Perception Of Rapists As Successful People Decreases Likelihood Of Crime Being Labeled As Rape, Study Finds

According to the National Sexual Violence Resource Center (NSVRC), one in five women and one in 71 men in the United States will be raped at some point in their lives. These statistics further show that one in three women experienced some form of sexual violence in their lifetime. Rape is the most under-reported crime, as per NSVRC, and more than 60 percent of sexual assaults are never reported to authorities.

In what is being called the #MeToo era, in the face of discouraging statistics, sexual assault cases involving celebrities and other influential figures are catching the eye of the general public. The media has relentlessly reported about sexual abuse in Hollywood and elsewhere, and even though the general public has a tendency to make strong judgments, the majority of men convicted in these cases received little to no jail time.

New research published in Frontiers in Psychology sheds light on the phenomenon of rape myth acceptance (RMA), or how rape myths affect the evaluation of a rape case. Authored by Boglárka Nyúl, Anna Kende, Márton Engyel, and Mónika Szabó of Eötvös Loránd University in Budapest, Hungary, the study titled “Perception of a Perpetrator as a Successful Person Predicts Decreased Moral Judgment of a Rape Case and Labeling it as Rape” examines the case of the Hungarian national swimming-coach László Kiss.

“When a rape scandal broke out in the media in Hungary, we were interested in understanding the mechanisms of bias, using the example of a rape case of László Kiss, a famous and popular swimming coach,” the researchers explained to PsyPost, adding that the fact that the coach had initially denied the allegations made the rape case “uncertain” in the eyes of the Hungarian public.

The researchers examined the role of so-called rape myths (beliefs about rape and its “causes, context, consequences, perpetrators, victims, and their interaction”) that serve to justify, downplay, or flat-out deny rape and other forms of sexual violence against women.

Two studies were used to gather data: the initial study took place before the coach admitted to committing a crime, and the second study took place after the confession. As expected, when the case was still uncertain, study participants were more inclined to accept rape myths, hesitating to describe the crime as rape. They were also more likely to say that the coach’s professional success was an important factor to consider when evaluating the charges brought against him.

“The importance of the perpetrator’s success did not affect moral judgment or rape labeling anymore. Although these results suggest that biased information processing had a more powerful effect on the evaluation of the case when the rape was uncertain, previous attitudes about rape continued to affect moral judgments even when the case was indisputable,” the researchers concluded.

Nyúl and colleagues recommended that future research should focus on different types of role models and celebrities, since profession, social status, and level of success all influence how a perpetrator of a sexual crime is perceived by the public.