Leeds School of Social Sciences

Aggressively sexist attitudes are associated with rape proclivity and perceived victim culpability in rape cases

LSSS colleagues, Dr Sofia Persson and Dr Katie Dhingra, have published vital research examining the impact of the victim-perpetrator relationship on victim blame and rape proclivity*.

Published on 21 May 2021

*Rape proclivity can be defined as the self-reported likelihood to perpetrate a sexual assault among men.

Sexual violence against women is a serious concern in the UK and beyond. Recent reports have highlighted the lack of trust women who have been subjected to rape have in the justice system, particularly in the context of the low conviction levels for men who rape.

One reason for the lack of justice for women who have been subjected to rape is the prevalence of myths and misconceptions about rape, examples of which include views such as: "Women often provoke rape through their appearance or behaviour", "Men often can't control their sexual urges", and "Women often make up rape accusations as a way of getting back at men." These myths have been thought to impact victim blame and other attitudes towards rape.

The research titled “ Moderating Factors in Culpability Ratings and Rape Proclivity in Stranger and Acquaintance Rape: Validation of Rape Vignettes in a Community Sample" found that aggressively sexist attitudes such as Hostile Sexism and Rape Myth Acceptance - the prejudicial, stereotyped, or false beliefs that people hold about sexual assault that shift blame from the perpetrator to the victim/survivor -are associated with higher ratings of rape proclivity, as well as with perceived victim culpability among both women and men.

The research spanned three studies and used a methodology and framework that could be easily reproduced, with the aim to signpost transparent research practices as important for this field of research.

The first study in this research project developed and validated six hypothetical scenarios or ‘vignettes’ of rape, which can be used in future research in this area. It also developed victim and perpetrator culpability scales which were later validated in a related research project. In doing this, the research sought to improve the degree to which findings can reliably inform policy and practice by strengthening the methodologies used in this area of research. All materials are freely shared on the Open Science Framework.

The final two studies used these materials, and examined the impact of the relationship between victim and perpetrator on culpability attributions and rape proclivity, and found that victim culpability and rape proclivity were the most pronounced in known-perpetrator scenarios, particularly where participants had aggressively sexist attitudes.

This research has considerable implications for both policy and practice, particularly in producing reliable and validated materials that can be re-used in future research. It has highlighted aggressively sexist attitudes as crucial for understanding perceived victim culpability and rape proclivity. However, future research must also consider how “softer” or more covert forms of sexism legitimise and scaffold rape myths and hostility toward women.

Dr Sofia Persson

Senior Lecturer / Leeds School Of Social Sciences

Sofia is a Psychology lecturer at Leeds Beckett University, a Chartered Psychologist with the British Psychological Society, and a fellow of the Higher Education Academy. Her main research interests are blame attributions in rape cases (including Rape Myth Acceptance), sexism, and anti-feminism. She's particularly interested in open research methodologies, and data visualisation.

Dr Katie Dhingra

Reader / Leeds School Of Social Sciences

Katie is a Reader in Psychology at Leeds Beckett University, a Chartered Psychologist with the British Psychological Society, and a fellow of the Higher Education Academy. Her research largely focuses on suicide and non-suicidal self-injury (NSSI). 

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