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 Table of Contents    
Year : 2017  |  Volume : 59  |  Issue : 1  |  Page : 77-82
Rape: Is it a lifestyle or behavioral problem?

1 District Child Survival Officer, UNICEF, Valsad, Gujarat, India
2 Department of Community Medicine, Government Medical College, Surat, Gujarat, India
3 Department of Community Medicine, Medical College Baroda, Vadodara, Gujarat, India
4 SMO (NPSP), Deoria, Uttar Pradesh, India

Click here for correspondence address and email

Date of Web Publication12-Apr-2017


Introduction: In India, girl is raped every 20 min. The majority of reports reveals youth is vulnerable group for rape victimization. A set of prejudicial, stereotyped, or false beliefs about rape, rape victims, and rapist exist in the community.
Aims/Objectives: To study the attitude and myths toward rape among college going students of Surat City.
Materials and Methods: College students of various streams were participated in the study based on attitude toward rape scale (21 items) and updated Illinois Rape Myth Acceptance Scale (22 items). A total of 332 participants from three different colleges of the city took part in the survey. Data analysis was done with the SPSS version 19.
Results: Among the responders, 61.75% were female. Mean age of participants was 20.22 ± 1.27 years. Almost two-third (73%) of female participants and 42% of the male participants disagreed with the myth that “When a woman says 'no' she really means 'yes'.” Around 30% of the participants were uncertain about the myth that “A woman cannot be raped by someone she previously knew or had sex with.” While almost 35% of participants believed that “Most rapes are carried out by strangers.” Strong sexual desire of guys, drunkenness, and girl's clothes were reported to be factors that provoke rape by 50%, 40%, and 33% of respondents, respectively, around 95% of female and 92% of male participants think that 7-year imprisonment for rape is not enough.
Conclusions: Rape myths are found to be highly prevalent among youth and higher among males.

Keywords: India, rape, rape myths, youth

How to cite this article:
Kamdar ZN, Kosambiya JK, Chawada BL, Verma M, Kadia A. Rape: Is it a lifestyle or behavioral problem?. Indian J Psychiatry 2017;59:77-82

How to cite this URL:
Kamdar ZN, Kosambiya JK, Chawada BL, Verma M, Kadia A. Rape: Is it a lifestyle or behavioral problem?. Indian J Psychiatry [serial online] 2017 [cited 2021 Jul 28];59:77-82. Available from:

   Introduction Top

Rape is one of the India's most common crimes against women.[1] It is reported that at every 20 min, a woman is raped in India.[2] The majority of reports reveal that female youth are vulnerable group for rape victimization.[3] According to experts, only 10% of rapes are reported, and the conviction rate for rape cases is 24.2%.[4] According to the National Crime Record Bureau 2013 annual report, 24,923 rape cases were reported across India in 2012.[5] Out of these, 24,470 were committed by someone known to the victim (98% of the cases).[6]

According to 2012 statistics, published on The Hindu News on September 2013, New Delhi, has the highest raw number of rape reports among Indian cities, while Jabalpur has the highest per capita rate of rape reports.[7],[8],[9],[10] Several rape cases in India received widespread media attention and triggered protests since 2012.[9],[10] This led the Government of India to reform its penal code for crimes of rape and sexual assault.[11]

Using a small sample survey, Human Rights Watch projects more than 7200 minors – 1.6 in 100,000 minors – are raped each year in India. Among these, victims who do report the assaults are alleged to suffer mistreatment and humiliation from the police.[12] Most rapes go unreported because the rape victims fear retaliation and humiliation - in India and elsewhere in the world.[13] Indian parliamentarians have stated that the rape problem in India is being underestimated because large number of cases are not reported even though more victims are increasingly coming out and reporting rape and sexual assaults.[14] Few states in India have tried to estimate or survey unreported cases sexual assault. Madiha Kark estimates 54% of rape crimes are unreported.[15]

It is widely acknowledged that rape is a major public health problem on college campuses, with studies suggesting that 3% of college women are raped during a 9-month period and 20%–25% of all women experience a completed or attempted rape during their 4–5-year college careers.[16] The shattering impact of rape on victims is well recognized, including negative consequences on physical health, mental health, academic performance, and interpersonal relationships. Studies suggested that the acceptance of rape myths is a crucial factor in explanatory models of rape behavior. Many colleges now provide various services to respond to survivors, such as crisis intervention and counseling.[17],[18],[19],[20]

Rape myths are defined as prejudicial, stereotyped, or false beliefs about rape, rape victims, and rapists.[21] Specific attitudes and beliefs that may contribute to ongoing sexual violence by shifting blame for sexual assault from perpetrators to victims are known as rape myths. Acceptance of rape can be measured by adherence to rape myths. Lonsway and Fitzgerald defined rape myths as “attitudes and beliefs that are generally false but are widely and persistently held, and that serve to deny and justify male sexual aggression against women.”[22] The sexual myths and attitude toward sexual myths may continue to exist, especially in the young people.[23],[24]

There are gender differences in perceptions of rape, with Lonsway and Fitzgerald (1995) suggesting that rape myth acceptance differs between males and females. Men use them to justify male sexual violence while females believe in myths to deny personal vulnerability. Studies found a lack of consistent gender effects in assigning blame but a strong, consistent relationship between rape myth acceptance and victim blaming.[25]

Common rape myths cited over time include the belief that the way a woman dresses or acts indicates that “she asked for it,” or that rape occurs because men cannot control their sexual impulses. Researchers have demonstrated that the acceptance of rape myths not only indicates problematic attitudes but is also an explanatory predictor in the actual perpetration of sexual violence.[26] A number of studies have demonstrated that negative stereotypical attitudes toward, and beliefs about, women are associated with greater rape myth acceptance. This relationship has been found in both college student samples.[22],[27],[28],[29]

The purpose of this study was to examine the current state of rape myth acceptance in college students and the factors that differentiate acceptance versus nonacceptance of rape myths. Alarmingly, high rates of acquaintance rape exist in college student populations. The study was done with objectives to explore the attitudes and myths toward rape among different cohorts of college students in Surat City.

   Materials and Methods Top


A cross-sectional study was carried out during January 2013. Students from the selected colleges were invited to participate in the study with prior permission granted by the Institute Head. To obtain an appropriate mix of population, city colleges were selected to represent one predominantly female college (arts), one mixed college (medical), and one predominantly male college (engineering). The total number of participants who opted to participate was 332.


After reviewing the literature, we developed structured scales pretested them and used the scales to measure prevalent rape myths among the students. Data collection tool was prepared by incorporating two scales along with basic sociodemographical data of participants. Perceptions toward current punishment for rape were explored with additional questions.

Attitude toward rape scale

It includes 21 questions related to whether participants agree with the rape myths. The Scale was developed and updated by Ward.[30] The responses are scored on a Likert scale ranging from 1 to 5 (always, usually, sometimes, seldom and never).

Updated illinois rape myth acceptance scale

The 22 items scale were developed and updated by Payne, Lonsway, and Fitzgerald, 1999; McMahon and Farmer, 2011. The Illinois Rape Myth Acceptance Scale (IRMA) is arguably the most reliable and psychometrically demonstrated rape myth scale.[31] The updated IRMA Scale includes four subscales: (1) She asked for it, (2) it was not really rape, (3) he did not mean to, (4) she lied.

Measurement for updated 22-item IRMA scale was done with 5-point Likert scale (1 = strongly disagree with rape myths to 5 = strongly agree). Higher scores indicate greater rejection of rape myths.


An investigator approached potential study participants in the colleges, after obtaining the written consent from the principal/dean of the respective institute. A session was held by experts to brief participants regarding the study, in which investigators explained the purpose of the study and described what was required to participate in the study. On agreeing to participate, participants were required to review and sign an informed consent agreement, after which they completed the self-administered questionnaire. The investigator read the questionnaire to participants as requested by some of the students. All queries and doubts of the participants were promptly addressed during the process.

Data analysis

MS Excel and Statistical Program for Social Science version 19 (IBM) were used for data entry and analyses. A mean score was created for the updated illinois rape myth scale and each of the five subscales, as well as for attitude toward rape myth scale. Mann–Whitney U-test was used to determine if there were significant differences between genders for rape myth acceptance. Consistency of updated Illinois Rape Myth Acceptance Scale was checked by Cronbach's alpha.

   Results Top

Participants profile

Within the sample of 332, 64% of respondents were female. Mean age of participants was 20.22 ± 1.27 years. All the participants were undergraduates from the colleges of medicine (n = 55, 17%) engineering (n = 140, 42%), and arts (n = 137, 41%).

Attitude toward rape myth scale

While analyzing [Table 1], it was noted that 42 (33%) males and 39 (19%) females strongly agreed with the myth that “a woman can be raped against her will.” Regarding victim blaming behavior, 95 (75%) males and 154 (75%) females agreed that women should be responsible for preventing their own rape, while 88 (69%) males and 132 (64%) females agreed with the myth that during rape, a female should do everything she can do to resist. Thirty-nine (31%) males and 83 (41%) females believed that “rape occurs only when men's sexual drive goes out of control,” while 164 (80%) females and 68 (53.5%) males disagreed with the myth “A woman should feel guilty following rape.” Out of the total participants, 62 (21.3%) males and 27 (30.2%) females supported the myth “A woman cannot be raped by husbands.” Most (rapes) are carried by strangers and occurred when they are alone at night. Former myth was supported by 33 (26%) males and 63 (30%) females while later was agreed by 26 (20.5%) males and 51 (25%) females. Around 101 (49.3%) female and 40 (31.5%) male responders disagree that “rapists are emotionally disturbed and not responsible for their actions.”
Table 1: Gender wise distribution of rape myths using attitude toward rape myth scale (21-items)

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Gender difference among rape myth acceptance

As shown in [Table 1], the responses of male differed significantly from female with respect to 12 items out of 21 items for the attitude toward rape scale (Mann–Whitney U-test P< 0.05) (1 - A woman can be raped against her will; 4 - Most women secretly desire to be raped; 6 - It should be difficult for a woman to prove rape has occurred; 5 - Most charges of rape are unfounded; 7 - Rape is a male exercise in power over women; 11 - A woman should feel guilty following a rape; 12 - A woman cannot be raped by someone she previously knew or had sex with; 13 - A woman cannot be raped by her husband; 15 - Most rapes involve violence and physical injury; 16 - When a woman says “no” she really means “yes;” 19 - Men cannot be raped; 20 - Rapists are emotionally disturbed and not responsible for their actions).

No rape myths found for three items (3 - A raped woman is a less desirable woman; 9 - Men raping a female child should be punished to death; 21 - Majority of rape cases are not reported to police because of family pride).

The myths were found among college going students in following six items, but there were not statistically different for male to female (2 - A woman should be responsible for preventing her own rape; 5 - Most charges of rape are unfounded; 8 - During a rape, a woman should do everything she can to resist; 10 - The reason most rapists commit rape is for sex; 14 - Most rapes are carried out by strangers; 17 - Rape happens when women go out alone at night or in unsafe places) [Table 1].

Updated Illinois Rape Myth Acceptance Scale

[Table 2] shows the mean and standard deviation of responses to the updated IRMA scale. The lowest score, indicating greatest acceptance of the myth, that was found for “When guys rape, it is usually because of their strong desire for sex” (1.95 ± 1.15). The highest score, indicating the lowest support of a myth was for “If the accused “rapist” does not have a weapon, you really cannot call it rape” (4.03 ± 1.49). The first subscale, she asked for it, reflects the belief that the victim's behaviors invited sexual assault, and yielded a Cronbach's alpha of 0.608. The second subscale, he did not mean to, reflects the belief that the perpetrator did not intend to rape, yielded a Cronbach's alpha of 0.793. The third subscale, it was not really rape, consists of five items that deny that an assault occurred due to either blaming the victim or excusing the perpetrator and yielded a Cronbach's alpha of 0.487). She lied, the fourth subscale, consists of items that indicate the belief that the victim fabricated the rape, yielded a Cronbach's alpha of 0.847. Gender difference was not found among updated IRMA scale.
Table 2: Subscale wise distribution of Rape myths using updated Illinois Rape Myth Acceptance Scale (22 items)

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Fifty-three percent of the female and 30% of the male responders disagreed that “rapists are emotionally disturbed and not responsible for their actions.” Strong sexual desire of guys, drunkenness, and girl's clothes were reported by 50%, 40%, and 33% of respondents, respectively, to be factors that provoke rape.

While exploring their perception toward current penalties under for rape, around 95% female and 92% male participants felt that 7-year imprisonment for rape is not enough. Almost 54% of females and 36% of males suggest death penalty as punishment.

   Discussion Top

Violence against women is a significant public health problem that affects women, men, and children. The shattering effect of rape on victims is well recognized, including negative consequences on physical health, mental health, academic performance, and interpersonal relationships.[17],[18],[19],[20] For decades, the feminist movement has been an influential force in bringing attention to the issue of sexual violence. As a result, today's college students have become increasingly more aware of rape as a social problem. In spite of this awareness, the frequency of sexual victimization on college campuses has remained relatively unchanged in the last 40 years. This dilemma indicates that there is still more to learn about the causes of sexual violence.[17],[18],[19],[20] This study focused specifically on the rape-supportive attitudes and beliefs predominant within our culture that may serve to facilitate continued acts of sexual violence against women.

The significant finding of the present study is that women students are significantly less supportive of myth behavior than male students. A study conducted by L. Jensen in 1993 also suggested that male is significantly more accepting of rape and rape myths than are female. Men and women have been shown to differ dramatically in their perceptions of and attitudes toward rape, rapists, and rape victims.[32] A study by Sivagnanam et al. suggested that nearly one-third of women (29.8%) and half of men scored poorly (44.3%) indicating a more negative attitude toward rape; their study also revealed that males differed significantly from females with respect to four rape myth scale items (A woman can be raped against her will, 2 - Most women secretly desire to be raped, 3 - Rape is a male exercise in power over women, and 4 - When a woman says “no” she really means “yes”).[33] However, we found that responses were significantly different between genders for 12 items. Rape myth belief differences between males and females may be due to the mixed group of study participants in our study (from the colleges of medicine, engineering, and arts) compared to the study by Sivagnanam et al. which only included medical students.

Research findings suggest that specific factors such as victim blame, sex role expectations, misinformation, and communication/relationship skills contribute to an individual's potential to subscribe to rape-supportive attitudes.[34],[35],[36] The research also suggests that gender and gender attendance at a rape prevention workshop may affect rape myth acceptance. Men and individuals who have not been exposed to rape awareness information disagree less strongly with rape myth statements than women and individuals who have been exposed to rape awareness information.

In the present study, the subscale “it was not a rape” has a highest mean 3.42 which suggested that lower rape myth acceptance. In particular, students who scored higher on the it's not really rape myth subscale indicated less willingness to intervene, which warrants further investigation and the development of strategies to engage and educate this group of students.[36] Current study findings differ from those reported by S. MacMohan, who reported higher mean values for the subscales he did not mean to and she lied and lowest for it was not rape.[36]


The fact that gender continues to emerge as significant in studies related to attitudes about sexual violence must be recognized by those designing rape prevention and education programs. The findings strongly support the case for separate programming for men and women, with an opportunity to address the role of gender in rape myth acceptance and willingness to intervene. Education is the most favored approach to reduce sex-related violence in the community, followed by increased punishment of the offender. The medical curriculum should include education on gender violence with the introduction of courses on sexual violence to increase their awareness of the issue and to improve their skills in managing victims, providing support and care for the victims, and implementing preventive actions.[37] Implementation of these efforts may decrease the incidence of rape and lead to better management of victims.[38]

A limitation of our study that may affect the applicability of the findings in other situations is that the study was undertaken on a convenient sample; hence, there may be bias due to nonrandomization.

   Conclusions Top

The rape myths were considered as truth by almost all participants. The prevalence of rape myths was higher among college-going males than females. Rape myths were deeply rooted among the students, but their attitude toward rape was uncertain. The students considered rape as serious offense and felt that strong punishment against rapists in the form of death penalty should be given.

We recommend the implementation of educational programs that will sensitize students regarding prevalent rape myths. Educating people about why and how rape actually occurs will decrease rape-supportive attitudes.


Authors are thankful to all students from different streams of colleges in Surat, in participating in the study. We also acknowledged Institutional Heads for giving us the permission to carry out such a sensitive study. Authors acknowledge the technical support received from the Fogarty International Grant/USNIH: Grant # 1D43TW006793-01A2-AITRP.

Financial support and sponsorship


Conflicts of interest

There are no conflicts of interest.

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DOI: 10.4103/psychiatry.IndianJPsychiatry_78_16

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  [Table 1], [Table 2]