Does ‘Rape Culture’ in the Media Fuel a Permissive Climate for Sex Crimes?

Biased or unsympathetic press treatment of victims is a good predictor of a high incidence of rape, according to researchers who analyzed coverage of 310,000 cases between 2000 and 2013. It also influences police to make fewer arrests , they claimed.

Rape is more common in areas where “rape culture” persists in the media, according to a new study published in the Quarterly Journal of Political Science.

Matthew Baum and Dara Cohen of the John F. Kennedy School of Government at Harvard, and Yuri Zhukov of the University of Michigan analyzed coverage of 310,000 sex crime-related articles published in 279 newspapers from 2000 to 2013.

They specifically examined how often these outlets published stories about rape, and if the stories showed evidence of what they termed “rape culture”—language that include blaming the victim, showing empathy for perpetrators, implying consent, and questioning the victim’s credibility.

Drawing on law enforcement records, the researchers found that rape incidents are more prominent in areas where the local press fosters less sympathetic attitudes towards victims. They did not appear to examine broadcast or online media.

“Does rape culture predict rape? In a word, yes,” wrote the authors.

“We find that where there is more rape culture in the press, there is more rape. In areas with more prevalent rape culture in the press, police receive more frequent reports of rape, but make fewer arrests in response.”

Moreover, they added, law enforcement in those areas make fewer arrests—and offenders are more likely to offend, and victims are less likely to report because they believe police officers, too, hold rape culture ideologies and thus would be less likely to pursue arrests.

The study found the most egregious evidence of rape culture in in counties in Minnesota, North Carolina, California, Iowa..

The authors argue that evidence of rape culture in the local news is a reflection of the community’s negative perception of sexual assault victims, and the study confirms assertions that some social norms can deter or even enable sexual violence.

“Our research can potentially help journalists and editors uncover implicit biases in their work, allow policymakers to gauge police responsiveness, activists to devise methods to reduce or mitigate sexual crime, and scholars to systematically investigate the causes and consequences of rape,” the authors write.

The authors write that though rape culture is a contributing factor, it does not completely explain differences in the incidence of rape across counties. Furthermore, only about 3 percent of the news articles analyzed contain any of the four components of rape culture, with the most common component being victim-blaming.

“That rape culture correlates with increases in documented rape cases reveals little about the direction of the relationship,” the authors observed. “Journalists may simply be less sensitive where rape is more common, or some other, unobserved factor may drive both local news content and sexual violence.”

The researchers argued that the media’s passive or hostile attitude towards rape cases was also a consequence of their commercial interests.

“If local news coverage of rape systematically features victim-blaming language, empathy for the accused, implications of consent, and incredulity toward victims, we can reasonably interpret such content as a noisy indicator of attitudes that local news consumers and journalists find normatively acceptable and commercially viable,” they wrote.

But they also warned against “over-interpreting” their findings.

“Our empirical strategy shows that rape culture in the media is a reliable local predictor of sexual crime, but these estimates do not represent a causal effect,” they wrote.

A copy of the study can be purchased here.

J. Gabriel Ware is a TCR news intern. Readers’ comments are welcomed.

from https://thecrimereport.org