What is a Rape Myth?

What is a Rape Myth? May 20, 2013
Click for image source

This post is part of a series called “You Are Not Your Own,” focusing on rape and sexual assault in Christian relationship/dating books.

Trigger Warning for Rape, Sexual Assault, and Victim Blaming Attitudes

When I first started contemplating my research project, I thought I’d focus on rape myths. I thought I’d get a list of rape myths, read through the books I’d chosen to read for this study (Real Marriage by Mark and Grace Driscoll, I Kissed Dating Goodbye, by Joshua Harris, When God Writes Your Love Story, by Eric and Leslie Ludy, and Dateable by Justin Lookadoo and Hayley DiMarco), and mark off every time the authors of these books either accepted or rejected a particular rape myth. That didn’t actually work out so well because–surprise!–most of these books (with the main exception being Real Marriage) barely mentioned rape or sexual assault.

My focus eventually moved away from rape myths, but I’m glad I started there. It showed me that there is a lot of overlap between the attitudes related to rape myth acceptance and attitudes about men, women, and the relationships between the two that I found in this book.

I’m going to spend a few blog posts talking about those attitudes and that overlap. But I’m going to start with the basics.

What is a rape myth?

Many feminist researchers believe that rape’s foundations lie in societies and in socialization rather than in biology. [1] These researchers believe that certain values and beliefs in a society can create a rape culture where, because of beliefs and attitudes toward rape and rape victims, rape is more likely to occur and rapists (rather than victims) are more likely to find support. [2] (This is a great source, if you want to read more about rape culture)

Rape myths are attitudes and beliefs about rape and sexual assault that help fuel this rape culture. These widely held, culture-based beliefs may place blame on rape victims, excuse the actions of perpetrators, or blur the lines between rape and consensual sex.[3]

You’ve probably heard rape myths in your life. Maybe you’ve even believed them.

How could he have raped her? She’s his wife. A man can’t trespass in his own garden!

I think she just regretted having sex, so she lied about being raped.

She was basically asking for it, wasn’t she? Did you see how much she was drinking? I think she wanted to be raped.

I’m not saying it was “okay” for him to rape her, but with a skirt that short it’s going to be hard for a man to stop!

These are just a few examples.

And what these examples of rape myths have in common is that they are just that–myths. Yet we hear these narratives over and over again, and many of us grow up believing them.

Even those of us who personally experience rape may continue to believe them. I remember believing that my rapist couldn’t stop himself when I said “no” because we’d gone “too far” already, and telling myself for years that I wasn’t really raped because of that). We can’t believe ourselves, and even if we do manage to reject these rape myths as survivors, we fear that no one else will believe us or that they will blame us. Too often, our fears become reality.

We’ve got to tear down this rape culture, and we’ve got to do so by educating individuals about rape myths, and by looking at the influence that institutional power–like that which the evagelical church holds–has on rape myth perpetuation.


Works Cited:

[1] Boswell, A. Ayres, and Joan Spade. 1996. “Fraternities and Collegiate Rape Culture: Why Are Some Fraternities More Dangerous Places for Women?.” Gender and Society 10(2):133-147.

[2] Buchwald, Emilie, Pamela Fletcher, and Martha Roth. 1993. Transforming a Rape Culture. Minneapolis, MN: Milkweed Editions.

[3] Aosved, Allison C., and Patricia Long. 2006. “Co-occurrence of Rape Myth Acceptance, Sexism, Racism, Homophobia, Ageism, Classism, and Religious Intolerance.” Sex Roles 55(7-8):481-492.


"Sarah Moon writes as if she believes that complementarians have pulled this view out of ..."

Complementarians are trying to scam us.
"Two family members abused me, one I have totally reconciled with, the other, not. One ..."

When my abuser is welcome at ..."
"I want to share this article on FB, but totally don't want the image of ..."

Liberating Liturgies: Why Mother Bear?
"Mate of course a Sarah is being a condescending cow mate good luck in hell"

Telling My Own Story: A Perspective ..."

Browse Our Archives

Follow Us!

What Are Your Thoughts?leave a comment
  • forgedimagination

    I’m really curious to see how these attitudes overlap in a culture that barely even acknowledges the existence of rape and assault.

    Frequently, I’ve found that a lot of evangelicals dismiss the need to talk about rape because what “rape” is seems so obvious to them: the myth of the Dark Alley and a Stranger at Knife-point. Because, after all, rape is a fate worse than death. Any woman that walked away alive is suspect.

    • 20-odd years ago when I was in high school (Eep!) I can remember an evangelical friend telling me she would fight until a rapist killed her, because then she could be in Heaven with Jesus instead of losing her virginity before marriage.

      I was appalled even then at what her church must have been teaching.

  • I have both heard and believed those things. It wasn’t even until the past couple of years that I had a concept of consent when it came to sex.

  • TheodoreSeeber

    A new rape myth (but one that I think would *prevent* rape, if it became more widespread among men): Any time you have sex with a woman without intending to make a child, that’s rape. Any time you have sexual lust towards a woman without intending to make a child with her, spend 35 years with her to raise that child properly, that is a hint that you may become a rapist.

    Note that this rape myth doesn’t require consent- which is a really non-concrete and arbitrary condition that most men simply do not have the ability in their brains to judge properly. It also does not blame the victim- a man is responsible for his own sins, including the mortal sin of divorcing lust from procreation. How a woman is dressed can be problematic with this definition- but it leaves the responsibility for custody of the eyes *strictly* in the realm of the man experiencing lust, not in the hands of the woman who may just be trying to dress comfortably for the climate.

    It also fits better with the Theology of the Body, which I think you really should add to your study on works from Christianity about sexuality.

    • John Alexander Harman

      “consent- which is a really non-concrete and arbitrary condition that most men simply do not have the ability in their brains to judge properly.”

      No, Teddy; most men are not you. Most men — even most men on the autistic spectrum — can tell the difference between “yes” and “no.” If you cannot, then you are not merely autistic; you are psychotic, and should be locked in a mental institution for your own safety and that of the people around you.

    • Leigha7

      In what world is consent “non-concrete and arbitrary,” or in any way hard to understand?

      If a woman says something like, “I want to have sex with you” (not “someday,” but “now”), that’s consent.
      If you ask her if she wants to have sex, and she says, “Yes,” that’s consent.

      If you’ve never had sex with that particular woman before, consent should be explicitly verbal, as mentioned above. If it’s someone you regularly have sex with, things such as taking your pants off while holding a condom can probably be interpreted as consent as well, but bear in mind that consent can be rescinded at any time (even during sex). If you’re in a relationship with someone (whether you’re married, dating, or even just friends with benefits), you hopefully would know them well enough to understand their nonverbal cues but, if there’s any doubt (such as if there’s any hesitancy or reluctance on her part), verbal consent is still the way to go.

      If “most men simply do not have the ability in their brains” to understand that, then most men are less intellectually capable than your average two year old. Even toddlers can understand the concept of consent (in a non-sexual sense).