Examining Rape Allegations On Women Victims Criminology Essay

Published: Last Edited:

This essay has been submitted by a student. This is not an example of the work written by our professional essay writers.

During 2007/08 the police recorded 11,648 instances of rape against a female, 1,006 against a male and over 24,000 other sexual offences (Kershaw, Nicholas and Walker 2008) and with one in four women reported to be the victim of rape or attempted rape at some point during their life (Painter 1991), it is a much debated topic within public policy and academia. Yet, research indicates that only around 9% of reported rapes end in conviction (Lees and Gregory 1993) and some suggest this figure may be as low as 5% (Lea et al 2003 cited in Kelly, Lovett and Regan 2005), significantly lower than in 1980 (Geoghegan 2007). This, combined with the fact that research indicates that as few as 6% of those who experience rape report it to the police (Faizey 1994), illustrates that the overwhelming majority of offenders fail to face conviction. These statistics are supported by studies whihc found that victims of rape, more than those experiencing other types of crime, had an increased likelihood of keeping their victimization hidden (Koss 1992) and others have asserted that it is the fear of being blamed and not believed that prevents victims from reporting the offence (Walker, Archer and Davis 2005, Calhoun and Townsley 1991 cited in Stormo, Lang and Stritzke 1997). This fear may not be totally unfounded due to the fact that numerous studies have shown that rape victims are likely to be blamed, at least partially, for the assault (Sinclair and Bourne 1998) and this can have profound detrimental impacts. Recovering from rape is a difficult and emotional process (Smith and Kelly 2001) and the notion that observers hold the victim responsible, even partially, means that they are more likely to blame themselves for the events and this can be extremely harmful in terms of this recovery. This is powerfully highlighted by Frazier and Schauben (1994) who found that both behavioural and characterological self blame were associated with poorer recovery. Similarly, Kubany et al (1995) demonstrated that trauma related guilt showed a positive correlation to conditions such as post-traumatic stress disorder, depression and suicide. Hence, it is obvious that attribution of blame victims in cases of rape has potentially significant and severe detrimental consequences. Such findings and assertions, combined with Fortune's (1983) observation that whether or not this psychological damage experienced by a victim becomes permanent is strongly influenced by the response of those around the victim, consequently emphasise that research into the area of blame attribution with regard to cases of rape is of vital importance.

Male Victims and Victimology.

Despite the area of rape becoming increasingly prominent within academia and policy, male victims are predominately neglected by the gendered nature of looking at the phenomenon (Graham 2006). This is emphasised by Nielsen's (1983) reports that, until the 1980s, the pronoun used in the cases of sexual assault was almost exclusively 'she' and Sivakumaran's (2005) further asserts that there is an "international silence" (p.1274) on the issue of male rape victims. However, despite a lack of attention, research suggests that more than 3% of adult males in the United Kingdom experience unwanted sexual experiences during their lifetime (Coxell et al 1999) and the figures of recorded male rape victims since 1995 simultaneously mirror those of female victims prior to the 1950s (Howitt 2009), hence, suggesting that as records become more established this number may dramatically increase. The stigma attached to male rape victims is also reported to be even higher than that experienced by females (Mezey and King 1992 cited in Gregory and Lees 1999) and this is further reinforced by findings that overall male victims are viewed more negatively than females (Whatley and Riggio1993), and less likely to report the crime (Abbey et al 2001). All these factors consequently highlight the urgent need for further research into this area.

This neglect of male rape victims is representative of criminology's stance of viewing males and masculinity within society. Despite the fact that men outnumber women as both offenders and, crucially, victims (Smith 2005), particularly of violent crime (Hollway and Jefferson 2000), men are overwhelmingly conceptualised in criminology as perpetrators of crime and women as victims and this conceptualisation assumes there is a clear distinction between the two (Newburn and Stanko 1995). This is evident in the fact that within the discipline, discussions of masculinity and males are, in general, focussed upon men's criminality at the severe neglect of their victimization (Stanko and Hobdell 2000). In all societies 'manhood' and 'womanhood' are represented and portrayed in different ways (Oakley 1972) and, in late modern societies, masculinity is seen to be characterised and personified by a male who is tough, active and shows no fear or emotion (Connell 1987). This representation in turn leads to males themselves also resisting the label of being a 'victim' for fear of this being in conflict with society's, and indeed their own, ideas on masculinity (Owen 1995).

Consequently, whilst sexual victimisation among women has come to been seen as almost an 'everyday' experience (Stanko 1990), it wasn't until the 1970s that the topic of 'male rape' even emerged (Scacco 1982) and still now there is much less literature, theory and research available on the issue. This point is reinforced by the fact that it is only recently that the definition of rape has been widened to include non-consensual penetration of the anus and before this change in the law, whilst rape and non-consensual buggery of a woman carried a twenty-five year prison sentence, non-consensual buggery of a man held the punishment of just ten years imprisonment (Selfe and Burke 2001). The new aspect of the law was introduced by the Criminal Justice and Public Order Act 1994 (which came into effect in January 1995) (Rumney and Morgan-Taylor 1997) and the first successful conviction was witnessed in June 1995 (Rogers 1995). Yet, the treatment of male rape allegations by the criminal justice system has received very little attention from any angle (Rumney 2001) despite the fact that during the first year the law was introduced a conviction rate of less than 3% was achieved (Gregory and Lees 1999). This low conviction rate is consistent with the belief that a change in the law will be relatively ineffective if it is not simultaneously matched by a change in the assumptions and attitudes of those individuals who are given the responsibility to enforce the law, i.e. the general population (Lowe 1984). Such research and observations therefore uphold and support the widely held view that male rape is an under-investigated phenomenon (Anderson and Quinn 2009) and that this issue needs to be addressed order to benefit not only victims but also to inform, direct and educate individuals, policy and academia.

Hence, there is a substantial, severe and widespread neglect of male victims within the fields of rape and criminology as a whole. However, the limited amount of research available concerning male rape victims draws attention to a few crucial points. Findings have suggested that, in line with conclusions relating to female victims, male survivors consistently display much poorer psychological functioning as a result of the assault, displaying much lower levels of self worth and self esteem (Archer, Davies and Walker 2005). Hence, this highlights the need to address the issue of blame attribution so that victims can receive the appropriate support without fear of unsympathetic treatment and blame for the assault. In addition to this, males have also been posited to have been socialised into seeing themselves as invulnerable from an attack and subsequently, along with the other outlined consequences, the experience of rape, for males, threatens their view of their place in the world which until that point had traditionally been defined by and in terms of their masculinity (Fortune 1983). Homosexual male victims have also been found to be attributed more responsibility than heterosexual victims (Mitchell, Hirschman and Hall 1999), further reinforcing the notion that other factors, such as sexual orientation, can drastically alter the judgement of individuals (Anderson 2004). Other such factors that have also been found to represent important misconceptions surrounding males as victims of rape are those such as how a man could fail to adequately defend himself or how he could achieve an erection in such a situation (Anderson and Doherty 2008 cited in Anderson and Quinn 2009). All these factors suggest that males are likely to experience a high level of blame attribution and, as illustrated earlier, this holds the potential to lead to severe detrimental consequences therefore emphasising the urgent need to address this issue.

Theories of Blame Attribution.

The need for individuals to posit blame is based on "the proposition that individuals have a basic need for causality that is rooted in their desire to understand their world" (Temkin and Krahe 2008, p.42). Concurrently, as this need for casual explanations is even more prominent when events are unexpected or result in negative outcomes (Weiner 1985), individuals are almost certain to attribute blame when accounting for an instance of rape. The attribution of blame in cases of rape has been theorised and accounted for in relation to two specific and prominent hypotheses; the Just World hypothesis and Defensive Attribution theory. The Just World hypothesis, developed by Lerner (1965), asserts that individuals have a need to believe in a 'just world' and that people get what they deserve, i.e. good things happen to good people and bad events must happen because individuals deserve that outcome for being 'bad'. Consequently, this theory postulates that individuals engage in blaming rape victims, and endorse rape myths (Ford et al 1998), in order to maintain this view of the world. This theory has been extensively investigated with regard to victim blame (Furnham 2003) and received a high level of support (e.g. Whatley and Riggio 1993). The theory has also been found to be applicable in relation to a variety of victim types such as accident victims and HIV patients (Hafer and Begue 2005) in addition to rape victims, displaying its widespread implications and affect. Defensive attribution theory, put forward by Shaver (1970), differs from the Just World hypothesis as it posits that individuals distort their view of the offender's and the victim's roles in an event depending on their perceived similarity to either the victim or the offender (Herzog 2008) and this in turn is affects the consequential placement of blame. This distortion and subsequent blame attribution process, the theory asserts, theoretically, serves to protect an individual's belief that they would be afforded the same leniency and empathy (Chaikin and Darley 1973). Hence, in the case of rape the more similar a person perceives himself or herself to the victim, the less blame they are expected to attribute them in order to maintain the belief that they too would not be blamed in the same situation.

In terms of applying these two major theories surrounding blame attribution to rape scenarios, they suggest that different results might be found. The Just World hypothesis suggests that the level of blame attributed to male victims will be dependent on the observer's strength of belief in a 'just world' rather than the gender of the victim or the type of rape being depicted. This reflects the core tenant of the theory; that individuals engage in blaming solely to maintain their belief that the world is a 'fair' place. Defensive Attribution theory, in contrast, suggests that there will be discrepancies in the level of blame attached to various depicted victims. In this case, the more similar a participant perceives themselves to be to the victim the less blame they will be expected to attribute to them as this theory is based on the premise that individuals blame others significantly less if they consider themselves potentially subject to the same process and judgement in the future. Therefore, as women fear becoming a victim of rape more than any other crime (Hickman and Muehlenhard 1997) and to a much greater extent than males (Warr 1985, Fisher and Sloan 2003) they might be expected to identify more with the victims of rape and therefore attribute less responsibility to the depicted victims. Similarly, there is generally a much greater fear associated with becoming a victim of crime committed by a stranger in comparison to an acquaintance (Wilcox, Jordan and Pritchard 2006) and such fear is associated with an increased perceived likelihood of being raped (O'Donovan, Devilly and Rapee 2007). Subsequently these factors may lead to a reduced level of blame being levelled at victims of stranger rape as individuals perceive themselves to be at an increased risk of finding themselves in the same situation and therefore subject to the same judgements.

Often drawing upon these theories, it is widely cited that situational variables and the characteristics of the victim are also influential when judgements are made in terms of blame (Rye, Greatrix and Enright 2006). Factors such as the consumption of alcohol by the victim prior to the attack are consistently shown to increase the level of blame attributed to victims (Stormo, Lang and Stritzke 1997). Similarly, the degree of resistance exhibited by the victim (Yescavage 1999), the type of clothing worn (Workman and Freeburg 1999) and the victim's sexual history (L'Armand and Pepitone 1982) have all been demonstrated to affect the level of blame attributed to rape victims. Furthermore, in addition to the characteristics of the victim, much research has also focused on the influence of the observer's gender and the type of rape experienced or depicted (seduction, date or stranger). These have consistently been found to be highly significant, and will form the focus of the current research as they remain severely underdeveloped in relation to male victims.

Observer Gender.

In relation to both male and female victims of rape, research consistently highlights that the perception of the victim and the subsequent attribution of blame is mediated and influenced by the characteristics of the observer. The gender of the observer is one such characteristic which has been extensively researched in order to determine its effect on the attribution of blame. In a review of the research considering female victims, Grubb and Harrower (2008) concluded that, in general, women attribute less blame to the victim than men, often posited to be linked to men's increased propensity to believe in rape myths, such as 'she brought it on herself' (Burt 1980), in comparison to women (Johnson, Kuck and Schander 1997). In a simulated rape trial it was also reported that females were more likely to support a guilty verdict than male participants (Fischer 1991). Similarly, although there is limited research available on male victims, some studies have suggested that male observers blame both male and female victims more than their female counterparts (Anderson and Lyons 2005). The findings that males make harsher judgements towards victims have also been demonstrated to stretch beyond the general public to include, among others, professions which regularly come into contact with such victims. Brown and King (1998), for instance, illustrated that female police officers consistently harboured more positive attitudes towards victims than their male counterparts.

Social psychologists often draw upon Social Identity Theory (Capozza 2000) to explain this apparent gender difference. This theory posits that individuals tend to hold more positive attitudes, and consequently make more favourable judgements, towards members of their in group (Abrams 1990). Therefore, as men are postulated to identify more with the offender in a rape scenario (Popovich et al 1995) and women are considered to empathise more with the victim, women are hypothesised to attribute less responsibility to victims of rape. This postulation is supported by studies which have indeed found that, in general, males do empathise less with victims (Sinclair and Bourne 1998, Jimenez and Abreu 2003) which subsequently predicts less favourable attitudes to victims.

Another crucial factor which attention has been drawn to, in this area, are the gender differences surrounding the issue of consent. Men and women have consistently been found to "frequently misinterpret the intent of various dating behaviours and erotic play" (Weiner 1993 p.147 cited in McGregor 2005) and concurrently, men have been found to possess different conceptualisations of what actually constitutes rape (Clark and Carroll 2008). Indicative of this point is the demonstration that men, to a greater extent than women, have been found to believe that consent had been given when it hadn't (McGregor 2005). This was powerfully highlighted in study which reported that, in simulated rape cases, males assigned higher 'consent ratings' to all conditions than female participants (Harris and Weiss 1995) and, in a similar manner, men have been found to have a greater acceptance of casual sex (Lenton and Bryan 2005). Hence, males may attribute less blame to a perpetrator of a sexual offence owing to the fact that they believe consent was given.

However, not all studies have revealed the same findings in relation to observer gender. Acock and Ireland's (1983) and Krahe's (1988) findings, for example, contradict the outlined trends as they reported no difference in the attribution of blame between male and female participants towards a female victim. In a similar manner, many studies dispute the finding that male observers blame male victims more than female observers (Anderson 1999, Idisis, Ben-David and Ben-Nachum 2007). A recent study also reported findings than females actually blamed victims more than males with 71% of females asserting that victims should take responsibility if they got into bed with a man compared to just 57% of males (BBC 2010). In relation to the simulated rape trial research outlined previously in which females were reportedly more likely to support a guilty verdict (Fischer 1991), it was also found that it was not until females represented an overwhelming majority (10 to 2) that an increase in guilty verdicts were returned (Fischer 1997). Therefore, more research and clarification is clearly necessary as there is far from a consensus or the required depth of research on this issue.

Type of Rape.

The type of rape experienced or depicted has received much attention in terms of its effect on the level of responsibility assigned to victims. Although there are exceptions (e.g. Bolt and Caswell 1981), Grubb and Harrower (2008), in their review, found that female victims who were acquainted with their attacker were, in general, subject to significantly harsher judgements than victims of stranger rape. A research study also, worryingly, revealed findings that more than a third of people believe a victim should accept at least partial responsibility for an assault if they flirted with the perpetrator (Amnesty International 2005) and observers have similarly been demonstrated to rate an incident of rape with less severity the more acquainted a victim is with the perpetrator (Ben-David and Schneider 2005). Such findings are in line with the widely acknowledged opinion that victims of stranger and acquaintance rape can expect very different responses from observers (Abrams, Masser and Viki 2004). Subsequently, as it is almost universally cited that the majority of victims know their attacker before the offence (Cowling 1998), with some findings suggesting that as few as 8% of rapes involving female victims are committed by perpetrators not known to the victim (Howitt 2009), if these victims are being attributed a larger proportion of the blame, this represents an extremely large percentage being subjected to such unfavourable judgements.

Although there is a severe lack of research into whether the type of rape experienced by male victims effects the level of blame they are attributed, if the trends are the same as in the cases of female victims this is again worrying due to the fact that it is reported that as few as 30% of male rapes are carried out by perpetrators not previously known to the victim (Gregory and Lees 1999). Some research suggests that males who are victims of date or seduction rape are likely to be attributed a larger proportion of blame, due to the nature of the attack differing most extremely from what is considered to be the 'real rape' scenario (Temkin and Krahe 2008). This stereotypical 'real rape' scenario consists of a victim, almost universally female, being subjected to an attack by a stranger in an outdoor location with the application of high levels of force and physical violence from which the victim physically tries to restrain her attacker in vain (Krahe 1992). As many observe, this stereotype is at odds with the factual evidence relating to actual incidences of rape (Fisher, Cullen and Daigle 2005), yet, it has been demonstrated that the more a specific experience or occurrence of rape differs from this depicted 'real rape' scenario, the smaller the number of people who are prepared to accept the incident as rape (Burt and Albin 1981). Worryingly, police officers were also found to uphold and actually endorse this 'real rape' stereotype (Rose and Randall 1982). Consequently, in terms of male victims, particularly those experiencing date and seduction rape, the vast majority of experiences differ vastly and sometimes entirely from the 'real rape' scenario in terms of gender and the actual incident. This means that if general public opinion does indeed follow this pattern of assessment of rape then the chances of a successful prosecution may be very low, as "jurors do not leave their long held attitudes behind in the cloakroom when they enter a court of law" (Temkin and Krahe 2008 p.69). Consequently, clarification into the general level of blame attributed to victims may help to assess the level to which this stereotypical view is adhered to and accepted or dispelled.

Many other factors which have been considered, theorised and researched (mainly in relation to female victims) would also seem to suggest that male victims who are acquainted with their attacker may be more likely to be the subject of harsher judgements. Stranger rape is posited, for example, to not call into question the nature of the victim's behaviour because there has been no prior interaction between the offender and the victim (Katz 1991), therefore the issue of consent is not blurred. Further to this point, date and seduction rape "occur in a social context where consensual sex is a possibility whereas in stranger rape, sex is generally out of context" (Bechhofer and Parrot 1991 p.10). Consequently, an incident involving an acquaintance may be less likely to be labelled as rape as it may not fit with an individual's "rape script" (Littleton and Axsom 2003) and subsequently a perpetrator may be held less responsible and more blame directed towards the victim. This combination of factors is posited to contribute to potentially harsher judgements of victims of acquaintance rape. Hence, the lack of attention towards the effect of the type of rape experienced by male victims on the level of attributed blame combined with the severe detrimental consequences of such attribution highlights the integral and significant need to address this gap in the research.

Hence, past research has demonstrated and emphasised that responsibility and blame are often attributed, at least in part, to victims of sexual crime with detrimental consequences. It is illustrated that such judgements and attributions can be a function of gender, (of both the victim and observer of the crime), characteristics of the assault and also characteristics of both the victim and observer. The purpose of the current study is to investigate the first two of these factors with a specific focus on male victims as research highlights that this is a severely neglected area within the field. Specifically, the study is aimed at assessing whether, the gender of the observer is related to the level of blame attributed to male victims and whether the type of rape depicted is an influential factor. These points will be investigated by way of participants completing a short questionnaire following a written vignette depicting a rape scenario and this should provide vital insight into the levels of blame experienced by different victims of rape and the factors which impact on this blame, which may consequently help to better direct policy, practice and education.