One myth about sex crimes is that a woman is more likely to be raped by stranger than someone she knows. This myth is supported by the false idea that crimes are committed by one type of people, criminals. When in reality there is no group of people that are criminals because every community has crime regardless of class, race, gender, and sexuality. The same is true with rape. According to the FBI’s Uniformed Crime Report 2009 data, “Every two minutes someone in the U.S. is sexually assaulted.” This fact with the help of the media, political policies and cultural norms would have citizens believe that these attacks are being committed by strangers on the street corner late at night and could have been avoided, if the woman was safe in her home or not dressed sexy.
One reason the general public believes in the rape myth is because of the idea of the justice and economics. Our “social perceptions are often tainted by personal need…to view the world as just place in which you get what you deserve” (Hammond 244). This thinking puts blame on the victim and not the attacker. The women must have done something to instigate the assault; otherwise the stranger wouldn’t have attacked her. If the women that are assaulted are seen as an innocent victims, others would have to come to terms with the idea that they are vulnerable too. The belief that victims are only assaulted by strangers gives individuals a sense of control. They can be safe, if they avoid being alone with strangers. The fact that victims are innocent, but vulnerable to things out of their control disproves the idea that the world is just and functions economically. Individuals need to believe in the rape myth because “a myth is a way of making sense in a senseless world” (Ryan 774).
Another reason individuals believe in the stranger rape myth is because of educational, legal, medical institution support the myth. Children are taught to not talk to strangers and be afraid of them. At a young age strangers are already seen as a threat. When doctors, cops and lawyers discuss sexual assaults “they will rarely label it as ‘rape’ if it does not approximate the stranger rape stereotype” (Anderson 226). In court, a rape case has a higher probability of conviction if it follows the stereotypes of the rape myth.
“Rape expresses the essence of patriarchal relationships” (Martinez 152). According to feminist perspectives, men benefit from rape myths. “Rape myths…serve to deny and justify male sexual aggression against women” (Ryan 774). The myth that rape is committed by strangers against women of low moral character benefits the patriarchal and religious structures in our society. “Those who hold more conservative sexual attitudes tend to view women as subservient to men and to be more accepting of rape myths” (Hammond 243). Rape myths that blame victims and ignore the majority of rapists continue to keep women in a lower position and inferior to men. These ideas about women’s inferiority and support of rape myths were present in the 2012 U.S. Senate elections. Republican Representative of Missouri, Todd Akin, believes that if pregnancy is a result of a rape that woman wasn’t really raped. Todd Akin told reporters, “If it’s a legitimate rape, the female body has ways to try to shut the whole thing down” (Moore 1). President Obama responded to the comment by taking a feminist stance by calling Akin’s comment “an example of why politicians should not make health care decisions for women” (Moore 1). The idea of questioning what is or isn’t legitimate rape reinforces the real rape script that shapes the rape myth. “The real rape script involves a sudden and physically violent attack on an unsuspecting woman, usually by a stranger. The woman is alone at the time of the attack” (Ryan 776). Any other sexual assault that does not fit into that script isn’t seen as legitimate rape and that victim’s experience is silenced and trivialized. Men tend to believe in rape myths more than women because of man’s lack of identification with victims. Women are more likely to be raped or know other women who have been raped, which allows them to empathize with victims. Men have apathy because men are not sexualized or associated with their bodies the way women are. “Not only do men agree with rape myths more than women, they also empathize less with the victims than women, blame the victims and hold less tolerant attitudes towards victims” (Anderson 228). The inability for males to identify with rape victims can influence how policies regarding sexual crimes are formed in government agencies, and how sexual crimes are discussed in the media in our patriarchal society. “The fear of rape keeps women off the streets at night. Keeps women at home” (Martinez 1530. The fear of stranger rape is used as tool for voluntary consent and conformity to the patriarchy by women passive and out of the public sphere.
Some feminist critics blame the media for supporting rape myths and rape culture. “The media shapes public opinion about sexual violence and its perpetrators” (O’Hara 248). Film and television programs express the idea that “sex defines masculinity, heterosexual men objectify women and heterosexual men are sexually preoccupied” (Ryan 779). These gender norms define men as individuals that use women as sexual objects and women as submissive sexual objects. These ideas of gender are most present in pornography. “Pornography is correlated with sexual coercion and…Rape myth acceptance” (Ryan 779). Hardcore pornography uses plots of rape fantasies of submissive women happily waiting to be raped and men performing aggressive and violent sexual acts with force and coercion. Media images influence how public discourse of rape and sexual assault are shaped in our society. “Misleading representations of sexual violence may cause the public, police, and members of the court to revert to these understandings when establishing definitions of rape” (O’Hara 257). The majority of the news coverage of rape and other sex crimes tend to focus on the criminal and the shocking nature of the crime in order to get more viewers. When the victim is mentioned, the media “does not address the harm done to the victim” (O’Hara 252). The victim is disregarded in most news coverage, or at least depersonalized. The victim becomes just an object that this monstrous thing attacked, making it seem like a random senseless act. The media use the monstrous rapist motif to sell their stories. This reinforces the idea that rapists are “sick emotional disturbed men” (O’Hara 250). The news media helps silence the threat of rape because it “regularly described (rapists) as “beasts” or “perverts” and distanced from “ordinary” men” (O’Hara 248). The news media only focuses on the most sensational cases to attract the most viewers and make high advertisement revenue. “When rape is sensationalized by the press, the perpetrator is transformed into an ‘other’,” which makes women more vulnerable to more common forms of rape (O’Hara 251). The sensationalism stranger, gang rapes, and serial rapists news coverage cause the public’s knowledge and interests in more common types of rape committed by people the victim knows. “The news media gives disproportionate coverage to certain types of rape, which can cause the public to have an overly narrow understanding of rape that excludes the most common type of rape, acquaintance rape” ( O’Hara 250).
Believing in the rape myth puts more women at risk of rape and sexual assault because it ignores the reality of sex crimes and the majority of sex criminals. Women are focused on avoiding stranger rape to the point that they ignore their vulnerability of being assaulted by someone they know. “Fear of rape is assessed as fear of real rape (stranger rape), not fear of acquaintance rape” (Ryan 777). Acquaintance rape is often interrupted as only a miscommunication issue and not real rape. On college campuses, “many administrators and officials think sexual assault is less a violent crime than it is a misunderstanding about consent between two students. That fuzzy area, often referred to as gray rape” (Jones 3). The situation is describe by victims and victimizers as the male receiving mixed signals and going too far, while the women negotiates what she is willing to do sexually to avoid force. This is interrupted as compromise based on gender roles. “Men believe in a yes/ no form of consent, whereas women may see consent as negotiated through an ongoing process that involves a series of gates, in which they are willing to do some things but not others” (Ryan 777). There is common belief that these strangers committing rape are “obviously different from other men” (Ryan 779). This implies that you couldn’t be raped by a friend or family member because they are not seen as abnormal or threatening. The rapist is usually described as a “brutish male aggressor…sex crazed, deviant sociopath…who had no previous acquaintance with the victim” (O’Hara 151). Acquaintance rapist may be able to gain access of “potential victims because he does not resemble the myth” (Ryan 779).
“The rape of a woman is a violent and alarming common crime often committed by men the victims know and trust” (Hammond 243). The majority of rapes are committing against women, but men are also victims. According to the FBI’s Uniformed Crime Report 2009 data, “1 out of 6 women and 1 out of 33 men have been raped or experience attempted rape.” The report also states that only 31 percent of rapists were strangers and 2 out of 3 victims knew the rapist. 23 percent of attackers were previously intimate with the victim, 3 percent were relatives and 36 percent were friends or acquaintances. The myth of being attacked by a stranger walking alone at night can be disproven because only 43 percent of all rapes (not only outdoors) happen between 6pm and midnight. Another study found that “43 percent of rapes happen in the victim’s home” (Anderson 228). A study focusing on college rape found that when American college women were asked to describe their experiences they “described a date/ acquaintance rape more frequently than rape perpetrated by a stranger” (Anderson 227). The reality of rape is actually the opposite of the myth of the dangerous violent stranger. Some believe that if the victim didn’t struggle enough, it was not legitimate rape. That simple isn’t true either. In fact, “84 percent of rapes involved a man known to the female victim and involve little aggression, no weapon, and little injury to the victim” (Anderson 226).
One government policy, which deals with the reality of sexual crimes, is the federal Violence against Women act of Title IX, the federal gender equality law. The Title IX law makes colleges and universities “adopt and publish grievance procedures and develop education and training programs to help students and employees to recognize and respond to sexual harassment and violence” (Jones 2). In 2011, the Obama administration expanded this to include the requirement of colleges to “respond if a sexual assault is reported, even if law enforcement officials decline to pursue charges” (Jones 2). The law is a step in the right direction of recognizing that women can be rape by professors and classmates, but the lack of enforcement is a new problem. The lack of enforcement shows that society still does not take non-stranger sex crimes seriously. “Few students found responsible for sexual assaults face punishment at their universities, and the cases are seldom turned over for criminal prosecution” (Jones 2).
The destruction of the stranger rape myth makes men and women accountable for their violent actions, sexual relationships and sex crimes. It starts to address real issues of date rape, sexual assault on college campuses and incest rapes. The true nature of sexual crimes should open debate on the social meaning of consent, masculinity and femininity, socioeconomic inequalities, and hyper sexualized American culture, instead of blaming victims and defending victimizers. Honest dialogue about rape is the first step of to dismantle the rape myth. Kristen Lombardi, a journalist for Center of Public Integrity, writes a series on sexual assaults on college campuses. Lombardi believes that education and awareness about sexual assault with help destroy rape myths and make attackers accountable for their actions. “The level of awareness (about sexual assault on college campuses) has been raised immensely… a lot of schools review policies, knowing that the OCR (U.S. Department of Education’s Office for Civil Rights) is serious about these kinds of issues” (Jones 4).
One way of looking at rape as a social problem is to place it into the macro content of social norms associated with sex and gender. Sexual assault is only one injustice within a patriarchal society, where inequality, domination, subordination, and exploitation (based on gender) are common” and “inequality among men and women have social causes and consequences” ( Martinez 149). Sexual crimes committed by men will continue to happen as long as men are socialized to believe that “violence (is) a masculine characteristic” (Martinez 149). Binary gender constructions mean that women are what men are not. If its masculine to commit violence, then it means being feminine includes being a victim of violence. Rape and sexual assault are separated from other forms of assault, but they do fit into the history of violence against women. “The use of stereotypes hinders the discussions about real causes of sexual violence. If the perpetrator is a devious monster, rape becomes a random act of violence rather than a society problem” (O’Hara 256). Rape and sexual assault needs to be viewed as a crime that is committed by all different types of people and that all members of society are vulnerable. Sexual crimes can’t only be seen as random uncommon occurrences, but a real problem that is social constructed.