Ferro, C., Cermele, J., & Saltzman, A. (2008). Current perceptions of marital rape: Some good and not-so-good news. Journal of Interpersonal Violence, 23, 764-779.
1. Main Thesis: Ferro, Cermele, and Saltzman conducted a study that found that current college students and college alumni do not endorse rape myths at high levels. However, their study does show that victim-rapist relationship significantly affects perception of the crime.
2. Body of Evidence: The authors conducted an Internet-based survey of 85 undergraduate students at and 44 alumni of a small liberal arts college. They randomly provided each participant with a vignette depicting either a marital rape or an acquaintance rape scenario. They then used the Illinois Rape Myth Acceptance Scale to assess the participants’ acceptance of rape myths and the Rape-Supportive Attributions Scale and the Sex-Role Stereotypical Victim Blame Attributions Scale to assess false beliefs about rape and level of blame attributed to the victim, respectively. The authors were specifically seeking any differences in the responses of participants based on participant sex and participant cohort (that is, whether they were current students or alumni). The authors found that perceptions of rape were more realistic than expected; participants were not very supportive of rape myths and were sympathetic toward victims (p. 772). However, victim-rapist relationships significantly affected how participants thought about rape. The study showed that “support for false beliefs is greater for participants who read about marital rape than for those who read about acquaintance rape” (p. 773). In addition, the authors found that, as expected, men were more likely to support rape myths than women. However, the authors’ hypothesis that the older cohort would be more supportive of rape myths proved to be untrue.
3. Conclusions: The authors found that participants’ support of rape myths was fairly low, but also that the relationship between victim and rapist significantly affects how people understand rape. In other words, people (male and female equally as mentioned on p. 775) are still unsure of how to assess blame in situations where the victim and offender are in a romantic relationship (as in marital rape). In addition, the assumption that younger generations are more aware in regard to sexual assault may not be true. The authors call for increased research on the “development and maintenance of rape myths” in order to discover how overall support of rape myths can be low while sexual assaults are high (p. 777).
4. My Conclusions: I was impressed by the detail of this study as well as the authors’ careful explication of the limitations of their work. For example, they note that these results cannot necessarily be extended to noncollege populations; they even acknowledge the limited work that has been done on noncollege populations in this area in general. The authors also addressed a limitation that I think is particularly important: that “participants’ responses may be driven by their need to provide socially acceptable answers” (p. 777). There is really no way to (ethically) control for this, and I think it is a significant limitation—perhaps one that would have deserved a little more attention if the scope of this article had been larger. However, the authors explicitly state that this study is about attitudes toward rape. Using their analysis of such attitudes, they point to a discrepancy between attitude and behavior and highlight it as an area for future study. I think this is a smart and responsible course of action, and this unique empirical study is an excellent contribution to knowledge about social understandings of rape.