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Scottish Social Attitudes Survey 2014: Attitudes to violence against women in Scotland

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2. Attitudes to sexual violence

Sexual violence is one of five different types of violence against women that the SSA 2014 module covered. Sexual violence can take many different forms, but for the purposes of this research people were asked their views about a man raping a woman in a range of different circumstances. The current legislation in Scotland covering rape is the Sexual Offences (Scotland) Act 2009. Rape has always been described as sexual intercourse without consent, but prior to 2009 the legislation contained no definition of ‘consent’. The 2009 Act defines consent as ‘free agreement’ (SPICE, 2008) and concludes that any ‘unreasonable belief’ by the perpetrator that the victim consented should not prevent a conviction.

Rape by a stranger and within marriage

Rape within marriage has only been a criminal offence since 1982, and thus we might anticipate that people view sexual violence within a marriage differently than when it is committed by someone with whom the victim does not have an existing relationship. We should also bear in mind that rape is in fact committed most often by somebody whom the victim knows (MacLeod et al 2010; Walby and Allen 2004). So as well as presenting respondents with a scenario in which a women is raped by a stranger, we also presented them with one about a husband raping his wife.

Half of the respondents to the survey were given a scenario in which the rape was perpetrated by someone the victim had just met at a party, and the other half a scenario in which the rape occurred within a marriage. Otherwise the scenarios were exactly the same. The wording in the case of the stranger was as follows:

‘Imagine a man and a woman who have just met at a party. They get on well. They go back to the woman’s flat and when they get there he kisses her and tries to have sex with her. She pushes him away but he has sexual intercourse with her anyway.’

The scenario about rape within marriage read:

‘Imagine a married couple have just been at a party. When they go home the man kisses his wife and tries to have sex with her. She pushes him away but he has sexual intercourse with her anyway.’

Respondents were asked how wrong they thought the man’s behaviour was on a scale of 1 to 7 where 1 was ‘Not wrong at all’ and 7 was ‘Very seriously wrong’ (see Chapter 1). The scenario purposely did not contain the term ‘rape’ as people may have been influenced by this term, rather than responding to the specific behaviour.

In the case of the scenario that described a man raping a woman he has just met at a party, nearly 9 out of 10 people thought that the man’s behaviour was ‘very seriously wrong’ (88%) (see Table 2.1 ). However, when people were asked about a husband raping his wife, the proportion who said this behaviour was ‘very seriously wrong’ was substantially lower, at 74%. It appears that the difference is only one of degree; very few respondents regarded the husband’s behaviour as anything other than wrong. As many as 93% thought that it merited a score of at least 5 on the 7 point scale, very similar to the 95% who said the same of the rape by a stranger.

Table 2.1 Views on man’s behaviour if he rapes woman he met at a party or if a husband rapes his wife

Man’s behaviour Man rapes woman just met at party Within marriage Husband rapes wife
7 Very seriously wrong 88% 74%
6 5% 13%
5 2% 6%
4 1% 3%
3 1% 1%
2 1% *
1 Not wrong at all * *
Don’t know/ refused 1% 3%
Weighted bases 695^ 738¥
Unweighted bases 688^ 740¥

Base: All respondents who completed either Version A¥ or Version B^ of the self-completion

How much harm do people think sexual violence causes?

Not only were people less likely to think that the rape within marriage was ‘very seriously wrong’, but they were also less likely to think it would do the woman ‘a great deal’ of harm. Respondents were asked, ‘What harm, if any, do you think this does to her?’ They could respond on a five point scale ranging from ‘a great deal’ of harm to ‘none at all’. In the stranger scenario 85% ’thought that the man’s behaviour would cause ‘a great deal’ of harm whereas only 67% said the same of the husband raping his wife. Equally as many as 93% thought rape by a stranger would cause either ‘a great deal’ or ‘quite a lot’ of harm, compared with 85% in the case of the rape within marriage (see Annex A, Tables A2.3 and A2.5 for full details). It appears that the legacy of attitudes towards sexual violence within marriage that was reflected in the legal position in Scotland before 1982 is still evident in the views of some people in Scotland.

Does the woman’s behaviour affect attitudes?

Respondents were then asked to continue to think about the same scenario (that is, either rape by a stranger or rape within marriage) but were now supplied with a new piece of information: ‘What if, first of all, she had taken him into her bedroom and started kissing him.’

Figure 2.1 shows that, when presented with this additional information, people were much less likely than they had been previously to say that the man’s/husband’s behaviour was ‘very seriously wrong’. When the rape was perpetrated by someone the victim had met at a party only around 3 in 5 (58%) thought that the man’s behaviour was ‘very seriously wrong’. In the case of the husband’s behaviour the Figure fell to well below half (44%).

Figure 2.1 Views on man’s/ husband’s behaviour if he rapes a women/ his wife and then if woman/ wife takes him to bedroom and kisses him and then he rapes her

Figure 2.1 Views on man’s/ husband’s behaviour if he rapes a women/ his wife and then if woman/ wife takes him to bedroom and kisses him and then he rapes her

Base: All respondents who completed either Version A or Version B of the self-completion

There is evidence to suggest that one of the reasons for this may be that people view the woman as at least partly to blame if she is raped after taking a man into her bedroom and kissing him. This seems to be particularly the case if the couple had only just met that night. Table 2.3 shows that in that instance nearly a quarter (24%) felt that the woman’s behaviour was ‘very seriously wrong’ while over half (55%) chose an answer from the seriously wrong end of the scale (answer options 5, 6 or 7). Only 13% thought her behaviour was ‘not at all wrong’. But even in the case of the wife, only 1 in 5 thought that her behaviour was ‘not wrong at all’ while 14% thought that it was ‘very seriously wrong’ and nearly a half (44%) chose an answer option from the seriously wrong end of the scale. It should be borne in mind, however, that respondents’ views may have been affected by what they thought of a woman engaging in such behaviour, irrespective of the fact that in this instance she was subsequently raped. These ideas of blame and ‘mitigating circumstances’ are explored in more detail in the section on ‘Myths about rape’ below.

Table 2.3 Views on woman’s behaviour when she first takes the man into the bedroom and kisses him and is then raped

Woman’s behaviour Stranger Within marriage
7 Very seriously wrong 24% 14%
6 14% 12%
5 17% 18%
4 15% 17%
3 6% 7%
2 8% 9%
1 Not wrong at all 13% 20%
Don’t know/ refused 2% 3%
Weighted bases 695^ 738¥
Unweighted bases 688^ 740¥

Base: All respondents who completed either Version A¥ or Version B^ of the self-completion

How do attitudes to rape vary between groups?

The findings discussed in this section are informed by regression analysis that ascertained which factors were significantly and independently associated with believing that rape by a stranger or within a marriage is ‘very seriously wrong’. The following factors were explored:

  • Gender
  • Age
  • Education
  • Income
  • Relationship status
  • Experience of gender-based violence
  • Holding stereotypical views about gender roles
  • Attitudes to prostitution

First we look at who was more or less likely to think the rape by the stranger was ‘very seriously wrong’. Initially, we focused on socio-demographic factors: gender, age, education, income and relationship status (married, single, divorced etc). The only factor that was significant was gender. Women (91%) were more likely than men (85%) to think that the behaviour of the man who raped the woman he met at a party was ‘very seriously wrong’.

Subsequently we looked at the relationship between people’s views and two attitudinal variables together with whether people had experienced gender-based violence. The attitudinal variables were whether people held stereotypical views about gender roles (as measured by their responses to the question about buying a princess doll for a three year old boy that was introduced in Chapter 1) and a question on how wrong it is to pay for sex. This latter question, whose results are discussed fully in Chapter 6, asked: ‘How wrong do you personally think it is for a man (18 or over) to pay for sex with a woman, or is it not wrong at all?’ Answers were given on a 7-point scale where 1 was ‘Not wrong at all’ and 7 was ‘Always wrong’.

There was no significant relationship between views on whether rape by the stranger was ‘very seriously wrong’ and whether somebody held stereotypical views about gender roles or whether they had ever experienced gender-based violence. However, those who thought that paying for sex was wrong were more likely than those who did not to say that the stranger raping the woman was ‘very seriously wrong’. Figure 2.1 shows that 91% of those who said that paying for sex is wrong (that is they put it at point 5, 6 or 7 on the scale) also said that the behaviour of the stranger was ‘very seriously wrong’. In contrast, the equivalent proportion amongst those who were inclined to the view that paying for sex is not wrong (points 1-3) was 83%. Once this relationship was included in our regression analysis, the relationship with gender was no longer significant.

Figure 2.2 Believing rape by a stranger is ‘very seriously wrong’ by whether paying for sex is wrong

Figure 2.2 Believing rape by a stranger is ‘very seriously wrong’ by whether paying for sex is wrong

Base: All who completed the self-completion
Believing sex is wrong: Unweighted bases: wrong=190; mid-point=102; not wrong=388
Weighted bases: wrong=181; mid-point=96; not wrong=412

Exploring which socio-demographic factors were associated with views on the husband raping his wife showed again that women (77%) were more likely than men (71%) to think that the behaviour of the husband was ‘very seriously wrong’. In addition, however, those aged under 30 (86%) were also significantly more likely than those aged 65 or over (61%) to take this view (see Annex A, Table A2.2 for full details). The older age group will, of course, have been brought up at a time when rape within marriage was not a criminal offence.

However, when subsequently the two attitudinal variables (paying for sex and holding stereotypical views on gender roles) and experience of gender-based violence were added to the regression analysis, gender was no longer significant. Age was still significant and having experienced gender-based violence and holding stereotypical views on gender roles were marginally significant. Of those who had experienced some form of gender-based violence, 82% thought that the man’s behaviour was ‘very seriously wrong’, compared with 72% of those who had not. And 79% of those who did not hold stereotypical views on gender roles (i.e. they would buy the doll without saying anything) thought the behaviour was ‘very seriously wrong’ compared with 64% of those who held stereotypical views (those who would make the boy put the doll back).

Myths about rape

The previous section showed that people hold different views about a stranger committing rape and a husband doing so, and that people are also less likely to view rape as ‘very seriously wrong’ if the woman first took the man to the bedroom and kissed him. The prior existence of a relationship, and the behaviour of the woman, are both apparently circumstances which people view as mitigating the seriousness and harm of rape. Further evidence on whether people view rape differently in different circumstances was collected through asking about four different myths about rape.

Respondents were asked: ‘How much, if at all, is a woman to blame if she…

  • …wears very revealing clothing on a night out and is then raped’
  • …is very drunk and is raped’

Respondents were invited to answer on a scale from 1 to 7 where 1 was ‘not at all to blame’ and 7 was ‘entirely to blame’. Questions on this subject have previously been asked as part of the post-evaluation of the Scottish Government’s domestic abuse campaign from 2007 to 2009, though the question wording was somewhat different and focused on ‘responsibility’ rather than ‘blame’. This research found that 26% thought the woman was at least partly responsible for being raped if she was drunk (MRUK, 2009). Similarly around 1 in 5 (21%) felt the woman had some level of responsibility for the rape if she was dressed in revealing clothing.

Table 2.6 shows the pattern of responses to the two similar questions on SSA 2014. In both cases a clear majority felt that the woman was ‘not at all to blame’. As many as 58% said this in respect of the woman who wore revealing clothing while 60% said the same of the woman who was very drunk.

Table 2.4 Whether a woman is to blame, or not, for being raped if she wears revealing clothing or is very drunk

…wears revealing clothing on a night out …is very drunk
1 Not at all to blame 58% 60%
2 12% 12%
3 6% 6%
4 7% 6%
5 7% 5%
6 4% 4%
7 Entirely to blame 4% 5%
Don’t know/ refused 2% 2%
Weighted bases 1433 1433
Unweighted bases 1428 1428

Base: All who completed the self-completion

However, 4% thought that the woman was ‘entirely to blame’ for being raped if she was wearing revealing clothing on a night out, while 15% chose an answer option from the ‘entirely to blame’ end of the scale (one of options 5, 6 or 7). Similarly, 5% thought that the woman was ‘entirely to blame’ if she was very drunk, while 14% chose a point towards the ‘entirely to blame’ end of the scale.

The final two myths were presented as statements to which people were invited to agree or disagree. They were:

  • ‘Women often lie about being raped’
  • ‘Rape results from men being unable to control their need for sex’

Almost a quarter (23%) agreed strongly or agreed that ‘women often lie about being raped’ while around a third (34%) disagreed strongly or disagreed. Nearly 2 in 5 (37%) agreed or strongly agreed that ‘rape results from men being unable to control their need for sex’ while a similar proportion (35%) disagreed (see Annex A, Tables A2.13 and A2.14).

How do views on myths about rape vary between groups?

Whether views on these myths about rape varied between groups was analysed in relation to:

  • Gender
  • Age
  • Education
  • Income
  • Relationship status
  • Experience of gender-based violence
  • Holding stereotypical views on gender roles

The sub-groups who were more likely to think that the woman was ‘not at all to blame’ if she wore revealing clothing and was then raped were the same as those who thought a woman being very drunk was ‘not at all to blame’. They were:

  • Younger people – 70% of those aged 18 to 29 years old thought the woman wearing revealing clothing was ‘not at all to blame’ for being raped, compared with 38% of those aged over 65
  • People with formal educational qualifications – 65% of those with degrees or higher education thought the woman who was very drunk was ‘not at all to blame’ for being raped, compared with 46% of those with no formal qualifications
  • People on higher incomes – 70% of those in the highest income group thought the woman wearing revealing clothing was ‘not at all to blame’, compared with 50% of those in the lowest income group
  • People who had experienced gender-based violence (of any kind) – 67% of those who had experienced gender-based violence thought the woman who was very drunk was ‘not at all to blame,’ compared with 58% of those who had not
  • People who did not hold stereotypical views on gender roles – 67% of those who did not hold stereotypical views about gender roles (that is they would buy the doll without saying anything) thought the woman wearing revealing clothing was ‘not at all to blame’, compared with 47% of those with stereotypical views (those who would make the boy put the doll back) (see Annex A, Tables A2.11 and A2.12 for full details).

People over 65, those with no formal qualifications and those with stereotypical views about gender roles were all more likely to agree (‘agree strongly’ or ‘agree’) both that ‘women often lie about being raped’ and that ‘rape results from men being unable to control their need for sex’. As many as 44% of those aged over 65 agreed that ‘rape results from men being unable to control their need for sex’ compared with 33% of those aged 18 to 29 years old. Around a third (34%) of those with no formal qualifications agreed that ‘women lie about rape’, whereas only 16% of those with degrees or higher education did so. Meanwhile, 29% of those who held stereotypical views about gender roles agreed that ‘women often lie about being raped’, compared with 17% of those who did not hold such views.

There were, however, some differences in how some groups viewed the two different statements. Most notably, women (27%) were more likely than men (19%) to agree that ‘women often lie about being raped’. By contrast, men (40%) were more likely than women (34%) to agree that ‘rape results from men being unable to control their need for sex’.

People on lower incomes (30%) were more likely than those on higher incomes (17%) to agree that ‘women often lie about being raped’. However, there were no significant differences by income in responses to the question ‘rape results from men being unable to control their need for sex’ (see Annex A, Tables A2.15 and A2.16 for full details).