“You Are Not Your Own” Series: Religion and Rape Myth Acceptance

“You Are Not Your Own” Series: Religion and Rape Myth Acceptance July 2, 2013

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, victim blaming, and dehumanization

Note: this research mainly focused on female rape, so I am not sure if the same trends toward rape myth acceptance would apply in cases of male rape. If anyone wants to see if research has been done on that subject and report back, feel free. Though it is not the focus of my project, male rape is a huge problem as well–1 out of every 10 rape victims is male. I wanted to make it clear that, despite the focus of my study, it is not only women (and definitely not only cisgender women) who face sexual violence. 


It’s been awhile since I’ve updated my “You Are Not Your Own” series, so I figured it’s about time to jump back into it. Today, I’ll be finishing up talking about the information I learned while doing my literature review, and later this week I’ll start talking about what I actually found while analyzing Christian dating books.

I wrote in my last post that, according to research, when victims of rape or sexual assault transgress traditional gender roles, benevolent sexists are more likely to blame them. [1] This makes evangelical Christianity a place of concern when looking at issues of rape myth acceptance (RMA).

Many evangelical Christians will be quick to tell you that though they support traditional gender roles, they do not hate women. In fact, they only hold to these gender roles because they believe them to be good for women. Research backs them up, actually. Religious folks aren’t likely to score highly on tests for hostile sexism. [2]

Unfortunately, the more religious someone is, the more likely they are to be a benevolent sexist [2], and hostile sexism isn’t the only form that leads to rape myth acceptance.  With this in mind, it’s not surprising that religious men are more likely than non-religious men to accept rape myths (though, interestingly, the opposite is true of religious women, which suggests that there’s more to this than just religion). [3] Also, the more intolerant (of other races, religions, sexual orientations, etc.) one’s religious beliefs are, the more likely one is to accept rape myths. [4]

Often, I hear Christians claim that the church is the safest place for women–that women are only victimized by “the world.” But this research shows that, at least in the many congregations where intolerance and benevolent sexism abounds, this is simply not the case.

Even clergy members are likely to accept rape myths. In one study, researchers found that the majority of clergy members they interviewed showed attitudes of victim blaming and rape myth acceptance. [5]

Knowing that many religious people, including clergy members, accept both benevolent sexist attitudes and attitudes of rape myth acceptance, it’s important to look at the intersections between religion and ideas about rape and sexual assault. Studying Christian dating books is a good place to start looking at these intersections, and in my next post, we’ll start doing just that.


[1] Viki, G. Tendayi, and Dominic Abrams. 2002 “But She Was Unfaithful: Benevolent Sexism and Reactions to Rape Victims who Violate Traditional Gender Role Expectations.” Sex Roles 47(5-6):289-293.

[2] Burn, S. M., & Russo, J. (2005). “Ambivalent Sexism, Scriptural Literalism, and Religiosity.” Psychology of Women Quarterly. 29(4), 412-418.

[3] Freymeyer, R. H., (1997). Rape myths and religiosity. Sociological Spectrum, 17, 473–489.

[4] Abrams, D., Viki, G.T., Masser, B., & Bohner, G. (2003). Perceptions of stranger and acquaintance rape: The role of benevolent and hostile sexism in victim blame and rape proclivity. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology 84, 111–125.

[5] Sheldon, J., & Parent, S. (2002). Clergy’s attitudes and attributions of blame toward female rape victims. Violence Against Women 8, 233–256.

"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 ..."
"We finished the actual conference, not just reading the book, and I would highly encourage ..."

Complementarians are trying to scam us.

Browse Our Archives

Follow Us!

What Are Your Thoughts?leave a comment
  • TheodoreSeeber

    Ok, now that I’ve been through, and posted, on every other chapter, I’m going to pick apart your title.

    I am not my own. You are not your own. It’s completely true. For any given religion trying to promote such concepts as solidarity, the common good, and civilization, individualism cannot be allowed. Individual responsibility must be- individual victimhood can never be. One woman raped in my society makes my society evil, just as one child aborted in my society makes my society evil, one car stolen in my society makes my society evil, one investment house committing fraud against one investor makes my society evil.

    But the answer to that can’t be just debunking myth- we must create new myths to replace the old. Because that’s how the next generation learns- by myth.

    The Church can be an incredibly hard place to be a woman, that’s true:

    But it can be an incredibly empowering place to be a woman as well:

    And to go outside Christianity for a moment- modesty is very culturally linked:

    So I don’t think rape myths are actually the problem. The problem is a lack of responsibility. Thus, I’m going to be writing a new blog posting of my own.


    Thank you for posting this series. It has helped immensely my own version of it.

    • Lack of responsibility for whom? The only person responsible for my sexual assault/rape was the perpetrator.

  • erikcampano

    One of the possible reasons, Sarah, that it is so hard to educate men to stop believing the rape myth is because so few men report rape, or sexualized violence of any kind (sexual assault, harrassment, child abuse, professional exploitation). As you point out, at least 1 in 10 rape victims is male, but men rarely ever mention that something like that could happen to them — and often when it does happen, they don’t acknowledge it. What this means is that almost all men just have no idea at all about the magnitude of physical and psychological trauma that sexualized violence inflicts. Until abuse (not rape) happened to me in a Christian context, I didn’t know, either.

    I used to buy into the rape myth. When women would tell me of sexualized violence that they experienced, I tended to trivialize their stories; not be hostile toward them, but take a kind of overly skeptical stance that I now realize was borne of ignorance of the commonality of rape. I regret my reactions back then, because I helped perpetuate victim-blaming. But now that I’ve had a tiny taste of what it means to be mistreated when reporting sexualized violence (and honestly, just a tiny taste — I’ll never know what it’s completely like to be a female rape survivor and reporter) I try as best as possible to thoroughly honor the stores of women who report sexualized violence, and to help try to acheive some kind of justice and healing. I’ll never be perfect at it, but I try, now, to default heavily on the side of listening to the woman — because now that I know what it’s like to report sexualized violence, I doubt that anyone would ever claim it and go through the Hell of victim blaming, unless her story was true. And reporters don’t always admit all the details at first, until they know they can do it in a safe environment. I’m not saying there aren’t false accusations, but I think they’re extremely rare and it’s not something we ought even consider possible until the woman has had a chance to tell the story fully

    Three quick notes on how to start eliminating rape myth in Christian contexts:

    1) Heteronormative sexual models perpetuate the rape myth. Thinking of gender as binary reinforces false distinctions between the ways that men and women react to sexualized violence. Benevolent sexism is harder to maintain when people start conceiving of gender as a spectrum.

    2) Clergy, unfortunately, naturally tend to perpetuate the rape myth, in order to maintain their position of power in a Christian community. To be considered some kind of mediator of spirituality requires them to maintain an image of moral cleanliness. The less sexualized violence that people think there is, the less likely it is that clergy will be stigmatized and potentially lose their congregations (and salary, housing, etc.). So laity need to be educated about the ways that clergy sometimes maintain false fronts about sexualized violence in order to stay charismatic — i.e., people need to learn that ministers are just as capable of being perpetrator or victim of sexualized violence as anyone else, despite their appearance of moral goodness (or even the ways they might, from time to time, speak out against rape).

    3) You focus on Evangelicals, but it happens in progressive Christian contexts, too. I’d wager just as much.

  • smrnda

    Thought I’d post on this one. I’m from a secular, urban area and have lived either in big cities or college towns my whole life. I was never very close to many religious people, but probably about 5 years ago I attended a church for a bit and kept a low profile just to see what it was like.

    One big difference was that socialization in church was very gendered. Men and women *did not socialize openly* the way I was used to seeing. This wasn’t a super-conservative church either, just the dynamics were really weird, and in mixed-gender groups, guys tended to do most of the talking.

    Compared to my friends in college, men in that setting probably listen to and have conversations with women a lot less often, and the conversations they do have are probably a lot less open. Even if the % of women who had been raped were the same, I’d say that guy I hung out with in college had heard women’s perspectives and accounts of rape far more often than the church group.

  • It’s funny… my soon-to-be-ex-husband raped me twice, and his father, a pastor, refuses to acknowledge that his son committed this crime. Instead, I’m the one “giving up” on the marriage… I’m the one being “rebellious.” His mother is studying for her doctorate in psychology, and I can’t tell you how many times she has called domestic violence victims “pathetic.” It makes me really angry to think about it right now.

  • lehnne

    It seems to me that women, the very concept of femininity is ruthlessly assaulted and exploited by popular culture. The denial of criminality and culpability is employed by human beings although the circumstance changes as does the ideology of the denier.

  • Leah

    I went to a religious college and I was very troubled by the rampant sexism on campus (which included one professor claiming that women’s suffrage was bad for marriages). I mentioned my annoyances to a professor, especially in regard to rape culture. Now, this guy isn’t a bad person. I would say he’s actually a good person who sometimes gets his head stuck up his ass. But, really, I actually don’t dislike him at all. However, when I mentioned some victim-blaming that went on in lectures and in the student body, he said, “Well, you have to understand, when a man sees a woman dressed a certain way, he just can’t help himself!”
    Yep, clothes instantly transform a decent guy into a rape-machine.
    Interestingly, this same school had students who were convinced that showing elbows was too much skin for women, and that women had no visual attraction and no sex drives, so we couldn’t understand their temptations. Which was a convenient way for super-sheltered, awkward guys to openly gape at women. After all, if she isn’t wearing a floor-length skirt and long sleeves, he just can’t help himself. I was gawked at by one such modesty apologist every day at my campus job. Even when I wore a turtleneck and a long skirt. Maybe I needed to wear a veil and mask, some gloves to hide my sexy hands? Where does it end?

  • StabbyRaccoon

    This is really interesting, I always love some good research. Sexism and
    especially dehumanization/lack of empathy make a lot of sense as
    determinants. Do you know if there’s any research on the interaction
    between believing rape myths and opposing abortions? It seems like a lot
    of anti-abortionists would like to brush aside the issue of pregnancies
    from rape by blaming victims, though I suppose that would also
    correlate with the religious brand of sexism.