Who Supports Rape Victims?

The surprising role of focusing on your own appearance.

Posted Sep 24, 2019

That a woman would be blamed at all for being sexually assaulted is in itself disturbing, as surely the blame lies solely with the attacker. That a woman's clothing at the time would factor into this decision of blame is, I think, even more astonishing. But such is the culture of blaming victims.

Ample evidence shows that women are more likely to be blamed for being sexually assaulted if they have been sexualized. In these studies, participants are randomly assigned to either view a woman in more revealing clothing (such as lingerie or swimwear) or to view her in more standard outerwear. They then read a scenario describing a sexual assault, and are asked how much blame they assign to the woman who has been assaulted.

Stephen Loughnan, reader in psychology at the University of Glasgow, and colleagues decided to test if "self-objectification" relates to supporting rape victims. Self-objectification is defined as the extent to which a person values and emphasizes their own physical appearance. Loughnan and colleagues were predicting that high self-objectifying women would show less support for a rape victim after reading about her being attacked compared to low self-objectifying women. But what they found was actually the opposite. Women were more supportive (e.g., "How willing would you be to provide emotional support for this person?" with 1 being not at all and 9 being very willing) tended to have higher scores on valuing their own physical appearance.

Women who place a higher value on their own appearance are more likely to report that they would provide emotional support for a rape victim.

It is worth noting that these were not experiments (but correlations), so these studies do not provide any evidence that focusing on one's own appearance increases support for female rape victims. Also, I am in no way saying, nor is this data, that there aren't a ton of other factors at play when it comes to blaming victims. And again, I want it to be clear that morally speaking, I think the blame should lie entirely with the attacker. I am reporting what others think (what is) not what I think should be.

References

Bevens, C. L., Brown, A. L., & Loughnan, S. (2018). The role of self-objectification and women’s blame, sympathy, and support for a rape victim. PloS one, 13(6), e0199808.