Do rapists believe all men are rapists?
I’ve seen this claim around the feminist blogosphere. It’s perhaps expressed most powerfully in this comment by Time-Machine:
A lot of people accuse feminists of thinking that all men are rapists. That’s not true. But do you know who think all men are rapists?
They really do. In psychological study, the profiling, the studies, it comes out again and again.
Virtually all rapists genuinely believe that all men rape, and other men just keep it hushed up better. And more, these people who really are rapists are constantly reaffirmed in their belief about the rest of mankind being rapists like them by things like rape jokes, that dismiss and normalize the idea of rape.
If one in twenty guys (or more) is a real and true rapist, and you have any amount of social activity with other guys like yourself, then it is almost a statistical certainty that one time hanging out with friends and their friends, playing Halo with a bunch of guys online, in a WoW guild, in a pick-up game of basketball, at a bar, or elsewhere, you were talking to a rapist. Not your fault. You can’t tell a rapist apart any better than anyone else can. It’s not like they announce themselves.
But, here’s the thing. It’s very likely that in some of these interactions with these guys, at some point or another, someone told a rape joke. You, decent guy that you are, understood that they didn’t mean it, and it was just a joke. And so you laughed…
That rapist who was in the group with you, that rapist thought that you were on his side. That rapist knew that you were a rapist like him. And he felt validated, and he felt he was among his comrades.
This comment is missing a citation. Which is fine; it is powerfully written, and I don’t cite all my claims in blog comments either. Unfortunately, when I look for “psychological study, the profiling, the studies”… I don’t find it.
First, I looked for people making a similar claim who actually did cite their sources. Van Badham, writing for Comment is Free, links to the following site, which shows a distressingly high rate of acceptance of rape myths in the general population. The general population is, you know, mostly not rapists. In fact, the rhetorical strength of Time-Machine’s point depends on the general population not thinking rape is okay. Furthermore, the book they’re citing was published in 1991, which means it probably mostly relies on research from the 1980s. The sexual assault rate has fallen by more than fifty percent since 1993. If one is arguing that rape myth acceptance leads to increased rape, one probably shouldn’t use data on the rate of rape myth acceptance from before the extremely large drop in the rate of rape. Unfortunately, I cannot find the source itself online for a more thorough critique.
So let’s look at Google Scholar. Feild finds that there is no difference between rapists and the general population about how normal rape is. However, this study is also from 1978. Maybe the general population’s belief that rape is very normal dropped in the past forty years, leaving rapists the lone population that considers this normal behavior?
Tieger, however, finds that men who rate themselves as likely to commit rape if they were not caught are more likely to believe that rape is normal and acceptable. I am worried, however, by the lack of apparent controls for social desirability bias; is it possible that some men are simply more likely to admit to stigmatized traits on surveys? Malamuth finds similar results but has a single, aggregated ‘rape myth acceptance’ variable, which does not allow us to figure out whether the correlation is primarily driven by e.g. rapists believing that women ask for it.
Mostly, what I’m seeing is a fat lot of nothing. It doesn’t look like this is a subject that is commonly explored at all– at least using the keywords I’m searching.
In short, I must say that I cannot find the profiling and psychological studies that this blog comment claims exist, and thus provisionally– while it certainly seems plausible that rapists generally believe everyone rapes– I do not accept it as fact.