The Socio-Cultural Context of Rape: A Cross-Cultural Study


Dept. of Anthropology, University of Pennsylvania, University Museum F-1, Philadelphia, PA 19104.


This research departs from the familiar assumption that rape is an inherent tendency of male nature, and begins with the assumption that human sexual behavior, though based in a biological need, is an expression of cultural forces. The incidence, meaning, and function of rape in a cross-cultural sample of tribal societies are presented. Two general hypotheses guide the research: first, the incidence of rape varies cross-culturally; second, a high incidence of rape is embedded in a distinguishably different cultural configuration than a low incidence of rape. The data suggest that rape is part of a cultural configuration which includes interpersonal violence, male dominance, and sexual separation. Rape is interpreted as the sexual exprsssion of these forces in societies where the harmony between men and their environment has been severely disrupted.