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Incapacitated Rape and Victim Blame

Research Findings from the Sexual Violence Research Lab

When people hold rape victims responsible for their own victimization, this impedes recovery and reduces the likelihood of justice. Many people define rape in very stereotypical ways: A stranger attacks a woman and overwhelms her attempts to fight back. But rape occurs between acquaintances much more often than it does between strangers, and many rapes involve little overt force. Rapes among college students often involve alcohol. Incapacitated rape occurs when a victim is too intoxicated to give consent to sexual activity; in this case, little to no force is used because the victim is unable to resist. Prior research shows that people blame rape victims more (a) when the victim consumed alcohol prior to the assault than when she did not, and (b) when the rape involves little perpetrator force or victim resistance.

The Sexual Violence Research Lab conducted a study to investigate the roles of victim alcohol consumption and perpetrator use of force on victim blame. We were interested in whether the two effects combined in an additive or interactive fashion, so we designed four vignettes depicting an acquaintance rape that differed in whether or not the victim drank alcohol and whether or not the perpetrator used force. The condition in which the victim drank alcohol and the perpetrator did not use force illustrated an incapacitated rape. We found main effects for victim alcohol use, perpetrator use of force, and participant gender: men who read the incapacitated rape vignette showed the highest levels of victim blame (M = 6.9 on a 1-9 scale), but there was no alcohol * force interaction, suggesting that the effects are additive rather than interactive. The study suggests that female victims of incapacitated rape are in a double bind and are likely to be blamed, especially by men, for their own victimization.