Blame attribution in rape scenarios: Understanding the role of personal beliefs and situational factors

Abstract: Previous studies have found victim-blaming attitudes to hinder victims of rape from reporting to the police. Many victims fear being blamed by people in their near surroundings or by professionals in the legal as well as in the healthcare system. Psychological research has investigated various variables that might affect levels of attributed victim and perpetrator blame in rape cases. These variables are connected to the rape situation as well as personal beliefs and attitudes on behalf of the participants. However, studies have predominantly investigated only a few variables at a time. The aim of this thesis was to investigate if blame attributions are affected more by situational-specific variables or by observers’ personal beliefs. Also, the thesis aimed to shed light on age effects and multiple perpetrator rapes as these aspects are previously understudied in the field. The studies were conducted with a multi-analytical approach using both analyses of variance as well as more elaborated and exploratory analyses. In Study I, the effects of victim and participant age, participant gender, sympathy for the victim, trust in the justice system, belief in a just world, and acceptance of rape myths were investigated in three experiments. The three experiments employed a vignette methodology. In total, 877 Swedish adolescents and adults read scenarios that described common acquaintance rape situations in party settings. Victim age (18 or 31) was manipulated, but did not affect attributed blame. Effects of participant age and gender varied markedly across scenarios. Sympathy for the victim and acceptance of rape myths were better predictors of attributed blame than the gender and age. This shows that blame attributions were found to be more affected by personal beliefs than situational-specific variables. Study II investigated the effects of multiple perpetrators and perpetrators’ use of force on blame attributions. This was done in two experiments with a total of 2928 Swedish community members. Using vignette methodology, participants read scenarios depicting either a multiple-perpetrator rape or a lone-perpetrator rape and subsequently made ratings of blame, rape myth acceptance, just-world beliefs, and sympathy for the victim, perception of consent and trust in the legal system. Experiment 1 showed that a victim of multiple perpetrator rape was attributed more blame than a victim of a single perpetrator rape. Experiment 2 showed that the perpetrator’s used force did not affect levels of attributed blame. The best predictors of attributed blame were participants’ perception of consent, sympathy for the victim and rape myth acceptance. In line with Study I, the results show the importance of participants’ beliefs about rape above situational factors. To summarize, personal beliefs were more predictive of levels of attributed blame, and a victim of multiple perpetrator rape was attributed higher levels of blame than a victim of lone perpetrator rape. Rape myth acceptance, sympathy for the victim and perception of consent were the most predictive factors of victim and perpetrator blame. This result has implications for future projects preventing victim blame. It shows what to focus on: Changing attitudes, decreasing rape myth acceptance, and increasing sympathy for rape victims. Additionally, across both studies, principal component analyses resulted in factors which, included in hierarchical multiple regression analyses, proved to explain a substantial part of the variance in levels of victim and perpetrator blame. These factors were not present in the analyses of variance. This result has implications for future research to productively use more elaborated analyses including several more variables at a time.

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