Beyond Surveys and Scales: How Rape Myths Manifest in Sexual Assault Police Records

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Objective: The majority of sexual assault cases reported to police are never prosecuted. Prior literature has suggested rape myths may explain these trends because police are influenced by and draw upon rape myths in their beliefs, assumptions, and actions. However, prior research has relied on surveys to measure police attitudes; less is known regarding the extent to which these attitudes manifest in official sexual assault case records. The purpose of the current study was to determine the extent to which rape myths manifest in sexual assault investigations and develop a typology of statements that functionally operate as rape myths in official police records. Method: The written police records from N = 248 sexual assault cases were examined. Cases were coded via directed and conventional content analysis for rape myths. Results: Statements in police records drew upon rape myths that denied or justified the assault on the basis of specific circumstances of the assault (i.e., circumstantial statements) and specific characteristics of the victim (i.e., characterological statements). Statements in police reports also blamed victims for the way police responded to the assault (i.e., investigatory blame statements). Conclusions: Rape myth endorsement among police is evidenced in official sexual assault case records because they invoke traditional rape myths in documenting their investigations. More frequently, police account for their response by blaming the victim for a poor police investigation postassault. Findings suggest that future research should examine the extent to which such statements predict sexual assault case progression and that training for police should emphasize behavioral change (i.e., report writing).

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