Law Enforcement Officers' Perception of Rape and Rape Victims: A Multimethod Study

By Mennicke, Annelise; Anderson, Delaney et al. | Violence and Victims, October 1, 2014 | Go to article overview

Law Enforcement Officers' Perception of Rape and Rape Victims: A Multimethod Study


Mennicke, Annelise, Anderson, Delaney, Oehme, Karen, Kennedy, Stephanie, Violence and Victims


In a study to assess law enforcement officers' perceptions of rape and rape victims, researchers asked 149 law enforcement officers to respond to surveys which included a definition of rape measure, an unfounded rape claims measure, and the Rape Myth Acceptance Scale-Revised (RMA-R) measure. Although most officers scored low on the RMA-R-indicating that they did not adhere to myths about rape-most officers also responded with incomplete definitions of rape and inaccurate estimates of the number of false rape claims. Multivariate analyses indicated that officers' open-ended responses did not predict their scores on the RMA-R scale. It is argued that the RMA-R alone does not accurately measure officers' understanding of rape. Officers need ongoing training on the legal elements of the crime, the necessity of sensitivity with victims, and research-based statistics on the prevalence of rape.

Keywords: rape myths; attitudes toward rape; police; rape claims

Rape and sexual violence are alarmingly common in our society, demanding a focused and coordinated response among researchers, the justice system, and health and social service providers. According to the Rape, Abuse, and Incest National Network (RAINN; n.d.), a sexual assault occurs every two minutes in the United States, totaling to 207,754 victims of rape and sexual assault each year. Using these incidence rates, RAINN estimates that one out of every six women will be raped during her lifetime (RAINN, n.d.). Victims of rape commonly experience a wide range of physical and emotional effects, including posttraumatic stress disorder, substance abuse, depression, anxiety, sleep disorders, eating disorders, and many other negative and long-lasting consequences (RAINN, n.d.).

To prosecute perpetrators, victims must work with law enforcement. Law enforcement officers serve a crucial function in successfully bringing a rapist to justice and may be the first call for assistance a victim makes after a rape. Law enforcement officers also act as the key determinant in whether a case results in prosecution because they decide whether or not the rape claim is founded (Kerstetter, 1990). A complaint is considered founded when it meets state or federal crime standards; therefore, unfounded claims are claims that are not considered true crimes. Officers are considered the "gateways to justice" because they exercise the decision-making authority to either allow a case to proceed to prosecution or refrain from taking further action (Kerstetter, 1990).

Because law enforcement officers possess so much power in determining whether probable cause exists to arrest a perpetrator, researchers have sought to learn more about officers' personal attitudes toward rape and rape victims; doing so, they believe, may uncover how officers' attitudes affect the victims themselves. Prior research has demonstrated that law enforcement officers often hold negative attitudes and beliefs about rape victims; these attitudes include victim-blaming sentiments which may cause the victim secondary traumatization (Campbell & Johnson, 1997). A 2007 study, however, suggested that such victim-blaming attitudes among officers may have decreased (Page, 2007). These attitude changes are implied by participants' low scores on Page's (2007) Rape Myth Acceptance Scale-Revised (RMA-R)-a scale intended to measure an individual's level of endorsement of rape myths. Still, despite Page's work on a standardized scale indicating that officers have low acceptance of rape myths, Campbell and Johnson's (1997) earlier research remains unchallenged. Campbell and Johnson's 1997 study highlights officers' open-ended responses to questions about the definition of rape; many officers' answers to these questions suggest a misunderstanding or dearth of knowledge about rape, potentially to the detriment of victims. Because of these inconsistencies in the existing research, this study attempts to combine, for the first time, Campbell and Johnson's open-ended questions and Page's standardized measure within the same group of officer participants. …

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