Understanding Attributions of Victim Blame for Rape: Sex, Violence, and Foreseeability1


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    We thank Brian Gladue, Russ Glasgow, Verlin Hinsz, and Ruth Maki for their helpful comments.

Correspondence concerning this article should be sent to Kevin D. McCaul, Department of Psychology, North Dakota State University, Fargo, ND 58105.


We examined why persons blame some rape victims more than others. In two experiments, college students read nine rape descriptions and assigned blame for each incident. Students were randomly assigned to read only one version of each description in which we manipulated a variety of variables thought to influence victim blame. In addition, participants rated whether each assault victim might have derived sexual pleasure from the event (both experiments) and whether the victim should have foreseen the event (Experiment 2). Across experiments, variations within several of the rape descriptions (e.g., victim respectability, assault “enjoyment”) produced differences in victim blaming. More importantly, in Experiment 1, judgments of whether the victim experienced sexual pleasure strongly predicted blame attributions. In Experiment 2, regression analyses demonstrated that both perceptions of pleasure and foreseeability predicted victim blaming within and across incidents. On the basis of these data, we propose an explanation of victim blaming for rape that relies on two theoretical variables: intentions and foreseeability. Neither the Defensive Attribution Hypothesis or the Just World Theory accounts for the findings, but the data generally fit Shaver's (1985) theory of the attribution of blame.