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Rape Myths: A Persistent Problem in Defining and Prosecuting Rape

NCJ Number
Criminal Justice Volume: 7 Issue: 2 Dated: (Summer 1992) Pages: 2-7,51-53
R T Andrias
Date Published
9 pages
Following a review of the myths about rape, their fallacies, and how they permeate decisionmaking and media reporting in rape cases, this article examines recent rape law reform.
The following are the most common myths about rape: true rape victims will report and complain about the rape to persons close to them and to the police; rape usually occurs at night and between strangers; rape is an expression of sexual desire; women falsely accuse men of rape; women invite sexual assault through provocative dress and behavior; prior sexual consent with the perpetrator implies ongoing consent; and a woman impaired by drugs or alcohol invites rape. All of these myths shift the focus of rape from the perpetrator's behavior to the victim's behavior before, during, and after the rape. These myths influence every aspect of a rape case, including whether the complaint will be acted on by police and prosecutors, the way the case is reported in the media, the way attorneys frame and argue the issues, the way the judge rules on the substantive law, and how the jury decides the case. Rape law reform has helped to address some of these myths. Almost all American jurisdictions have now eliminated the requirement of corroboration except in special situations. Overt signs of earnest victim resistance as an element of proof in a rape case has also been revised in many States. The threat of physical force, express or implied, is sufficient in many States to establish rape. Rape shield laws have precluded defense attorneys from bringing up the past sexual conduct of the victim. One of the most striking developments in the trial of a rape case is the increasing acceptance by courts of testimony by experts on the subject of rape trauma syndrome. This helps the jury to understand the varied ways in which rape victims may respond to their victimization. This article concludes with a discussion of ways to counter rape myths that are prevalent in public attitudes.