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Violence Against Women

18(12) 1413 1434

The Author(s) 2013
Reprints and permission:
DOI: 10.1177/1077801212474432
12474432Violence Against WomenMaier
The Author(s) 2011
Reprints and permission: http://www.
Widener University, Chester, PA, USA
Corresponding Author:
Shana L. Maier, Department of Criminal Justice, Widener University, One University Place, Chester, PA
19013, USA.
The Complexity of Victim-
Questioning Attitudes by Rape
Victim Advocates: Exploring
Some Gray Areas
Shana L. Maier
Despite efforts to educate and create community awareness, rape myths and victim-
blaming attitudes persist in society. This research explores whether advocates express
victim-questioning attitudes or questions, negative judgment, or frustration regarding
victims behavior or choices. Data from interviews with 58 advocates reveal that the
majority (76%) of advocates never expressed any victim-questioning attitudes during the
interview. However, responses from 14 advocates (24%) show that victim-questioning
has evolved into a much more complex, subtle form than historical victim blaming or
acceptance of rape myths.
rape crisis center, rape myths, rape victim advocates
Despite efforts to educate and create community awareness, rape myths, and victim-
blaming attitudes persist in society. Rape myths have been defined as generally false but
widely and persistently held beliefs and attitudes that serve to deny or justify male sexual
aggression against women (Lonsway & Fitzgerald, 1994). Myths include the notion that
victims lie about rape (Doyle & Barbato, 1999), victims precipitate rape (Amir, 1971;
Garland, 2005; Holmstrom & Burgess, 1978; Lee, Pomeroy, Yoo, & Rheinboldt., 2005),
rapes committed by acquaintances are less severe than rapes committed by strangers
(Estrich, 1987; McGregor, Wiebe, Marion, & Livingstone, 2000), real victims sustain
injury (Du Mont, Miller, & Myrh, 2003; McGregor et al., 2000), and marital rape is less
1414 Violence Against Women 18(12)
severe than other rapes (Frese, Moya, & Megias, 2004; Kirkwood & Cecil, 2001). Myths
about rapists include the notion that rapists act due to sexual motives (Garland, 2005).
Rape victim advocates counsel rape victims or their significant others over the phone or
in person; provide various forms of crisis intervention; accompany victims to hospitals,
police stations, or legal proceedings; educate the community on wider issues surrounding
rape; and fight for better treatment of rape victims by society and the medical, criminal
justice, and legal systems (Du Mont et al., 2003; Martin, 2005). While past studies have
illuminated systematic issues surrounding rape, there remains great need for additional
research that includes rape victim advocates perceptions about rape-related issues.
Specifically, do advocateswho are themselves members of a rape-prone society with a
culture that typically questions rape victimsexpress victim-questioning attitudes or ques-
tions, negative judgment, or frustration regarding victims behavior or choices before the
rape? Do advocates ever struggle with common stereotypical conceptions of what a real
rape should entail and how a real victim should look and behave? Do advocates ever
place responsibility for preventing rape solely on potential victims? The present study
explored how rape victim advocates perceive rape, rape victims, and rapists.
Understanding advocates perceptions and attitudes is important because advocates are
often the first responders and supporters for the victim. Rape victims may contact a local
rape crisis hotline before disclosing or reporting the incident to anyone else. Research
indicates that reacting negatively to disclosure influences victims emotional recovery (see
Campbell et al., 1999), as well as whether victims blame themselves (Ullman, Townsend,
Filipas, & Starzynski, 2007). If advocates express victim-questioning attitudes, this could
be detrimental to victims. In addition, advocates tend to be the one constant source of vic-
tim support; they are a crucial link, supporting rape victims as they navigate potentially
unfriendly systems and confront hurdles, such as the medical exam, police interview, or
trial. Consequently, their unconditional support and understanding are essential. Lastly, as
advocates educate the community on wider issues surrounding rape it could be problematic
if they hold unrecognized (or recognized) victim-questioning attitudes. There is limited
research on rape victim advocates perceptions of rape, rape victims, and rapists, and the
degree to which they fall prey to the negative attitudes toward rape victims that persist in
society. This article attempts to fill this void in the literature.
Review of the Literature
Amir (1971) first introduced the term victim-precipitated rape, the notion that some-
times victims are as blameworthy as offenders. Although dated, Amirs work is reflected
in the belief that no victim is completely innocent or free from blame. Previous research
has found that men are more likely than women to hold more negative attitudes toward
rape victims and to accept rape myths (Best, Dansky, & Kilpatrick, 1992; Cowan &
Campbell, 1995; Jiminez & Abreu, 2003; Lonsway & Fitzgerald, 1994; Nagel, Matsuo,
McIntyre, & Morrison, 2002; White & Robinson Kurpius, 1999). However, it is important
to note that although men are more likely to do so, women also often accept rape myths
Maier 1415
(Cowan, 2000). Rape myths reinforce the just world theory (Lerner, 1980), the idea that
the world is a just place and bad things only happen to those who deserve them. It is func-
tional for women to maintain this myth to deny their own vulnerability: The belief that
only certain types of women are raped functions to obscure and deny the personal vulner-
ability of all women by suggesting that only other women are raped (Lonsway &
Fitzgerald, 1994, p. 136). This illusion of invulnerability (Wiehe & Richards, 1995)
helps others make sense of the crime by blaming victims.
Most rape myths are based on traditional gender norms: Women are expected to behave
in particular ways that confirm and reinforce their femininity in order to avoid blame for
rape. Rape myths propose that only certain women or women with bad reputations are
raped (Ward, 1995). A woman who claims to be raped is lying, possibly to seek revenge after
being scorned by a lover, to cover up an illegitimate pregnancy, to appease feelings of guilt,
or to save her reputation because she regrets her actions (Doyle & Barbato, 1999). Examples
of victim precipitation include becoming visibly intoxicated, dressing provocatively, accept-
ing a ride from a stranger, initiating some degree of sexual intimacy, or inviting a man into
her home (see Burt, 1980; Garland, 2005; Lonsway & Fitzgerald, 1994).
Misconceptions about the act of rape include the idea that it is impossible to rape a
woman who does not want to be raped (Holmstrom & Burgess, 1978) and the longer a
woman waits to protest, the more likely she desires the sexual encounter (Shotland &
Goodstein, 1983). This first myth has a functional aspect: the false claim that a woman
cannot be raped against her will denies the severity of the crime and the urgency for broader
social change. A second prevalent myth regarding rape concerns the relationship between
victims and rapists. Rapes committed by a stranger are more likely to be seen as real
(Estrich, 1987) and as more traumatic (Frese et al., 2004). Victims raped by acquaintances
are viewed as more responsible for the victimization (Whatley, 1996) and are not afforded
the same treatment by the criminal, legal, medical, and mental health systems as women
raped by strangers.
There are also rape myths concerning the rapist. One myth posits that men are natu-
rally sexually aggressive and should not be held responsible when they lose control of
their sexual urges. At the core of this first myth is the false belief that rape is sexually
motivated (Schwendinger & Schwendinger, 1983). Feminists and advocates for victims
have struggled to change the cultural belief that rape is about sex to an understanding that
rape is about violence and power (Brownmiller, 1972; Cahill, 2001). Although research
has indicated that most rapists are not mentally ill (Scully, 1994), a second key myth
about rapists posits that they perpetrate rape because they suffer from a mental illness or
disease. Research suggests that this myth historically was widely held by college stu-
dents (Giacopassi & Dull, 1986) as well as rape advocates (Renzetti, 1979).
Several scholars have explored the perceptions and experiences of rape victim advo-
cates. Renzetti interviewed rape victim advocates to examine their definitions and theories
of rape, and the extent to which they accepted rape myths (Andersen & Renzetti, 1980;
Renzetti, 1979). She found that although advocates attempted to redefine rape as an issue
of power, rather uncontrollable lust, they sometimes expressed popular rape myths in their
1416 Violence Against Women 18(12)
discussion of rape-related issues. For example, rape victim advocates often alluded to the
myth that rapists are sick or psychologically unbalanced.
Martin (2005) provides the most extensive research on rape crisis center workers. She
concluded that rape workers (police, medical staff, legal professionals, rape crisis center
workers) often exhibited both victim-blaming attitudes about rape, victims, and rapists
(e.g., rape results from womens poor judgment, rapists are sick or cannot control sexual
impulses) and feminist attitudes (e.g., rape results from the power imbalance between men
and women).
Campbell (1998) interviewed 168 rape victim advocates to explore the services offered
to victims by the legal, medical, and mental health systems, and to evaluate whether these
services met victims needs. Most recently, Payne (2007) surveyed 44 sexual assault crisis
center workers to explore the barriers they encounter collaborating with health care profes-
sionals. Although these studies examine rape victim advocates attitudes and behavior, they
do not directly explore the extent to which advocates may adhere to persistent rape myths.
Letters of inquiry were sent to the directors, program coordinators, or advisors at seven
rape crisis centers or programs in fall 2003.
The letters of inquiry explained the purpose
of the research (i.e., to explore the experiences and viewpoints of rape victim advocates)
and requested access to interview the rape victim advocates affiliated with the center or
program. Five of the centers were selected due to location and one center was selected
because it is one of the oldest rape crisis centers and serves a large city in the United States.
Participants from one university-based research center were unable to be recruited, so six
centers or programs are included (five community based and one university based). Thus,
this is primarily a convenience sample, which raises some methodological limitations; in
particular, it is impossible to determine if the results would be the same if the included rape
crisis centers were randomly selected from all centers on the East Coast.
The sample is comprised of 58 women associated with six rape crisis centers or pro-
grams located in four East Coast states. Based on the anticipated scarcity of male advocates
and the recognition that including only a few males would not lend to comparability, males
were not included in the research. There were, in fact, only eight male volunteers located
in four of the centers and programs.
Individuals qualified for participation only if they had
completed 40 to 50 hr of training, had been a rape victim advocate for one month or longer,
and had worked with at least one rape victim in the past year.
The average amount of time the 58 advocates in this sample have served as rape victim
advocates with their current rape crisis center or program is 2 years. The advocate serving
the longest had been an advocate for 15 years at the time of the interview, and the advocate
serving the shortest time had been an advocate for 1 month at the time of the interview. Ten
advocates had prior affiliations with other rape crisis centers or programs. Thirty-two advo-
cates (55%) had their own personal experience of a completed or attempted sexual victim-
ization. Participants ranged in age from 18 to 60 years old. Thirty-one percent (n = 18) of
Maier 1417
the advocates were women of color.
Of the 58 advocates, 40 (69%) volunteered for the
center or program, six (10%) were part-time paid staff members, seven (12%) were full-
time paid staff, and five (9%) were interns. Advocates from centers and programs have the
same roles and responsibilities. However, part-time and full-time staff members tend to
have more contact with victims than volunteers. Advocates affiliated with the university-
based center tend to have less contact with victims than advocates from community-based
centers, because the university-based center serves a smaller population of potential
Because of the nature of the research, a qualitative methodology is most appropriate for
in-depth assessment of the perceptions and experiences of study participants.
research allows participants to articulate their feelings and experiences more clearly and in
their own words, potentially providing more accurate and valid information (Flavin, 2001).
Questions included in the interview guide were developed after a careful review of the
extant literature. Based on previous research suggesting that some psychotherapists may be
consciously or unconsciously biased against their clients (Dye & Roth, 1990), it was
assumed that it is possible for advocates to unconsciously accept victim-questioning atti-
tudes. Posing direct questions about rape myths or victim-questioning attitudes in a ques-
tionnaire format could mask this problem. Instead, a semistructured interview guide was
used not only to raise questions of interest to the researcher, but also to allow issues to
emerge that the researcher may not anticipate (Iliffee & Steed, 2000).
In this study, victim-questioning attitudes include questions, negative judgment, or
frustration regarding victims behavior or choices before the rape. The term victim-
questioning was selected over victim-blaming because of the complexity of advocates
perceptions and because advocates did not explicitly state that victims deserve to be
raped. In addition, the term questioning here implies an attitude rather than a specific
behavior or action. Advocates who were aware of their victim-questioning attitudes
insisted that they would not reveal their feelings to victims or treat victims differently.
This research examines advocates attitudes and perceptions revealed during the inter-
view; it does not address behavior, since rape victim advocates were not observed inter-
acting with rape victims.
The author conducted all interviews between October 30, 2003 and February 16, 2004.
Interviews averaged 45 min to 1 hr. The shortest interview, conducted over the phone,
lasted 25 min. The longest interview, conducted in person, lasted 2 hr. Of the 58 inter-
views, 38 (66%) were conducted over the phone and 20 (34%) were conducted in person.
Interviews conducted in person were conducted at a rape crisis center, the parent social
service agency, a university office, a library, and a diner. Participants were not paid for
their time.
After all interviews were transcribed verbatim, a qualitative, inductive analysis using a
grounded theory approach was utilized. According to Strauss and Corbin (1990), grounded
theory refers to the emergence of theory from data that are systematically gathered and
analyzed. This research does not test any specific hypotheses. Instead, the analysis involved
first identifying core themes that emerged from multiple reads of the interview data (Rubin
1418 Violence Against Women 18(12)
& Rubin, 1995). Themes were simply ideas or phrases that appeared in multiple interviews.
The more frequently the same concept occurs in a text, the more likely it is a theme (Ryan
& Bernard, 2003). Next, a more formal analysis of the data began, including open coding
and axial coding (Miles & Huberman, 1994; Strauss & Corbin, 1990). Rather than focusing
on line-by-line coding, transcripts were read numerous times and themes were identified.
In order to systematically review the extent and context of victim-questioning attitudes,
the second stage of the analysis included axial coding. The purpose of axial coding is to
examine a category in terms of the conditions that give rise to it; the context in which it is
embedded . . . (Strauss & Corbin, 1990, p. 97). The aim during this step was not only to
identify if advocates provided victim-questioning responses, but if their response focused
on victims, rape, or rapists. At this stage of analysis advocates who revealed victim-
questioning attitudes were compared to those who did not.
One major methodological limitation is that only one researcher coded the data in their
entirety, so it is possible that others would interpret advocates responses differently.
However, when specific data fell into more of a gray area regarding questioning or blaming
of victims, the researcher consulted with two colleagues in departments of Criminal Justice
and Sociology. In addition, the researcher also consulted with one of the directors from a
rape crisis center (included in the sample). All were asked to review the section of the tran-
script in question, and although they did not formally code the data, the researcher sought
the input of all three women on numerous occasions during the analysis process. When
there was disagreement over whether an advocate was questioning victims or accepting
rape myths, discussions continued until a consensus was reached. The director of one of the
centers also shared the results with several advocates during a meeting, and also with a
codirector, and their reactions were shared with the researcher.
The research reveals that the majority (76%) of advocates never expressed any victim-
questioning attitudes during the interview. However, responses from 14 advocates (24%)
reveal that victim-questioning has evolved into a much more complex, subtle form than
historical victim-blaming or acceptance of rape myths. Specifically, these data highlight
the gray area between offering practical, preventive techniques women can take to avoid
rape and blaming women who have not followed recommendations and are raped.
Although advocates do not endorse or accept common or historically popular rape
myths about rape or rapists, some ambiguity shaped their responses about victim precipita-
tion and victim responsibility. While all advocates agree that victims do not deserve to be
raped, advocates continue to fall prey to the common social tendency to place at least some
degree of responsibility for rape prevention and victimization on women. Acceptance of
the idea of victim precipitation or the notion that the offender alone is not always respon-
sible for the offense has been suggested by prior research (Amir, 1971).
The 14 advocates who questioned victims responsibility pondered if rape results from
victims lack of assertiveness, poor choices, or miscommunication. Although ones per-
sonal experiences of rape might influence such attitudes, the current data do not show a
Maier 1419
distinctive pattern between personal victimization and victim-questioning attitudes.
Moreover, limited experience working with rape victims does not appear to affect victim-
questioning attitudes among advocates; the average amount of time these 14 advocates
have spent advocating for and counseling rape victims is slightly more than 3.5 years.
Race/ethnicity does not appear to play a role in shaping these attitudes, nor does ones
status as a paid staff member or volunteer. Advocates who interacted with victims on the
phone (hotline) and in person (hospital, police station, or court) were more likely to exhibit
victim-questioning attitudes compared to advocates who interacted with victims in only
one way (hotline, hospital exams, or court proceedings only). Perhaps those who assisted
with victims in various ways had more experiences on which to reflect. Of the 14 advocates
who revealed victim-questioning attitudes, nine (64%) were interviewed in person and five
(36%) were interviewed by phone. Advocates interviewed in person were more likely than
advocates interviewed by phone to reveal victim-questioning attitudes; nine of the 20
(45%) advocates interviewed in person revealed victim-questioning attitudes compared to
only five of the 38 (13%) advocates interviewed by phone.
All advocates were trained on the differences between facts versus myths about rape,
rape victims, and rapists. Specifically, advocates were taught that rape is not caused by
someones appearance, attire, or intoxication; most rape victims do not have bruises or
other physical injuries; men can be raped; and prostitutes can be raped. Time was also spent
debunking myths about rapists. Specifically, advocates were taught that the typical rapist is
not a stranger lurking in the bushes, but is more likely to be the victims acquaintance.
Statistics were presented during training. Many advocates discussed interactive exercises
conducted during training that required them to identify false, stereotypical images about
rape. These trainings may account for the subtleness and complexity of the victim-ques-
tioning attitudes of those (24%) who revealed them.
Perceptions of Rape Victims
Across the six rape crisis centers, advocates indicated that they were cognizant of the range
of victims who experience rape. Fifty-one advocates (88%) did not think there is a typi-
cal rape victim, and seven correctly explained that the typical victim is raped by an
acquaintance. Although most victims seeking services are women, advocates recognized
that men could also be victimized. Throughout the interviews, advocates pondered the
possibility that men are victimized much more than rape crisis centers are aware but sim-
ply do not reach out for counseling or other services because of the stigma associated with
rape or the idea that rape crisis centers are only for women.
Advocates were asked whether women can take preventive measures to avoid rape.
Only 12 (21%) stated that nothing can be done to completely prevent rape or sexual assault,
even though 32 advocates (55%) had had their own personal experience of a completed or
attempted sexual victimization. Although most advocates (71%) stated that rape is caused
by mens need to exert power over women, very few mentioned the responsibility of poten-
tial perpetrators. Advocates were more likely to question victims decisions preceding the
rape than they were to fully blame perpetrators.
1420 Violence Against Women 18(12)
As stated previously, some advocates (24%) revealed acceptance of myths about rape
victims or expressed victim-questioning attitudes when they raised the issue of whether
victims have more of a responsibility to prevent rape by communicating more clearly or
making better choices. However, it is important to reiterate that although some advocates
may have questioned victims responsibility, none ever stated that victims deserve to be
raped. When advocates revealed these attitudes, it is clear that most were completely
unaware that they were questioning victims actions or decisions. Others acknowledged
their lingering biases, but stated clearly that they would not verbalize such feelings when
working with victims. The complex and subtle ways that some advocates questioned vic-
tims will be explored in the following section.
Bad Choices
According to a few advocates, rape victims have control over the choices they make
preceding their victimization. According to Martin (2005), a mainstream
or nonfeminist
discourse of rape asserts that women and girls who show poor judgment . . . precipitate
rape (p. 123). Ten advocates (17%) used a nonfeminist discourse when they discussed the
bad choices or unwise decisions that women make and the need for them to make
better choices or smarter decisions to avoid bad situations. Examples of women who
make bad choices or put themselves in bad situations are prostitutes, women who
become visibly intoxicated, women who accept drinks that they did not make, women who
attend parties or other social functions without a buddy, and women who get into cars
with men they just met.
A few advocates discussed the correlation between rape and intoxication, consistent
with research (Mohler-Kuo, Dowdall, Koss, & Wechsler, 2004; Ullman, 2003). Advocates
do not assert that women who are intoxicated at the time of a rape or assault deserve blame,
but they do understand the fact that alcohol is a common factor in many date and acquain-
tance rape situations and that when women drink or become intoxicated they put them-
selves at greater risk of being sexually victimized. Phyllis (a pseudonym as are all names
used in this article), who has been affiliated with a university-based rape program for 15
years, offers a mixed reaction to womens decisions to drink alcohol:
If people would be smarter about the alcohol and drugs they do in certain situations
they may be their own better advocate in their safety, and I think some people put
their enjoyment and their fun above their safety and sanctity in preserving them-
selves as an individual. Would I ever say that I think women should drink less to
keep themselves from being assaulted as frequently? No. I think women should be
able to do whatever they damn well want to do but I also do know practicality tells
me that Im not going to go to a bar and tie one on and not have a friend there who
is going to make sure nothing bad happens to me.
This is a very complex response. Although at one point Phyllis discusses her personal
prevention measures that may very well be practical, the total response also raises
Maier 1421
questions about victims who do not follow the same preventive measures and put their
enjoyment and fun above their safety. This response exhibits the pervasiveness of the
societal attitude that women are responsible for preventing victimization and highlights
one major societal dilemma: when does offering preventive techniques to women to avoid
rape become victim questioning? Some advocates, like Phyllis, struggled to reconcile the
idea that there are some measures women can take to put themselves less at risk in our
rape-prone society, suggesting that prevention falls entirely on women.
Charlene, who has been a hotline advocate for three and a half years, further questions
womens responsibility for reducing rape by reflecting that rape would occur less fre-
quently if women did not get themselves into bad situations by drinking too much. Such
responses walk a fine line between understanding that intoxication is a factor in rape and
placing full responsibility for avoiding bad situations on women. Amber, a victim of an
attempted sexual assault, hid her anger with an intoxicated victim:
I have had one case where I was just frustrated. She [the victim] had been drinking
heavily and she wasnt sure what happened. . . . I think I was more angry not at the
situation but how could you put yourself in that situation? Not angry like being
angry towards her because thats not what I am there for. Inwardly I was like, Oh
my God. I want to scream. I got out of bed at four oclock in the morning for this.
It is tough sometimes and you have to step back and remember your role and not let
this come out.
These beliefs are consistent with other research findings that show that victims of sex-
ual assault who have transgressed conservative social restrictions are seen as more deserv-
ing of sexual abuse (Ward, 1995). Unfortunately the sentiment that victims who are
intoxicated during the rape may be more blameworthy than victims who are not permeates
criminal justice and legal systems and possibly university judicial proceedings. For exam-
ple, when Kelly was in college she did not receive university support when she was raped
by an acquaintance while drinking on campus. She did not pursue charges against her
assailant because the university told her that if she did, she would be charged with under-
age drinking.
In summary, although some advocates say that women do not necessarily have to com-
pletely abstain from alcohol consumption, a few advocates believed that drinking not only
puts them at greater risk of being raped, but also at greater risk of being questioned or
blamed. Research indicates that victims are not immune to this view; when victims con-
sume alcohol they may perceive that they have contributed to their own sexual victimiza-
tion (Fisher, Daigle, Cullen, & Tuner, 2003; Macy, Nurius & Norris, 2006). Statements
made by some advocates exhibit absence of a clear conviction that engaging in sexual
activity with an individual who is unable to consent is still rape.
Another way women were perceived as making bad choices was when they accepted
rides with strangers. Bonnie, who has never been sexually victimized, reflects on younger
victims: There is that parent role that comes out in me that says, Why would you get in a
car with them? Why would you do this? Although Bonnie questioned the judgment of
1422 Violence Against Women 18(12)
younger victims, she later states, I dont care if you walk down the street naked. That
doesnt give anyone the right to come over and throw you down to the ground and rape
you. So although Bonnie questions potential victims judgment, she adamantly believes
that no one has the right to rape another person. This highlights the complexity of the issue:
advocates may question victims choices but stop short of stating that one persons bad
choices give another individual a right to rape.
Ashley also asserted at one point during the interview that rape is never a victims fault,
but still recalls hiding her frustration from a victim who made a bad decision:
I try my hardest in the hospital not to get frustrated. I was on a case where the survivor
she had done something that I dont think I would have ever . . . She got into a car
with someone she didnt know. My first thought when I heard that was, Oh my
God, are you kidding? Why would you do that? Thats so dangerous. I was frus-
trated that if she would have just kept walking this never would have happened.
Ashley suggests women could make their choices more carefully by refusing a ride
from men they just met. However, some advocates failed to question whether it is safe for
women to accept a ride with men known to them despite the advocates training that the
typical rapist is known to the victim. Furthermore, they do not express that men who offer
rides to women, regardless of whether they are a stranger or an acquaintance, should be
responsible for refraining from sexually victimizing them.
Miscommunication or Lack of Assertiveness
A few advocates questioned whether victims communicate clearly or mean no when
they say no. Six advocates questioned if rape is caused by miscommunication and
womens lack of clarity and assertiveness. To illustrate, Dana, who was sexually abused as
a child by a coach, questions the meaning of no:
I think no means no and thats what no should mean. But I know that its not
always what it means, and it absolutely sometimes for some women means maybe
or means yes. Miscommunication is not acceptable. But the reality is that no
doesnt always mean no.
Gloria, who was sexually abused as a child by her friends father, also used the term
miscommunication, while Phyllis comments highlight victims lack of assertiveness:
I would have to say if there is one thing that struck me as similar for most of the
people I have worked with it was probably some level of non-assertiveness. And
usually out of their awareness. They can usually define themselves as a person who
doesnt like confrontation or somebody doesnt have good communication patterns
with other people. But as far as knowing that they are not assertive or knowing that
they give their power away in their interactions with other people . . .
Maier 1423
Sandra suggested that women should be told, Say what you mean and mean what you
say, and Lori wanted women to learn where the line is between wanting to be polite and
needing to be more assertive. Krista agreed: I think we need to be teaching girls that they
are allowed to say no. They are allowed to stick up for themselves. Although none of the
advocates states that women who are not assertive deserve to be raped, responses are still
troubling because they highlight the pervasiveness of the societal notion that rape may be
nothing more than a case of he said, she said. Their responses also suggest that part of
rape prevention is teaching women better communication skills; only one advocate men-
tioned mens responsibility to understand that no never means yes.
Causes of Rape
When advocates were asked why rape occurs, most reflected on socialization of men and
women, power differences between men and women, and general societal factors. First,
many advocates classified our society as a rape-prone society where rape is deemed
acceptable, and men and women are socialized to abide by gender norms. Starting at an
early age, males are socialized to be aggressive, while females are socialized to be passive.
In addition, advocates believe our society equates sex with violence. Betty Ann, who was
sexually abused as a child by her stepfather, explained:
All these gender messages that we learn from a very young age contribute to it and
the whole culture of rape. Many of the words that are used for sex are violent. I think
all that feeds into these ideas about what is acceptable that makes it ok to rape.
Advocates believed that society also sexualizes women and portrays them as property,
which is seen clearly in media images. Ann Marie reflected:
Women are so sexualized in this country and we give people the impression that
they have access to womens bodies. It gives legitimacy to the act [rape] almost.
Second, the majority of advocates (71%) specifically stated that men use rape as a way
to gain a sense of power and control over another person. Catherine, who has been an
advocate for slightly over a year and was sexually assaulted both as a child and while in
college, explains:
It [rape] feels powerful. You are making someone do something that they are sub-
mitting to your will. And thats a rush for some rapists unfortunately.
Although the majority of advocates felt that rape is caused by a rapists need for power,
when advocates were asked how rape can be reduced, surprisingly only 10 advocates
(17%) stated that targeting men or potential rapists to change was the best way to reduce
rape. These 10 women discussed the importance of teaching men to be accountable for
their actions, that their actions have life-changing effects on their victims, that lack of
1424 Violence Against Women 18(12)
resistance does not equal consent, and that any sexual activity with an individual who is
intoxicated or passed out is rape. Although the vast majority of advocates asserted that rape
is about a mans need to exert power over another person and that some may not understand
what they are doing is rape, very few noted that the best strategy to reduce rape was forcing
men to change.
Advocates in this sample do not accept traditional myths about rapists and provided
responses characteristic of what Martin (2005) refers to as a feminist discourse. A femi-
nist discourse says that rapists are normal boys and men (Martin 2005, p. 123). Most
advocates believe there is no typical rapist; it could be anyone looking for a means to
gain power and control. Sandra, who experienced an attempted rape by a friend, reflected:
Thats the scary part. You meet people and you know that they dont look like mon-
sters and thats scary because you dont know who you know that does that kind of
behavior. It could be a relative or a friend of yours or someone you used to date.
Thats scary.
Bonnie agreed that there is not a typical rapist:
If he was a typical rapist everyone would be able to pick him out on the street. Thats
why you have your date and acquaintance rapes because they [rapists] are not typi-
cal. They look like your average nice guy next door, the kid you grew up with, your
neighbor around the corner.
Moreover, advocates do not believe the common myth that rapists are crazed lunatics or
have severe psychological problems. All but one advocate rejected that rapists were crazy
during the time of the rape. Research conducted with convicted rapists supports that rapists
are not sick or psychologically imbalanced (Scully, 1994).
Advocates also were highly aware of the fact that the vast majority of rapes are perpe-
trated by someone known to the victim. Twelve advocates (21%) specifically stated that it
is very hard for women to prevent rape and sexual assault because of the probability that
they will be victimized by someone known to thema friend, a boyfriend, a husband, a
sibling, a parent, or a neighbor. However, when the vast majority of advocates offered sug-
gestions for preventive measures that women can take to avoid sexual victimization, they
were slightly more likely to suggest measures that would protect victims from stranger
rapes rather than from acquaintance rapes. These prevention techniques include not leaving
ones home at night, not walking alone, not walking on dark streets, refusing a drink from
a stranger at a party, making sure keys are ready before approaching a car, carrying a cell
phone, and always being aware of surroundings. Ashley, for instance, warned women
against accepting a drink from someone they dont know. Eliza warned against leaving a
friend in a room with a strange guy. However, Ashley did not consider the likelihood that
Maier 1425
an acquaintance or date of a potential victim may also put a rape-facilitating drug in a
drink, nor does Eliza recommend not leaving friends in a room with someone they know.
Although advocates are aware that stranger rape is much less likely than acquaintance rape,
when asked how women can prevent rape, some still tend to revert back to the myth that
the rapist is a stranger.
Thirty-eight advocates (65.5%) believed being raped by an acquaintance is more trau-
matic than being raped by a stranger because the victim may trust the acquaintance, it is
unexpected, and it causes victims to doubt their discretion regarding whom to trust. Also,
such victims are more likely to face disbelief and blame from society and criminal justice
officials. Teresa, who was raped by an acquaintance, explained:
Acquaintance rape is harder to get through. It is easier for society to blame a victim
in that scenario. When you get into the he said, she said battles, people wont
believe survivors quite as much when it is acquaintance rape.
Krista, who has never been sexually victimized, agreed:
I think the recovery process for getting over an acquaintance rape is much more trau-
matic because everyone understands that the guy who jumps out of the bushes was
wrong, and everyone feels terrible for you and thats horrible. It doesnt have the same
stigma, as, you are lying and made it up, you asked for it, you didnt tell him no.
Societal disbelief may lead to self-doubt and self-blame by victims. Kim stated:
I think because the most acceptable form of rape by society is the stranger rape, the
rape where a woman is dragged into a back alley and raped, and I think that is
clearly seen as a crime and I think a woman or man has a better chance of being able
to conceptualize that as a crime against him or her.
Ann Marie, who has never been sexually victimized, agreed:
Plus we have that rape myth that you are going to be raped by a stranger so you
begin to doubt if this is really rape. I have so many clients who have said that, I
cant fathom that I was raped because in my mind you are raped by a guy jumping
out of the bushes at gunpoint, not by the guy I was dating or my friend. I think they
feel more responsible.
Only two advocates believed that rape committed by a stranger is more traumatic than
rape committed by someone known to the victim because you cannot play mind games
with yourself to make yourself believe it is not any different than consensual sex, or
because victims are more likely to believe they are going to be killed. The remaining 18
advocates could not commit to whether one was more traumatic than the other because
they felt it depended on the specific situation or person.
1426 Violence Against Women 18(12)
Complexity of Victim-Questioning Attitudes
The complexity of perceptions of rape victims and victim-questioning attitudes is
revealed in the present study; it was apparent through the contradictory answers of
some advocates that they were not aware they held any stereotypical viewpoints and
did not realize when they were questioning victims decisions. Also, it is important to
reiterate that the majority (76%) of advocates never expressed any victim-questioning
attitudes during the interview. Moreover, every advocate who revealed some level of
victim-questioning attitudes also expressed that victims never deserve their victimiza-
tion. Most advocates simply did not realize they had internalized any bias. This unrec-
ognized internalization of victim-questioning is best seen in Rachaels idea of the
typical victim:
Typically lower educational backgroundthings that tend to be people who do not
make the best choices, not that that excuses anything but sometimes I will think
internally, Ew. That wasnt the best idea to take a ride home from three guys at a
bar. Usually somebody with lower self-esteem . . . not low but lower. A lot of times
survivors feel like deep down it was their fault. Personally I would never think it
was my fault but I am coming from a different place. But I spend a lot of time trying
to convince survivors that they did nothing wrong. It triggers with me, Why are
they so convinced they did something wrong?
Rachael, who never had a personal experience with sexual victimization, is clearly
unaware of her biases. Like Rachael, other advocates acknowledged that when they have
negative views about rape victims, they do not verbalize them to victims. Veronica, who
was sexually abused by a teacher, agreed that accepting a ride from a stranger at two
oclock in the morning is stupid. But she said, Even if you are thinking that in your head
you can never say that. Ashley, who was frustrated with a victim who accepted a ride with
a stranger because if she would have just kept walking this never would have happened,
explained that she kept these thoughts private:
I would certainly never say that to her because that is me judging her and that is a
terrible thought to have and me thinking that is equivalent to me thinking that it was
her fault and she could have avoided this. I would certainly never express it to a
Bonnie, who has gut feelings that every woman who cries rape has not necessarily
been raped, said she would not treat these individuals differently or reveal her
Some advocates who expressed victim-questioning attitudes stated that it was their job
to support the victim. They would only have negative thoughts internally and would
never tell a victim because they believe that keeping these thoughts to themselves is suf-
ficient. During interviews, these advocates did not challenge themselves on these thoughts,
Maier 1427
nor did they question whether victims were aware that they did not believe them or were
questioning their judgment even though they did not verbalize it. When discussing their
reactions to victims, advocates never questioned whether their feelings or judgments
emerged in nonverbal cues.
Although individuals undergo 40 to 50 hr of training before becoming advocates, and over
half (55%) of the sample had their own personal experience of a completed or attempted
sexual victimization, 14 advocates (24%) expressed some degree of victim-questioning
attitudes. Although most (76%) advocates did not reveal victim-questioning attitudes, the
fact that 24% did is significant; this group is a population we would least expect to hold
these attitudes. Victim-questioning attitudes were conveyed when advocates criticized or
questioned victims for making bad choices that put them in bad situations or for failing to
be assertive.
It does not appear that an advocates personal experience of sexual victimization influ-
ences victim-questioning attitudes. Half (50%) of those who expressed victim-questioning
attitudes during the interview had their own personal experience of victimization. This is
consistent with research conducted by Carmody and Washington (2001) that found that
victims and nonvictims revealed similar attitudes about rape myths. This highlights the
possibility that advocates in this sample who have had a prior experience with sexual vic-
timization may question their own behavior and internalize a sense of responsibility. Race/
ethnicity does not appear to play a role in shaping these attitudes, either. Twenty-nine per-
cent of those who displayed victim-questioning attitudes were women of color; 31% of the
total sample were women of color.
This research indicates that advocates neither endorse nor accept historically popular
myths about rape or rapists. The vast majority of advocates strongly asserted both that rape
is about power and control, not about sex or sexual desire, and that rapists are normal,
not mentally disturbed. It is encouraging to see that these myths have been challenged and
discarded since the 1970s when Renzetti (1979) found that rape counselors allude to the
myth that rapists are sick or psychologically imbalanced.
The purpose of this article is not to criticize the 24% of advocates in the sample who
revealed victim-questioning attitudes. Despite my own education on violence against
women, previous experience as a volunteer rape victim advocate, and anger over the way
some members of society, medical staff, law enforcement, and the legal system question
and blame victims, I was surprised and dismayed when my interviews with some advocates
made me aware of my own personal biases against victims of which I had previously been
unaware. Advocates, many of whom were victimized at some point in their own lives, are
dedicated to supporting, counseling, and advocating for victims. Being a rape victim advo-
cate or counselor requires a compassionate heart. Advocates dedicate at least 40 hr for
training, volunteer countless hours to ensure that rape victims never feel like they are
alone, spend their holidays and weekends counseling victims over the phone, and leave
their homes at all hours to support victims in hospitals and at police stations. It is possible
1428 Violence Against Women 18(12)
that the few advocates in this research who expressed victim-questioning attitudes would
be surprised and possibly upset by their biases, especially since most did not acknowledge
when negative or judgmental thoughts emerged in their interviews.
This research extends previous rape research in several ways. First, responses from
these few advocates (24% of sample) reveal that victim-questioning has evolved into a
more subtle, complex form than previously thought. The complex nature of the acceptance
of rape myths and victim-blaming attitudes is supported by previous research. Buddie and
Miller (2001) concluded that it is possible that people believe in rape myths and blame rape
victims for being raped while simultaneously agreeing that rape is harmful and victims
need to be treated sympathetically. During training and follow-up meetings, advocates
should be encouraged to reflect on their perceptions about the victims they assist. Martin
(2005) also concluded that rape workers (law enforcement, medical staff, legal system,
rape crisis center workers) often used both mainstream and feminist discourses when dis-
cussing rape. However, unlike Martins comparison of several mainstream organizations
perceptions of rape to those of rape crisis centers, the present research explores how rape
victim advocates perceive rape, rape victims, and rapists.
Second, the study reveals that the systematic and societal questioning of rape victims is
so pervasive that it even invades the thoughts and attitudes of some individuals dedicated
to assisting and advocating for rape victims. Most who exhibited victim-questioning atti-
tudes during interviews were completely unaware that they were doing so. One advocate
summarized this notion: Sometimes I even have my struggles with those stereotypes and
those images we have. Theyre just such a part of culture that every now and again I have
them creep up. Another advocate was resigned to the fact that we are all human.
Human advocates do not escape the influence of societys pervasive attitudes, often
beyond their own recognition. Although advocates are well-trained and passionate about
issues surrounding rape, it is impossible to place them in a vacuum free from all the influ-
ences of a rape-prone society. Research has indicated that rape prevention programs do not
always reduce rape-supportive attitudes (see Brecklin & Forde, 2001), therefore it is essen-
tial that we continue to strive to reduce the pervasiveness of victim-blaming and question-
ing attitudes through education as well as less blameworthy depictions of victims by media.
It is possible that advocates who questioned victims decisions or responsibility did so
as a mechanism to protect themselves from their own feelings of vulnerability. It is also
possible that advocates may question victims choices and behaviors to maintain an illusion
that they are invulnerable to rape because they would never make bad choices or lack
assertiveness. The just world theory may be functional for advocates exposed to the real-
ity of rape on a consistent basis, as exhibited in a phrase used by an advocate questioning
a victim who accepted a ride with a stranger: She had done something I dont think I
would have ever . . . Advocates may question victims in order to deny the possibility that
they could also be sexually victimized.
Third, advocates who were aware of their internal negative thoughts stated that they
would never verbalize their beliefs or biases to rape victims. They believed that keeping
these thoughts to themselves is sufficient. They did not question whether such negative
thoughts or judgmental attitudes may be revealed in nonverbal cues. They brushed off their
Maier 1429
questions or judgments with a simple, I would never tell the victim that is what I thought.
During the interviews, they did not challenge themselves on these thoughts, nor did they
question whether victims are aware that advocates dont believe them or are questioning
their behavior even though the advocate does not verbalize it.
Fourth, the majority of advocates felt that rape results from a rapists need for power.
However, when they were asked how rape can be reduced, surprisingly only 10 advocates
(17%) stated that targeting men or potential rapists to promote change was the best way to
reduce rape. It is possible that advocates focus on victims rather than perpetrators because
they are affiliated with rape crisis where the focus is on services for victims. Nonetheless,
although it is important that rape crisis centers educate potential victims on how to protect
themselves, it is also essential that perpetrator accountability is included.
Lastly, it is interesting that although advocates understand that the vast majority of rapes
are committed by someone known to the victim, and over half (53%) of the advocates have
their own personal experience of a completed or attempted sexual victimization by some-
one known to them, they continued to provide strongest warnings against stranger assaults.
Advocates may not know how to protect themselves or educate other potential victims on
how to protect themselves against potential rapists who are acquaintances, or advocates
may simply be regurgitating typical warnings given to women that suggest protective mea-
sures against stranger rape. Ullman (2007) explains that, Risk reduction programs typi-
cally try to keep women from ever being attacked by advising them to restrict their behavior
by avoiding risky situations. Unfortunately, many women are attacked by men they know
in situations they thought were safe (p. 425). Nonetheless, despite their knowledge of
victimoffender patterns, advocates did not normally educate women on the reality of
acquaintance rape.
The findings of this research are tempered by a few limitations. First, the study exam-
ines attitudes and conceptualizations about a sensitive topic. It is often difficult to deter-
mine if attitudes match behavior. Rape victim advocates may be aware of the politically
correct or socially desirable answers to some questions and simply provide those, regard-
less of their true feelings. Since the research does not include observation of rape victim
advocates interaction with rape victims, it is impossible to determine if attitudes match
behavior. Every attempt was made to move respondents beyond socially desirable answers
through use of multiple probes and rephrasing of questions (e.g., What do you mean by
that statement?). Second, although the author did not intend to lead respondents in any
way through question phrasing, it is possible that the wording of questions influenced how
respondents answered. Third, Berg (1989) recommends the coding of qualitative data by
two or more researchers to assure that naturally arising categories are used rather than
those a particular researcher might hope to locateregardless of whether the categories
really exist (p. 43). As previously stated, only one researcher coded the data in its entirety,
so it is possible that others would interpret advocates responses differently. However,
when specific data fell into more of a gray area regarding questioning or blaming of vic-
tims, the researcher consulted with several colleagues. Because of the complexity of per-
ceptions of rape victims and victim-questioning attitudes, future research should begin
with a clearer conceptualization not only of victim-questioning attitudes, but also of when
1430 Violence Against Women 18(12)
revealed attitudes or perceptions reach the level of being victim-questioning.
Perhaps in
addition to open-ended questions, subjects responses to a series of vignettes that contain
traditional rape myths (e.g., real victims sustain injury, women lie about rape) as well as
more complex, subtle victim-questioning attitudes revealed in this research (e.g., women
should not drink to a point of intoxication) could be assessed to better quantify respon-
dents attitudes. Fourth, the majority (66%) of interviews were conducted over the phone.
It is possible that advocates who were interviewed in person were more comfortable and
therefore may have been more likely to reveal victim-questioning attitudes or provide more
candid responses to all questions. In addition, it is impossible to observe participants facial
expressions or other nonverbal cues during phone interviews. The observation of facial
expressions or other nonverbal cues could have been important data considering that advo-
cates who were aware of their victim-questioning attitudes insisted that they would not
reveal their feelings to victims or treat victims differently.
For interviews conducted over
the phone, it is impossible to know whether advocates did not verbally reveal (or did
reveal) victim-questioning attitudes, but their facial expressions or nonverbal cues were
contrary to their stated responses. Fifth, as previous research has indicated that females
have more favorable attitudes than males towards rape victims (Cowan & Campbell, 1995;
Jiminez & Abreu, 2003; Nagel et al., 2002; Ward, 1995; White & Robinson Kurpius, 1999),
this research is limited because it only includes female respondents. Future research should
also assess male advocates perceptions of rape, rape victims, and rapists. Finally, some
advocates revealed that they kept any judgmental attitudes private and did not reveal them
to victims. Since victims were not included, it is impossible to determine if advocates were
unknowingly revealing biases to victims or if victims picked up nonverbal cues that indi-
cated that advocates questioned their decisions or doubted their stories.
Despite these potential limitations, this research has provided insight into a previously
unexamined realm: the questioning of rape victims by rape victim advocates. As discussed
previously, this research contributes to the rape literature by addressing the lack of empiri-
cal work that examines whether rape victim advocates ever have victim-questioning atti-
tudes. It serves as a foundation for future research and provides several suggestions for
policy change. First, rape crisis centers and programs need to provide training on how to
recognize unexamined internalizations of biases against rape victims, a challenge for advo-
cates living in a society where rape myths and victim-questioning attitudes are so perva-
sive. Second, rape crisis centers and programs should encourage advocates to consider the
possibility that rape victims may sense victim-questioning attitudes even if these attitudes
are not verbally communicated. Advocates should be challenged to question if their atti-
tudes ever affect the work they do. Third, rape crisis centers and programs also need to
continue to educate members of society about rape and misconceptions surrounding rape
in an attempt to decrease victim-blaming and questioning on a societal level. Fourth, rape
crisis centers and programs should place a stronger emphasis on the responsibility of men
to stop rape and offer more educational programs addressing male accountability. As one
advocate stated, men should be taught that no doesnt mean yes. Finally, since advo-
cates are well aware of the reality of acquaintance rape, yet primarily provide warnings
against stranger assaults, rape crisis centers and programs should discuss with advocates
Maier 1431
the importance of providing potential victims strategies to protect themselves against
potential rapists who are acquaintances, quite a challenging feat.
However, the results also beg the question if offering women preventive strategies to
avoid sexual victimization may lead to victim-blaming or questioning. For example, if
society gives women the practical advice that they can decrease risk of sexual victimization
by not becoming intoxicated, then does this imply that victims who disregard such advice
are to blame? Also, does it ignore the fact that women can take all of societys suggested
preventive measures and still be raped? These questions warrant further discussion and
attention in future research.
I would like to thank all of the directors and coordinators at the rape crisis centers and programs
who granted me access to their advocates. Also, this project would not have been possible
without the advocates who allowed me to interview them. I thank Susan L. Miller and the
anonymous reviewers for comments on an earlier draft.
Declaration of Conflicting Interests
The author declared no potential conflicts of interest with respect to the research, authorship,
and/or publication of this article.
The author received no financial support for the research, authorship, and/or publication of this
1. If the program is not embedded in a larger social service agency it is referred to as a center.
If the program is embedded in a larger social service agency it is referred to as a program.
There are no differences between advocates from centers and programs; all have the same
training and responsibilities.
2. One male was interviewed because of encouragement by one centers director, who was
concerned about eliminating males from this type of research. However, the data from the
interview are not included in this article.
3. Seven advocates (12%) were African American, five (8%) were Hispanic or Latina, four
(7%) were multiracial, one advocate (2%) was Indian, and one advocate (2%) was Asian
4. The data for this article come from a larger study that examines the transformation of rape
crisis centers and programs, addresses how rape victim advocates understand rape victims
within a cultural context, and details rape victim advocates perceptions about rape law
reform (Maier, 2004).
5. Mainstream discourse includes some of the following perceptions: rape results from mens
sexual impulses, rapists are sick, women are responsible for preventing rape, and rape
results from womens poor judgment. Feminist discourse includes the following: rape results
from the power imbalance between men and women, normal men rape, and rape can be
1432 Violence Against Women 18(12)
eliminated through societal change and placing responsibility on men who rape (Martin,
6. Thank you to the anonymous reviewer who made this suggestion.
7. Any relevant participant reactions were noted by the researcher at the conclusion of the inter-
view (e.g., participant seemed upset, angry, uncomfortable, rushed) Eight of the nine advo-
cates who expressed victim-questioning attitudes who were interviewed in person showed
no nonverbal cues that either supported or contradicted their stated responses. One advocate
gave a look of disbelief and disappointment when questioning why younger women accept
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Author Biography
Shana L. Maier, PhD, is an associate professor in the Criminal Justice Department at Widener
University. She received her BS and MS degrees from Saint Josephs University, and her PhD
from the University of Delaware. Her research interests include the treatment of rape victims
by the criminal justice, medical and legal systems, and perceptions and experiences of rape
victim advocates, Sexual Assault Nurse Examiners, and detectives investigating rape allega-
tions. She is the author of numerous articles and book chapters, and a coauthor of the sixth
edition of the textbook, Women, Men and Society (Allyn and Bacon).