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  • Writer's pictureRyon McDermott

New Research Summary: How do Rape Myths predict Rape Proclivity over time?

Updated: Jul 2, 2021

We sat down with Dr. Julia O'Connor, an assistant professor at the University of Central Florida to talk about her recently published study, The longitudinal effects of rape myth beliefs and rape proclivity. You can find this study an more like it in our main journal, The Psychology of Men & Masculinities.

What were the research questions you were answering with this study?

The overwhelming majority of college men will never engage in sexual assault. At the same time, the majority of sexual assault perpetration in college is committed by men. This study examined two constructs that have been show to be good predictors of college sexual assault in men: rape myth acceptance and rape proclivity.

The main research question driving this study was a fairly simple one – namely, what is the relationship between rape myth acceptance and rape proclivity beliefs among college men over time?

However, in order to really understand what this study was examining, this question needs to be unpacked a bit. First, rape proclivity is a construct we can use to understand an individual’s endorsement of the likelihood of committing sexual violence in the future, given the condition that the person would never be caught. Both this construct and rape myth beliefs have been found to be associated with perpetration of sexual violence and with each other. However, longitudinal studies –employing multiple timepoints – on the relationship between rape myth endorsement and rape proclivity are lacking. As such, this study examines if there will be a predictive relationship between rape proclivity and rape myth acceptance over time.

What are some of the key findings of this study?

Answering the main research question, this study demonstrated that rape myth belief endorsement and rape proclivity predicted each other over time. The relationship found within this sample of college men was not a simple one. Instead, rape myth acceptance predicted rape proclivity at later time points and vice versa (i.e., rape proclivity predicted later rape myth acceptance).

The findings indicated predictive causality and demonstrated that the relationship between rape myth acceptance and rape proclivity is complex and multifaceted. In other words, these constructs likely feed into each other over time.

What are some key implications of your findings for research or practice?

Both rape proclivity and rape myth acceptance are linked to sexual violence perpetration in other studies, indicating the importance of these constructs in preventing sexual violence among men. In particular, among this college sample, these constructs reinforced each other over time indicating a complex relationship that needs to be disrupted in order to prevent campus sexual violence. One main implication is that campus sexual violence prevention efforts should be implemented at multiple time points, not just at a single time point such as college orientation, to disrupt the path whereby these beliefs reinforce each other over time.

Where do you see this line of research heading in the future (i.e., what's next)?

First, replication of these findings using other longitudinal data is needed. As this is the first known study to examine the relationship between rape myth acceptance and rape proclivity using longitudinal data, further examinations of these constructs using multiple time points are needed. Second, this study only examined the relationship between rape myth acceptance and rape proclivity and did not include actual sexual violence perpetration behavior. Research is needed to investigate how a predictive causal relationship between rape myth acceptance and rape proclivity is related to future sexual violence perpetration among men.

How did you become interested in this line of inquiry?

This research is part of my PhD dissertation which examined men’s attitudes and beliefs related to sexual violence – mostly focused on rape myth acceptance. I am deeply committed to violence prevention and am interested in how we prevent violence from occurring through primary prevention efforts. This research necessarily includes understanding why those who perpetrate violence do so and how we stop future perpetration. As such, this research is an attempt to understand a piece of the puzzle of what drives perpetration of campus sexual violence among men.

Through understanding the relationship between constructs associated with violence perpetration, such as rape myth acceptance and rape proclivity, we can begin to understand how to disrupt pathways and risk factors for perpetration with the aim of ending violence before it starts.

Julia O’Connor, PhD, MSW, MPH (she/her/hers)

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