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Rape Myths: History, Individual and Institutional-Level Presence, and Implications for Change

Abstract

Rape myths, which are present at both the individual and institutional/societal levels, are one way in which sexual violence has been sustained and justified throughout history. In light of an increasing accumulation of rape myth research across a variety of disciplines, this paper proposes to use a feminist lens to provide an overview of the historical origins of rape myths, to document the current manifestations of these myths in American society, and to summarize the current body of research literature. We focus on the history of several specific rape myths (i.e., “husbands cannot rape their wives,” “women enjoy rape,” “women ask to be raped,” and “women lie about being raped”) and how these particular myths permeate current legal, religious, and media institutions (despite their falsehood). The paper concludes with suggestions for further research and describes how existing evidence could be used to aid in eradicating rape myths at both the individual and institutional levels.

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Acknowledgments

The authors would like to thank Joanne Archambault, Alan Berkowitz, Sharon Block, Renae Franiuk, Estelle Freedman, Katherine Jellison, Jessica Mindlin, Sarah Projanksy, Diane Sommerville, Kim Stevenson, and Tracy West for their expert consultation and editorial assistance. The authors would also like to thank the anonymous reviewers for their invaluable suggestions.

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Edwards, K.M., Turchik, J.A., Dardis, C.M. et al. Rape Myths: History, Individual and Institutional-Level Presence, and Implications for Change. Sex Roles 65, 761–773 (2011). https://doi.org/10.1007/s11199-011-9943-2

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Keywords

  • Rape myths
  • Rape
  • Sexual assault
  • Review
  • History