Women have been the subject of societal oppression and harassment since the beginning of early recorded history. Women oppression and harassment seem to become a norm in the society wherein women have been constantly seen as subordinate to men. This concept by which the society sees women as secondary and unequal to men have caused biased treatment and multiple disadvantages to women. Among the numerous disadvantages aimed at women is the act of rape by which men sexually abuse and harass women despite having no consent at all. Rape is one of the pressing issues that have continuously caused suffering and trauma to women. Through the aid of myths and certain false beliefs on the topic of rape, women, until the recent days, have been considered the constant target by sexual predators.
For years, women have been the target of sexual advances, abuse, gender oppression, and discrimination. During the early centuries, women were given no rights to own properties and handle their own wealth since the patriarchal society sees women as incompetent and incapable of handling their own wealth. It is for this reason that women were forced to surrender their properties and wealth to their husbands or men in general. With the aid of patriarchy, the belittlement of women in the society has continually grown. The concept of patriarchy has instilled in the minds of men that women must submit to men at all times. This has been one of the contributing factors that men see as a justification for sexual advance they make towards women. Alongside the belief that women must always submit to men, is the presence of myths on rape that wrongfully instills concepts and beliefs within the society that sexual predators use of justification and basis to any sexual crime and harassment they commit.
Myths about rape along with other beliefs have been one of the major contributors to violence and sexual aggression towards women. According to Brownmiller (1975), the widespread false belief in certain myths on rape and coercion have been constantly used in justifying violence against women (as cited by Forbes et al., 2004). Moreover, such beliefs cause the trivialization of the effects of sexual abuse that the victim suffers. Studies made by Lonsway and Fitzgerald (1994) show that 25% up to 35% of their total respondents believe and accept most of the prevalent rape myths. Moreover, between men and women, men are more likely to affirm and promote the belief in rape myths (Suarez and Gadalla, 2010).
Numerous studies on various societal areas and profession furthermore reveal the high rate of rape myth acceptance in the society. When college students were asked to write down some of their own beliefs regarding rape victims, it has been revealed that 66% of the total participants do endorse a few combinations of myths about rape (Buddie and Miller, 2001). However, with the provision of proper education and awareness on the topic of rape, a substantial decrease in the rate of rape myth acceptance can subsequently occur (Hinck and Thomas, 1999). Rape myths are not just prevalent among the younger generation. As compared to the younger generation, rape myths are much prevalent in the professional community. Research by Page (2008) has identified that rape myths are quite prevalent in the police community which subsequently affects the interaction between the police officer and the victim. Victims who exhibit certain characteristics that oppose the perception of what a stereotypical victim must exhibit are more likely to be less believed by police officers. These findings of various studies show that rape myth is indeed widespread and the rate at which people accept these myths is alarmingly high.
In the current era, the widespread prevalence and acceptance of rape myths can be attributed to various platforms such as the media and gaming industry. In the present days, the increasing support for rape culture by various platforms has been one of the many contributors why sexual coercion seems like a normal act nowadays. As what Maxwell (2014) said, rape culture is “a culture in which sexual violence is the norm and victims are blamed for their own assaults”. The widespread propagation of rape culture can be attributed to the use of social media wherein misogynist people and rape myth believers demonstrate support to rape culture and victim blaming (Zaleski et al., 2016). Victim blaming perpetuates in the social media wherein skeptics question the credibility and truthfulness of the story told by rape victims. People display their doubts on the victim through the comment section in the social media posts wherein they blame the victim saying that it’s the victim’s fault why she was sexually abused. Others take the form of sarcasm which also invalidates the story of the rape victim. People also tend to show support to the perpetrator by saying that it’s inherent in men to feel lust over every woman and that it’s the responsibility and obligation of women to prevent men from having lustful thoughts.
The perpetuation of the rape culture on television also contributes to the high acceptance of rape myths in the society. In the review conducted by Brinson (1992) on 26 prime time television shows containing rape references, he has found out that 42% of the analyzed storylines suggest that rape victims wanted to be sexually coerced. Furthermore, his review also discovered that 38% of those prime time shows’ storyline suggests that victims do lie about the occurrence of the assault and about 46% of the reviewed shows depict stories of victim blaming. In support to these findings, Cuklanz (2000) was able to provide evidences on the existence of rape myths on the television wherein he identified that most prime-time shows incorporate in their storylines the invalidation of claims made by the victims and perpetuation of the belief that victims ask for the sexual advancements through the way they dress and/or behave. The mass media generally facilitate the prevalence of rape myth and rape culture. The persistence of these myths on television shows is just one of the many contributing factors in the widespread propagation of these false beliefs.
Some of the widespread rape myths in the society include sexual coercion by husbands on their wives is not rape, women take pleasure in rape, women solicit rape and women lie about being raped. Among the many rape myths is the belief that husbands enforcing physical dominance over their wives cannot be considered as rape. Kirkwood and Cecil (2001) conducted a research on college students and have found out that 9% of male and 5% of women respondents believe that the use of force by husbands in an attempt to have sex with their wives is not an indicative act of rape. This rape myth suggests that since a couple is already bonded by marriage, the husbands, therefore, have full rights and control over their wives. This myth probably stems from the early gender construction and social expectation on wives to submit themselves on their husbands. With this, men were given by society the power to assert dominance over their wives, including dominance on the sexual aspect of their marriage. The myth that marital rape does not occur and that it is valid for husbands to use physical force on their wives just to have sex shows how patriarchy have shaped the society. Rape is rape and marriage is not an excuse for men to sexually assault women. Rape is an act by which a person was forced to have sexual intercourse without his/her consent. The act of sexual coercion between married couples is indeed an act of rape.
Another prevalent rape myth is the belief that women take pleasure in rape. Early English laws on rape cases required evidence that the victim put up a fight against the perpetrator (Schulhofer, 1998). This requirement helped shape the stereotypical rape victim wherein evidence of bruises and brutality must be present to validate the claims of the victim. In line with this, lack of vaginal injury in the victim’s genital is oftentimes used to invalidate the claims made by the victim. The phenomenon by which victims were able to lubricate during the sexual assault results in the assumption that the victims indeed take pleasure in rape (Lees, 1996). Moreover, the concept of “token resistance” wherein men believe that what women mean by “no” is “yes” during a sexual act serves a justification as to why men continuous with the sexual act despite the evident protest of women against the act (Hollabough, 1988; Garcia, 1998). Society tends to accept this rape myth due to the inclusion of the concept that women enjoy forced sex in the various contexts such as in mainstream media and even artworks and literature (Dworkin, 1981). Pornography also affirms the belief that women enjoy rape due to multiple pornographic films depicting women enjoying the act of sex despite their protest. There might exist a few women that take pleasure in forced sex but still, it is not an excuse for men to assault women despite visible protest. When a woman says “no” to forced sex, it cannot be interpreted as a “yes”. Men should take a “no” as it is and must not associate it with women asking for forced sex.
Among the rape myths present in the society, the myth that women solicit rape through their behavior and the way they dress is one of the most prevalent and troublesome belief. Both women and men generally believe that a woman solicits rape by the way she dresses and acts. The acceptance of this rape myth is most prevalent among women wherein 21% of college students (women), believe that women seek sexual advances when they dress provocatively (Carmody and Washington, 2001). It is also widely believed that women entice men into doing the sexual act by being promiscuous or by just simply walking alone along the streets at night. Evidence of the presence of this rape myth can be seen in the comment section on social media posts wherein people tend to blame the victim by saying that the way she dresses provokes the assailant into doing the act. This rape myth is troublesome since this shifts the victim position into the assailant position wherein the victims were usually blamed for what has happened. This myth should be debunked through the use of certain cases wherein women still experience sexual assault despite conforming to society’s perception of what women should wear and act to avoid being raped. The problem is not on the way a woman clothes herself or in the way she behaves, the real problem lies with men. Rape will not occur if only men can control their sexual urges and if only they learn how to respect women.
Women were also falsely believed to make false accusations of rape cases. A debate on the existence of rape charges without basis has been a subject of multiple studies and researches. The mass media especially the prime-time shows aired in the television greatly depicts stories wherein most women, especially the antagonists, makes use of false rape accusations to gain sympathy or attain their desires. Thus rape myth has also been identified to be prevalent during the early centuries. Mythologies such as the ancient Greek mythology on Hippolytus and Phaedra wherein Pheadra makes use of rape accusation to seek revenge on the man she had great interest with but had rejected her (Blomqvist, 1982). Notably, the legal system is considered as one of the contributors to the perpetuation of the belief that women lie about being raped. During the 17th century, a famous judge named Matthew Hale (1736) stated rape as “an accusation easily to be made, hard to be proved, and harder to be defended by the party accused, tho’ never so innocent”. This statement has since then been a part of court proceedings until the 20th century and is referred to as the “Hale Warning”. The “Hale Warning” propagates the rape myth on women making false accusations by provoking doubts and suspicions on the claims of the rape victim (Ferguson, 1987). False rape accusation might indeed occur in reality but such is not enough to raise suspicions on the rape accusations raised by the victim. This false belief as well as the suspicion that may arise in line with the victim’s testimonies are the primary reasons why majority of rape victims choose to suffer in silence instead of seeking justice. The great invalidation that they experience from the society results in the difficulty in attaining justice and acceptance of what have happened. Most people view rape victims as whores that seek attention and revenge on men which is oftentimes in opposition with the real characteristic and personality of the victim. Prevalence of this belief and high rate of its acceptance causes women to feel oppressed, and suffer unjust legal and societal treatments.
Rape myths are the product of a society that belittles women and asserts the dominance of men over women. These false beliefs were a product of the society’s justification and favor over men, regardless of whether their action is morally and ethically correct. Rape is an immoral act but the prevalence of rape myths justify such immorality. Through the use of mass media and incorporation of rape myths within its contents, rape culture continuously propagates within the society despite the effort of feminists and crime against women organizations to invalidate and debunk these myths. Numerous studies and researches show the high rates of rape myths acceptance which depicts how rape becomes a norm within the society. The prevalence and acceptance of these rape myths prove to be a hindrance for the women community in achieving unbiased and just treatment. Presence of these rape myths invalidates the victims and furthermore causes grief and psychological torture. Society must learn to debunk these beliefs and must learn to be logical and rational in terms of judging a rape victim. No one wants to have their body and rights violated by other individuals another individual and so does women.
Women have suffered for since history can remember and have been the subject of extensive oppression, discrimination, and disadvantages. Deprivation of rights and unbiased societal expectations and treatment seem to be normative and associative to women. Rape myths is indeed prevalent and have been a part of the society for over centuries. From ancient times up until present times, the belief on rape myths continuously prevails and have caused considerable damage and disadvantages towards women. The response of society on sexual violence may have been its way of denying that such immorality actually prevails. Regardless, action must be made immediately. The society must have its eyes open on the harsh reality that majority of women suffers from. Through non-acceptance of rape myths, society is providing women with the voice and support they need to fight against sexual violence.
Blomqvist, J. (1982). Human and Divine Action in Euripides’ Hippolytus. Hermes, 110(H. 4), 398-414.
Brinson, S. L. (1989). TV Rape: Television’s communication of cultural attitudes toward rape. Women’s Studies in Communication, 12(2), 23-36.
Buddie, A. M., & Miller, A. G. (2001). Beyond rape myths: A more complex view of perceptions of rape victims. Sex roles, 45(3-4), 139-160.
Carmody, D. C., & Washington, L. M. (2001). Rape myth acceptance among college women: The impact of race and prior victimization. Journal of Interpersonal Violence, 16(5), 424-436.
Cuklanz, L. M. (2000). Rape on prime time: Television, masculinity, and sexual violence. University of Pennsylvania Press.
Dworkin, A. (1981). Men possessing women. New York: Perigee.
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Forbes, G. B., Adams-Curtis, L. E., & White, K. B. (2004). First-and second-generation measures of sexism, rape myths and related beliefs, and hostility toward women: their interrelationships and association with college students’ experiences with dating aggression and sexual coercion. Violence against women, 10(3), 236-261.