Under the Hood

Rape Reporting Hampered By Traditional Beliefs About Masculinity

Both witnesses and victims are uncertain about reporting rape if they have traditional beliefs and assumptions about masculinity, according to researchers at Binghamton University, New York.

Their recent study titled "Person- and Incident-Level Predictors of Blame, Disclosure, and Reporting to Authorities in Rape Scenarios" was published in the Journal of Interpersonal Violence on Aug. 23.

The research team recruited over 900 college students, both male and female. The participants were instructed to read a series of descriptions revolving around a clear incident of rape. Overall, there were three kinds of scenarios depicted — rape perpetrated by a man against a woman, by a man against a man, or by a woman against a man.

After this, the participants were asked to rate the "blameworthiness" i.e. how much blame they would attribute to both perpetrator and victim. They were also asked to put themselves in the place of the victim and rate the likelihood of them informing people they know about the rape as well as reporting it to authorities.

Many participants seemed to be on the fence about disclosing the incident to others, even with scenarios that could unambiguously be considered rape. In general, male and heterosexual participants were found more likely to blame victims, less likely to blame perpetrators, and less likely to disclose the incident.

According to the research team, a pattern was found among those who endorsed traditional beliefs and assumptions about men and masculinity. This was thought to be the basis for how they perceived the scenarios. For instance, blaming the victim was more of a likelihood if the description involved a woman raping a man rather than the other way around.

These traditional masculinity beliefs increased expectations of men having to act more stereotypically masculine, something which could facilitate victim-blaming by making assumptions that men should always enjoy sex or associate feelings of shame in being a male victim. 

"In part, this was because those endorsing such ideologies blamed victims more and minimized the responsibility of the perpetrators. However, the overall pattern of effects suggest a more complex picture in which different aspects of the masculine gender role might relate to underreporting for different reasons," said corresponding author Richard Mattson, an associate professor of psychology at Binghamton University.

Even when we take a look at the relevant research, most tend to focus on male perpetrators who assault female victims while little is known about male-on-male assault and female perpetrators in general. 

"Our findings suggest that challenging belief systems and cultural narratives about rape that exonerate perpetrators - particularly those related to gender and sexual orientation - may help to increase the reporting of rapes, which has implications for both public safety and the support and resources available to, and accessed by, victims of rape," Mattson added.