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Rape Victims and the False Sense of Guilt

NCJ Number
Crime and Social Justice Issue: 13 Dated: (Summer 1980) Pages: 4-17
J Schwendinger; H Schwendinger
Date Published
14 pages
Many rape victims suffer from a feeling of false guilt which may hamper their emotional recovery and is caused by the social double standard.
Although rape victims often sustain minor physical injuries, the emotional damage is far greater, and the threat of physical injury adds to the emotional impact. Studies have shown that the feeling of fear and helplessness which is present during the act itself is replaced by guilt and self-blame immediately afterwards, which may linger for years and hamper full emotional recovery. The women who suffer most from these guilt feelings are those who have been severely abused, with prior emotional problems, with strict religious backgrounds proscribing nonmarital sexual relations, or those who are secretive about their experience. The reason why the rape victim blames herself rather than her assailant is that women in general have been socialized in a sexist society and have internalized discriminatory norms. This internalization takes place through the family, where women are defined as relatively powerless and inferior, through economic dependence, and through media enforcement of the stereotypes. The sexual double standard has to be removed from our society, so that women can become more assertive. References are included.