Societal Responses to Sexual Violence Against Women: Rape Myths and the “Real Rape” Stereotype
Sexual violence is an omnipresent threat to women’s sexual well-being, physical and mental health all over the world. In addition to the impact of the victimization experience itself, many survivors are faced with negative social reactions when they disclose it to third parties, which amount to a form of secondary victimization and differ from reactions toward victims of other forms of violent crime. Negative reactions and stereotypic judgments about victims of sexual violence can also be found to operate in the legal handling of sexual violence allegations, playing a part in the widely observed “justice gap” for victims of sexual assault. This chapter examines the role of stereotypes and myths about rape in understanding societal responses to survivors of sexual violence. After presenting prevalence rates of sexual assault worldwide, the process of attrition is examined, from the occurrence of a sexual assault to the potential conviction of a perpetrator in a court trial. A large body of international research shows that attrition may be linked to the influence of extra-legal factors, particularly the tendency to blame the victim and exonerate the perpetrator, which reflect socially shared myths and stereotypes about rape. Evidence will be presented showing the impact of rape myths and stereotypes on the handling of rape complaints by members of the criminal justice system and by the general public. The chapter concludes with a review of potential strategies for challenging rape myths and stereotypes and reducing their influence in the criminal justice system.
KeywordsSexual Assault Police Officer Criminal Justice System Sexual Violence Secondary Victimization
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