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Status, Threat, and Stereotypes: Understanding the Function of Rape Myth Acceptance

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Abstract

This study applied system justification theory to understand the function of rape myth acceptance. Participants read a rape scenario that manipulated the difference in status between the perpetrator and victim, as well as the potential threat to perpetrator as depicted by whom the victim told about the rape. People’s opposition to equality and gender separately and together predicted rape myth acceptance. People with higher opposition to equality reported less rape myth acceptance when a higher-status perpetrator got away with rape than when he was reported to police. Conversely, people with lower opposition to equality reported more rape myth acceptance when the higher-status perpetrator got away with rape. People’s opposition to equality and gender interacted such that men with lower opposition to equality also reported more rape myth acceptance when the equal- and lower-status perpetrator got away with rape. Gender predicted rape myth acceptance such that when the lower-status perpetrator was reported to the police, women reported more rape myth acceptance whereas men reported less rape myth acceptance. This is the first study to show that rape myth acceptance is malleable and strategically motivated. These findings have implications for not only understanding rape myth acceptance, but also other ideologies that explain unethical behavior by advantaged groups.

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Acknowledgements

This study was part of a larger study that was conducted as a dissertation for the clinical psychology graduate program at Marquette University. The results were presented at the annual meeting of the Midwestern Psychological Association (2011, May). The authors thank Kristine Nichols, Brian Forman, Britney Parish, Kelly Brutto, Molly Arenburg, Lillian Figg-Franzoi, Kelly McClendon, and Alicia Ali for their assistance with data collection.

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Correspondence to Kristine M. Chapleau.

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Chapleau, K.M., Oswald, D.L. Status, Threat, and Stereotypes: Understanding the Function of Rape Myth Acceptance. Soc Just Res 26, 18–41 (2013). https://doi.org/10.1007/s11211-013-0177-z

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