similar male
participants felt to the perpetrators in the three kinds of rape
situations (see Table 3).
4. Factors influencing attributions of victim blame
Univariate analysis was also conducted on the Victim Blame
Scale in order to determine how gender of participants and type of
rape scenario influenced decisions about the extent to which the
female victim was held responsible. The results are summarised in
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Table 3. A two-way between-subjects ANOVA revealed a significant
main effect for gender, F(1, 150) = 10.38, p < 0.05, with male
participants blaming the victim to a greater extent (M = 13.02), than
female participants (M = 10.96; Table 2). In addition, participants
consistently attributed more blame to the victim in the seduction rape
situation (M = 16.51), than the date rape situation (M = 10.51) and
the stranger rape situation (M = 8.14; Table 3), F(2, 150) = 64.91, p <
0.001, with no interaction between gender and type of rape.
5. Correlational analyses
Pearson correlations were calculated to determine the
relationship between participants‟ attitudes towards rape victims,
their perceptions of similarity to the characters in the rape scenarios
and the attributions they made to victims in the rape scenarios.
Results are shown in Table 4. Pearson correlations revealed that the
extent to which respondents identified with the woman in the
scenarios was negatively correlated with victim blame (r = -0.24, p <
0.001) with participants scoring high on victim similarity scoring low
on victim blame. Conversely, a positive correlation was found
between perpetrator similarity and victim blame (r = 0.24, p < 0.001) -
the more respondents identified with the man who raped in the
scenario, the more they blamed the rape victim. A stepwise
regression analysis indicated that together these two measures of
similarity accounted for 12% of the variation in attributions of blame4,
F = 11.40, p < 0.001. The Attitudes towards Rape Victim Score was
also positively correlated with victim blame, with those respondents
scoring highly on the AVRS exhibiting high victim blame scores (r =
0.38, p < 0.001).
Correlation coefficients were also computed separately for the
more detailed personal victim and perpetrator similarity measures.
Pearson correlations revealed a negative correlation between victim
4 Adjusted R square value reported due to small sample size. Refer to Appendix div.
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blame and perceived personal victim similarity (r = -0.29, p < 0.01),
indicating that those respondents who viewed themselves to be
personally similar to the victim on a number of different levels (i.e.
scored higher on the perceived personal similarity measure),
engaged less in victim blaming. However, no significant correlation
was found between victim blame and perceived personal perpetrator
similarity, suggesting that personal identification with the victim has a
greater influence on rape blame attribution than personal
identification with the perpetrator.
A. Grubb Journal of Sexual Aggression
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Discussion
The objective of the present study was to investigate the effect
of gender, type of rape and perceived similarity with the
victim/perpetrator on victim blame.
Gender
In line with previous literature, the present findings revealed
two consistent gender differences, with males scoring significantly
higher on the Attitudes towards Rape Victims Scale and victim
blame. This sex difference is reflected in the higher mean ratings by
male respondents, demonstrating significantly more unfavourable
attitudes towards rape victims than females. These findings provide
support for Hypothesis 1. The observed ARVS scores follow in line
with previous gender differences observed in respondents‟ attitudes
towards rape and rape victims. Research has consistently found that
men seem to make harsher judgements about rape victims than do
women (Krulewitz, 1982; Thornton & Ryckman, 1983; Kanekar, Pinto
& Mazumdar, 1985). This finding has been demonstrated using
several standard survey instruments across a variety of different
attitudinal variables. Research shows men are more accepting of
rape myths (Margolin et al, 1989); men are more tolerant of rape
(Hall et al, 1986); men have less empathy towards victims (Brady et
al, 1991; Deitz et al, 1982); men are less intensely concerned about
rape (Young & Thiessen, 1992); and men are more blaming and
denigrating of sexual assault victims (Field, 1978a).
Social psychologists have broadly accounted for such gender
differences by drawing upon the solid tradition of inter-group
research. Studies on social identity and social comparison have
revealed that individuals tend to hold favourable attitudes towards
members of their own group and unfavourable attitudes towards
members of out-groups. Consequently, men should be more likely to
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identify with the perpetrators of sexual offences whereas women
should be more likely to empathise with rape victims. These factors,
along with differences in male and female socialisation may account
for the significant differences observed in male and female attitudes
towards rape victims in the present study.
The gender differences observed in victim blame scores are
also in line with the predictions of our first hypothesis. These findings
are predicted by attribution theory, and are consistent with the notion
of “judgemental leniency” introduced by Shaver in his Defensive
Attribution Theory (1970). According to Shaver‟s view, one would
expect individuals to decrease their attribution of blame to those with
whom they identify. While individuals might blame a victim in the
interest of shielding themselves from the possibility of random
misfortune and maintaining their sense of control, Shaver suggests
that blame would not be in the observers‟ best interest if the victim
was similar to themselves in some way. One could speculate that
when respondents in the present study felt that they could just as
likely have been the victim, they were hesitant to assign responsibility
since doing so might be comparable to stigmatising themselves in
the process. For example, a female participant, feeling similar to and
hence identifying with other women, may have been less likely to
blame the female rape victim, since to do so would be facing her own
culpability. It might be easy for a female respondent to see how she
could just as easily be the victim of the rape, which would lead to a
self-protective denial of the victim‟s responsibility. It could be
speculated, therefore, that in attributing the victim less blame,
females in this study are operating a self-protective distortion in order
to minimise the perceived possibility that such an incident could
happen to them harm avoidance” (Shaw & McCartin, 1973) and to
avoid the possibility of being blamed should they encounter the same
situation blame avoidance” (Shaw & McCartin, 1973).
The concept of “just world” theorising can also be drawn upon
to account for the sex differences observed in this study. Female
participants in this study are more likely than men to identify with the
A. Grubb Journal of Sexual Aggression
18
rape victim and are therefore less apt to blame her character.
Women who can identify with a rape victim and who believe in a just
world face a particular conflict in reconciling the rape with their belief
that “people get what they deserve” (Lerner & Miller, 1978, p. 1030).
It follows, that these women are especially reluctant to derogate a
rape victim for a negative experience that could also happen to them.
Whilst acknowledging that some of the attributional differences
observed in males and females may result from defensive motivation
on the part of females, it is also necessary to highlight the fact that
women are more familiar with the issue of rape, are more likely to
know rape victims personally, and are apt to have thought about rape
in connection with their daily activities. It is therefore questionable
whether the concepts of defensive attribution and “belief in a just
world” are sufficient to deal exclusively with these substantial male-
female differences in experience and socialisation.
Worryingly, the present findings suggest that the popular
conception that males will tend to be harsher than females in their
judgements about the role of the victim in the rape episode, is in fact
true.
Type of rape
Similarly, the findings that observers attributed blame in the
order of seduction rape > date rape > stranger rape, supports the
prediction of our second hypothesis. Although the research findings
concerning acquaintance to the attacker are somewhat contradictory,
recent research has tended to indicate that those victims who know
their attacker in some capacity prior to the rape are attributed more
blame than those who have no prior connection with their attacker
(Bell, Kuriloff & Lottes, 1994; Bridges & McGrail, 1989; Frese, Moya
& Megias, 2004; Johnson & Russ, 1989; L‟Armand & Pepitone, 1982;
Quackenbush, 1989; Whatley, 1986). The present study helps to
clarify the differential reactions to victims of stranger versus
acquaintance rapes. Findings suggest that when a rapist and victim
A. Grubb Journal of Sexual Aggression
19
know each other in some capacity, university students are more likely
to blame the female victim to a greater extent for what happened to
her. One might speculate that this is due to issues of shared
responsibility. Perhaps when there was some prior contact between
those involved in the rape, respondents made a shift in how they
delegated blame because they understood that relationships often
involve miscommunications and that different interpretation of events
are likely to occur. Respondents might have felt that blame needed
to be more shared in this type of situation. It is also possible that
prior involvement of the man and woman raised difficult issues
regarding consent. When confronted with the situation of a woman
going into a mans room or house, respondents, particularly male
respondents may have fallen back on ideas about implied consent
that a woman‟s actions, behaviour and appearance could implicitly
be saying “yes” to sex even if her words do not. While these notions
of implied consent seem to be changing, these traditional attitudes
are obstinate and may persist even in young adults today.
Participants‟ perceptions that they could more easily be a
victim of a stranger than victimised by someone with whom they were
acquainted, reflected by the similarity scores obtained across the
three rape conditions, might have helped to moderate their blaming
of stranger-rape victims. Media coverage of the dangers of urban life
and the ubiquitous nature of violence today might contribute to
feelings of similarity to the stranger rape victim, while feelings of
personal competency and loyalty to one‟s social network might help
to convince one that he or she was different from the date rape and
seduction rape victims who “chose a partner poorly”. These
differential perceptions of one‟s own vulnerability may have affected
the degree to which victims of the three kinds of rape scenarios were
blamed.
The findings from this study suggest that stranger rape and
acquaintance rape need to be treated as distinct phenomena, with
attributional work in the area of rape focusing on both of these
conditions. The results imply that responsibility and culpability
A. Grubb Journal of Sexual Aggression
20
become more muddled once the rapist and rape victim have had
some previous contact, but more qualitative work is needed to
understand the thinking and reasoning behind attributions made in
these two kinds of rape situations.
Perceived similarity with the victim/perpetrator
Beneficially, the present study helps to clarify the role of
identification in attribution of blame. The degree to which observers
feel similar to those that are involved in a specific rape case does
seem to be quite related to how those in the rape scenario are
evaluated, with participants blaming female victims to a greater
extent when they felt dissimilar to these women and more similar to
the men who perpetrated the rape. This is consistent with the notion
of “judgemental leniency” introduced by Shaver in his Defensive
Attribution Theory (1970). Shaver‟s assertion puts forward two
important motivating factors that influence people when they evaluate
victims of misfortune. Individuals have a need to defend against the
possibility that random misfortune may happen to themselves (harm
avoidance), and correspondingly, persons are motivated to defend
against the possibility that they will be held responsible if they were
to end in a similar fate (blame avoidance). According to Burger
(1981), if the observers see themselves as potential victims, the
perceivers will seek harm avoidance of a potential future accident.
Thus, persons seeing themselves as personally similar to the victim
should be less likely to attribute blame to the victim in the scenario.
The findings of the present study support the idea of defensive
attribution and how it serves to modify rape blame attribution.
Previous literature examining the effect of perceived similarity has
placed most emphasis on similarity being determined by obvious
variables such as gender and occupation. The results of the present
study have served to expand the knowledge and understanding of
how perceived similarity influences our attributions allocated to rape
victims. It appears that perceived personal similarity on a number of
A. Grubb Journal of Sexual Aggression
21
different levels with a victim/perpetrator can influence rape blame
attributions. Whereas it has often been assumed that a female
respondent perceives herself as similar to a rape victim as a result of
her gender, this study assesses perceived similarity with the victim
and perpetrator in terms of personal similarity on a number of
different levels. The results indicate that males viewing themselves
to be highly personally similar to the rape victim attribute less blame
to the victim, just as females viewing themselves to be highly
personally similar to the victim. These findings suggest that it is not
gender alone which governs identification with a victim, but instead, a
number of different variables which define personal similarity.
The findings demonstrated that high perceived personal victim
similarity (respondents identifying numerous factors as being similar
to themselves) is negatively correlated with victim blame.
Interestingly, identification with the perpetrator was not found to be
positively correlated with victim blame, as would be expected by the
formulations of the Defensive Attribution Theory. Possible
explanations for this finding could be linked to the concepts of social
desirability and the bias often obtained when using self-report
measures. It could be speculated that respondents, in particular
male respondents, were reluctant to admit similarity with the rapist
(even if they actually felt similar), for fear of being viewed as a
„possible rapist‟ or „person who associates with rapists. This is likely
to have produced a skew in the perpetrator similarity scores and
perhaps resulted in the insignificant correlation obtained.
Unfortunately, the correlational nature of this study limits
assessments of causality. As such, it is impossible to determine
whether participants‟ perceptions of similarity to the victim affect
attributions in a manner described by Shaver‟s judgemental
leniency, or if perceptions of similarity to the victim are affected by
attributions of blame. For example, it is conceivable that participants
may be motivated to dissociate themselves from a victim whom they
blame for the rape and may allow themselves to feel more similar to
those rape victims whom they feel are not responsible. This is a
A. Grubb Journal of Sexual Aggression
22
classic dilemma of “cause or effect”, encountered by many social
psychological studies and more experimental work is required to
resolve this issue. Studies need to assess participants‟ perceptions
of similarity to the female victim prior to any exposure to the rape
situation. After reading about the rape, experiments need to assess
not only the attribution made about the rape victim, but also any
changes in perceptions of similarity to the victim. In this way, the
temporal relationship between similarity and attributions of blame can
be accurately determined.
Similarly, artificiality, created by the use of written vignettes
and a homogenous sample group, combined with the high demand
characteristics introduced by experimental conditions, limits the
generalisability of these findings in terms of application to real life
rape perception required during rape cases. Nevertheless, studies
such as this one, do shed light on some of the attitudes with which a
juror will enter the court and inform us more generally about people‟s
attitudes towards rape.
Overall, this research provides useful information about who
blames rape victims and factors ameliorating and exacerbating this
blame, which can be applied to rape prevention efforts. Specifically,
the finding that men tend to blame female rape victims to a greater
extent than do female observers and the indications that rape
involves miscommunications between men and women suggest the
need for coeducational rape prevention models, rather than the
previously used early rape prevention initiatives focused solely on
women.
Whilst the results of this study have a direct bearing on legal
processes surrounding rape victims, particularly the influence of both
observer and victim characteristics on jury decision making, jury
behaviour is not the only interest. Identification of the societal
attitudes endemic to the population in which rape flourishes is
perhaps a more important goal. Despite the inconsistencies and
methodological problems discussed above, work in the attribution of
responsibility paradigm has contributed to this goal. It has identified
A. Grubb Journal of Sexual Aggression
23
the possibility of biases which all human beings are subject to and
has highlighted some of the possible mitigating and aggravating
factors, concerning both the victim and the observer, which may
influence the way rape victims are perceived. The present study
makes a contribution towards understanding the psychological
underpinnings of victim blaming, shedding some light on the
phenomenon and why it is that rape may be wrongly, but tacitly
condoned in many situations.
Conclusion
In summary, the results of the present exploratory study yield
several conclusions. First, female observers differ from male
observers in the way in which rape victim blame is attributed, with
males typically exhibiting more unfavourable attitudes towards rape
victims and attributing blame to the victim to a greater extent than
females. Participants consistently attributed most blame to the
victims of the seduction rape, then the date rape and finally the
stranger rape, following in line with previous research findings
showing that rape victims who are acquainted with their attacker are
held more responsible for their victimisation. Perceived similarity
with the victim was also found to significantly influence participants‟
attributions of blame, with participants who scored highly on
measures of victim similarity allocating significantly less blame to the
rape victim. These findings are in line with the notion of “judgemental
leniency” proposed by Shaver in his Defensive Attribution Theory
(1970) and would seem to demonstrate the effects of both “harm
avoidance” and “blame avoidance” (Shaw & McCartin, 1973) as self-
protective defence mechanisms.
A. Grubb Journal of Sexual Aggression
24
Appendix
1. Brief synopsis of rape scenarios presented the form of in
vignettes
“Stranger Rape”
A 21 year old female student is raped by a male stranger whilst
jogging in the local park.
“Date Rape”
A 21 year old female student is raped by a fellow male student after
going on a date with him.
“Seduction Rape”
A 21 year old female student is raped by a male after meeting him in
a bar and going home with him. Both parties are intoxicated. The
female remembers saying no but the male ignores her pleas and
proceeds to have sex with her. She wakes up feeling an immense
sense of unease at what happened and leaves.
A. Grubb Journal of Sexual Aggression
25
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A. Grubb Journal of Sexual Aggression
38
Table 1. Participants’ Attitudes towards Rape Victim Scores: Means
by Gender
Mean
Standard Deviation
Male
26.73
9.94
Female
19.60
8.61
Total
21.93
9.64
A. Grubb Journal of Sexual Aggression
39
Table 2. Participants’ Perceptions of Similarity to Rape Victim,
Perceptions of Similarity to Rapist and Attributions of Blame: Means
by Gender
Females
Total
Perceptions of
similarity to rape
victim
4.70
4.22
Perceptions of
similarity to rapist
2.08
2.37
Attributions of blame
to rape victim
10.96
11.63
A. Grubb Journal of Sexual Aggression
40
Table 3. Participants’ Perceptions of Similarity to Rape Victim and
Attributions of Blame: Means by Gender and Type of Rape Scenario
_______________________________________________________
Type of rape scenario
_______________________________________________________
Stranger Rape Date Rape Seduction Rape
__________________________________________
M F All M F All M F All
_______________________________________________________
Perceptions of similarity 2.94 5.70 4.76 3.18 4.95 4.42 3.53 3.38 3.43
to rape victima
Perceptions of similarity 2.35 2.09 2.18 3.00 2.03 2.32 3.59 2.13 2.63
to rapista
Attributions of blame to 9.76 7.30 8.14 11.71 10.00 10.51 17.59 15.94 16.51
rape victimb
__________________________________________________________________________________
aItems were scored on a 5-point Likert-type scale ranging from not at
all (1) to completely (5). bScores represent summation of six items
on the questionnaire following the rape scenario. Scores ranged
from 6 to 28.
A. Grubb Journal of Sexual Aggression
41
Table 4. Intercorrelation Matrix: Pearson Correlations Between
Attitudes towards Rape Victim Scores, Perceptions of Similarity and
Attributions of Blame to Rape Victims
Variables
1
2
3
4
1. Attitudes towards
Rape Victims Score
1
-0.17*
0.24**
0.38**
2. Perceptions of
similarity to female
rape victim
1
0.11
-0.24**
3. Perceptions of
similarity to male
rapist
1
0.24**
4. Attributions of blame
to rape victim
1
* p < 0.05. ** p < 0.001.
... Acts that would have been cited as the women's fault or ascribed to "bad manners" on the part of the man twenty years ago, are increasingly being correctly labelled "date rape" (Heise et al., 1996). Grubb and Harrower's (2009) study indicated that when a rapist and victim knew each other in some capacity, university students were more likely to blame the female victim to a greater extent. In their opinion, when there was some previous contact between those involved in the rape, respondents made a shift in how they delegated blame because they understood that relationships often involve miscommunications, and that different interpretation of events are likely to occur. ...
... In their opinion, when there was some previous contact between those involved in the rape, respondents made a shift in how they delegated blame because they understood that relationships often involve miscommunications, and that different interpretation of events are likely to occur. Respondents might have felt that blame needed to be more shared in this type of situation (Grubb & Harrower, 2009). The findings from their study suggested that stranger rape and acquaintance rape need to be treated as distinct phenomena. ...
... Our study's results implied that responsibility and culpability became more muddled once the rapist and rape victim have had some previous contact. The authors concluded that more qualitative work was needed to understand the thinking and reasoning behind attributions made in these two kinds of rape situations (Grubb & Harrower, 2009). In our study, Georgian students also attributed less responsibility to victims when the abuser is a stranger and the victim could not control the situation. ...
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Background : Sexual violence is a complex and pressing social issue that needs urgent solutions. Republic of Georgia is one of those countries where despite some advancements in law and practice, patriarchal beliefs and behaviour patterns still prevail in a daily life. So far, there has not been undertaken an in-depth study on how Georgians and particularly youth, define sexual violence and what are the justifications behind these views. The aim of the research is to understand how Georgian students understand sexual violence, who they think are responsible for sexual violence and what are the underlying reasons behind those views. Method : In total, 37 in-depth interviews have been conducted with Georgian students, from September of 2019 to March of 2021. The study participants were recruited from different universities, including the two biggest cities of Georgia - Tbilisi and Batumi. Results : The research revealed that understanding of sexual violence is far more complex than it was expected. Georgian students define sexual violence as a broad category where sexual harassment and sexual coercion have overlapping and at the same time independent meaning. Interpretation and attribution of responsibility in all three categories are dependent on situations and context that contain not only physical violence but also inappropriate touch, insistent gaze, comments about body parts, sexist insults and discrimination, messages of sexual content, psychological pressure and blackmailing. Attribution of responsibility was equally dependent on personal judgements as well as culturally determined stereotypes. Conclusion: Sexual violence is not a new phenomenon in Georgia, but its consideration as a social problem is. The research demonstrated that understanding and judgment on sexual violence, sexual harassment and sexual coercion is nuanced issue and still needs clear categories of definitions.
... It has been found that men assessing blame tend to blame the victim to a greater extent than women (Grubb and Harrower, 2009), which is explained because women tend to have higher levels of empathy towards rape victims and therefore tend to attribute greater credibility (Jimenez and Abreu, 2003). There are gender differences in the interpretation about certain relationship cues (such as having eye contact with another person, touching, flirting or going home with someone), and as Jozkowski et al. (2018) assert, men perceive these cues as consent to sexual activity, whereas women tend to see them as indicators of sexual interest, but not consent. ...
... When it has been analyzed whether sexual offences are committed by acquaintances or strangers, research presents contradictory results (Grubb and Harrower, 2009); although rape victims who know their attacker are blamed to a greater extent than victims of stranger rape (Strömwall et al., 2013;Persson and Dhingra, 2020). ...
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Several studies have examined victim blaming in rape scenarios. However, there is limited research on the analysis of the perception of blame when two or more perpetrators are involved. The present article explores the perception of blame in cases involving rape based on the level of resistance shown by the victim and the presence of one or more perpetrators. A study was carried out involving 351 university students who responded to a survey after reading a hypothetical assault scenario. Six situations were established where the victim showed either low or high resistance, depending on whether the resistance was verbal or physical and verbal, and in the presence of one or two male perpetrators. It is expected that perpetrators are more culpable when acting in groups and that less resistance from the victim leads to greater attribution of blame. The results confirm that more blame is attributed to the perpetrators when they act in groups than when they act alone. Likewise, women consider the victim generally exerts greater resistance and this variable influences the attribution of greater blame.
... However, other researchers have failed to provide evidence for the linear correlation between closeness and outcome variables. For example, some researchers found that observers' perceptions of the victim and the perpetrator did not differ by the type of relationship (Simonson & Subich, 1999), and others reported that observers blamed the victim more and the perpetrator less in acquaintance than in date rape scenarios (Bendixen et al., 2014;Frese et al., 2004;Grubb & Harrower, 2009). Based on these inconsistencies, we did not make an explicit hypothesis about the differences in observer perceptions between acquaintance and date rape. ...
... For victim blame, people were more inclined to blame the victim of acquaintance than date rape. Although these findings are similar to those of two previous studies (Bendixen et al., 2014;Grubb & Harrower, 2009), it is worth noting that the difference in victim blame in these two cited studies may owe to a confounding factor. In their scenarios, the acquaintance rape victim actively flirted with the perpetrator, whereas the date rape victim did not, which may confound the effects of victim-perpetrator relationship and victims' flirting behavior. ...
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Rape victims are frequently blamed for their own victimization, which adds to their psychological distress. However, Chinese scholars have generally not paid attention to the public’s attitudes toward, and attributions for, rape. In this study, we explored the effects of gender, rape myth acceptance, and situational factors (victim-perpetrator relationship, victim resistance, victim reporting) on rape attributions among Chinese observers. A sample of 1,011 participants from the Chinese community completed a series of questionnaires after reading one of 12 vignettes. Our results indicated that the relationship between gender and victim blame was moderated by reporting and suppressed by rape myth acceptance, while the relationship between gender and perpetrator blame was mediated by rape myth acceptance. In addition, both higher rape myth acceptance and non-stranger rape can increase victim blame and decrease perpetrator blame. We also found interactions between rape myth acceptance and resistance and between reporting and the victim-perpetrator relationship. These results suggest that it is critical to investigate the complex interplay between individual and situational factors that influence rape attributions. Rape attributions showed both cross-cultural consistency and patterns unique to the Chinese context, and our evidence provides ideas for reducing the negative social reaction of the public to rape victims.
... Asimismo, se añadió una respuesta abierta (¿Hay algún elemento en particular que lo lleve a dudar del relato de la víctima?) y un espacio opcional para expresar comentarios sobre el contenido de los casos. Este diseño de casos ha sido empleado en otras investigaciones (Duff y Tostevin, 2015;Eyssel y Bohner, 2011;Grubb y Harrower, 2009;Lee et al., 2012). ...
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... Another possible explanation for our findings could be that women and those with a history of victimization are more empathetic towards individuals who have experienced sexual violence (Anderson et al., 2021;Grubb & Harrower, 2009;Osman, 2011). Thus, it is possible that we found no difference in how acknowledged and unacknowledged rape victims viewed the vignette, as participant empathy outweighed the influence of rape culture when reading the vignette. ...
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... There was strong support for Hypothesis 3, such that male participants were less supportive of the plaintiff than female participants. This is a common finding in legal decision-making research investigating victimization ranging from child sexual abuse (Bottoms et al., 2007;Font, 2013;Golding et al., 2020a;Quas et al., 2002), to adult sexual violence (see Grubb & Harrower, 2009 for a review), to elder physical abuse (Golding et al., 2005). This finding adds to the extant literature wherein participant gender can influence verdicts rendered in an emotional abuse context. ...
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... As such, social distance may influence attitudes toward both (sex) crime victims and offenders. For instance, Grubb and Harrower (2009) demonstrated that female rape victims were attributed more blame when participants feel more similar to the male perpetrators and dissimilar to the victims. These findings are in line with Shaver's (1970) work on defensive attribution, which predicts that observers who see themselves as similar to victims will attribute less blame to victims and more to contextual or situational factors. ...
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The paper describes the construction of a 25-item Attitudes toward Rape Victims Scale (ARVS) designed to assess favorable and unfavorable attitudes with particular emphasis on victim blame, credibility, deservingness, denigration, and trivialization. Normative data are presented as well as the results of various psychometric analyses based on four independent studies and a variety of samples including university students, doctors, lawyers, social workers, psychologists, and police in Singapore, and university students in the United States. These analyses confirm the ARVS's reliability, validity and cross-cultural suitability. As attitudes toward rape victims have been implicated in the quality of victim care in legal, medical, and social spheres, it is proposed that the ARVS provides a valuable tool for applied research in victimology.