Study: Religiosity is not associated with rape myth acceptance

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New research suggests religiosity has little influence on whether people believe myths about rape and rapists.

The study of 727 university students found a correlation between greater religiosity and greater acceptance of rape myths, such as “A rape probably doesn’t happen if a girl doesn’t have any bruises or marks” and “A lot of times, girls who claim they were raped have emotional problems.”

However, religiosity did not predict acceptance of rape myths after the researchers controlled for relevant demographic and lifestyle characteristics. This suggests that religiosity can be an extension of other factors that predict acceptance of rape myths, but is not itself a strong influence.

The study was comprised of Catholics, Baptists, Presbyterians, Agnostics, and Atheists.

PsyPost interviewed John C. Navarro about his study. Read his responses below:

PsyPost: Why were you interested in this topic?

Navarro: Coupled with the current climate of campus sexual assault, interest in the relationship between religiosity (level of faith) and rape myth acceptance (false beliefs about rape, rape victims, and rapists) spawned from two primary inspirations. First, there is a large gap in the literature concerning a robust relationship between religiosity and rape myth acceptance with the use of comprehensive, reliable instruments. Second, previous literature primarily focused on Christianity, with a large gap concerning the relationship between other religious identities, particularly, non-religious identities. Overall, the present study addressed the misconceptions of religiosity and its association with the acceptance of rape myths across several religious identities, which included religious groups (i.e., Baptists, Catholics, Presbyterians) and non-religious groups (i.e., Agnostics and Atheists).

What should the average person take away from your study?

Theoretically, a greater acceptance of such myths about rape leads to a greater inclination to the perpetration of sexual aggression. With this knowledge of the meaning of rape myth acceptance, there are six takeaway points that an average person should consider after reading the study that conveyed the notion that it is neither the strength of faith nor identifying with a particular denomination that primarily influenced rape myth acceptance.

First, although Baptists (who were the most religious of the five religious identities) and Presbyterian students reported the highest levels of faith, neither religious identity was associated with rape myth acceptance. Second, explorations of gender differences showed that Presbyterian males and females were similar in their acceptance of rape myths. The remaining religious identities exhibited gender differences with females rejecting rape myths at greatest levels than males, with the widest gender differences among Catholics. Third, non-religious identities like Agnostics and Atheists rejected rape myths. So far, these results emboldened the notion that a student’s level of faith operates on a continuum to rape myth acceptance, with the most religious groups not being associated with rape myth acceptance, and the least religious groups rejecting rape myth acceptance.

Fourth, Catholic students (who were moderately religious among the four other religious identities) reported an acceptance of rape myths. Fifth, the results so far indicated the importance of disaggregating religious identities as well as religiosity into groups when exploring the relationship between religion and rape myth acceptance. Split into three groups (low, moderate, high) via the strength of their religiosity, highly religious Catholics rejected rape myths, whereas low and moderately religious Catholics accepted rape myths. Sixth, results showed that demographic and lifestyle characteristics take precedence over religion and religious identities—except Agnosticism—when rape myths are considered.

Are there any major caveats? What questions still need to be addressed?

Although we included 11 religious identities for students to select from, students reported affiliations with an unidentified religion (listed as “Other”) or with religions that were not common in the sample (e.g., Judaism and Islam). Further, Christianity did not appear as a religious identity in the survey distributed to students because Christianity is represented by a number of other Christian denominations. However, students may have exclusively identified as Christians in general, thus, resulting in a high number of responses by students identifying as “Other” concerning their religious identity. Thus, future researchers need to include a substantial listing of religious identities and explicitly differentiate Christian denominations. Comparatively, a low number of students identified with non-western religions like Buddhism and Hinduism.

Therefore, future work should explore how these and other eastern religions are associated with rape myth acceptance as such scholarly work is widely absent. Of course, even though the present study contained a large sample size (especially the number of Catholic students) another question to consider is whether the sample of students in the present study holds true for other samples of students. Likewise, subsequent research needs to address how non-religions like Agnosticism and Atheism relate to rape myth acceptance. There is also the inherent limitation that perhaps students engaged in social desirability bias, which is likely to be less so on online surveys, yet, students may have still responded in manners that are regarded as socially acceptance compared to their true answer.

Is there anything else you would like to add?

It is always important to note that readers should be open-minded to scholarly work as social research is not wholly definitive. It could be that the sample of students may be unique, thereby, resulting in different outcomes. Although comprehensive, empirically tested scales were used to assess the level of faith and rape myth acceptance, additional research needs to determine whether the present study’s results are consistent across different groups of students or populations, with acknowledgment of the context given the current climate of campus sexual assault.

In addition to Navarro, the study “Deconstructing the Associations of Religiosity, Christian Denominations, and Non-Religions to Rape Myth Acceptance among University Students“, was also co-authored by Richard Tewksbury.