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“Should Have Known Better than to Fraternize with a Black Man”: Structural Racism Intersects Rape Culture to Intensify Attributions of Acquaintance Rape Victim Culpability


Rape culture is characterized by prevalent rape of women by male acquaintances, which is exacerbated in the aftermath by negative social responses including attributions of victim culpability. In prior research, collaborators and I found that, consistent with norm theory, perceiving sociolegal context as unclear and ineffective in expressing that rape of women is a crime (vs. perceiving that law clearly and effectively expresses that rape is a crime) paradoxically intensified negative reactions and culpability attributions toward a woman raped by a male acquaintance. In the current research, I tested the hypothesis that, amidst rape culture, structural racism—in particular, disparate hypersexuality stereotyping of Black men—paradoxically would intensify attributions of victim culpability toward a woman raped by a Black male acquaintance. In Study 1, 268 students at a university in the Southern United States stereotyped Black men and Black women as more hypersexual than same-gender counterparts of other races/ethnicities. In Study 2, 238 students from the same university attributed more culpability to an acquaintance rape victim whose perpetrator was Black (vs. perpetrators of other races/ethnicities), and this effect resulted in part from rape-propensity stereotyping that was disparately activated by the Black perpetrator. Taken together, the present research highlights that intersectional dynamics do not work exclusively within members of particular groups, where marginalized identities coincide, but also in the contextual space that invisibly but undeniably affects people’s lives. Suggestions for combatting rape culture, structural racism, and their intersections are discussed.

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The present research was supported by a Faculty Research Grant to the author from the Office of Research and Sponsored Programs, Sam Houston State University, author’s affiliation during study design and data collection. The author thanks Di Wang, Tamika Backstrom, Erika Canales, Joanna Shaw-Rose, Emily Kennedy, Tasha Menaker, Jason Duncan, Antoinette King, Brittany Lee, and Jennifer Ratcliff for their various contributions to this research. Portions have been published in abstracted form at annual meetings of the Society for Personality and Social Psychology and American Psychology-Law Society.

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Correspondence to Audrey K. Miller.

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Research involving human participants was approved by an Institutional Review Board.

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Miller, A.K. “Should Have Known Better than to Fraternize with a Black Man”: Structural Racism Intersects Rape Culture to Intensify Attributions of Acquaintance Rape Victim Culpability. Sex Roles 81, 428–438 (2019).

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  • Structural racism
  • Racist stereotypes
  • Rape culture
  • Acquaintance rape
  • Victim culpability attributions
  • Norm theory
  • Context effects
  • Intersectionality
  • Feminist moral philosophy