Intimate Partner Sexual Violence: The ‘Real Rape’ Stereotype

With thanks to Jehane, who made this photograph freely available with a Creative Commons licence.
Photo: Jehane. Republished under a Creative Commons licence.

In Aotearoa New Zealand, we have the worst rates of sexual violence perpetrated by intimate partners in the OECD (Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (NZ FV Clearinghouse, 2011). But, despite this shocking statistic, a dangerous ‘real rape’ stereotype exists. This stereotype is a mainstream perception that sexual violence can only be perpetrated by an armed stranger in a dark alleyway.

Intimate Partner Sexual Violence (IPSV) is any unwanted sexual contact or activity by a current or former intimate partner (McOrmond-Plummer et al., 2014). Defining IPSV can be difficult because everybody has different definitions of ‘intimate partner’. I personally think ‘intimate partner’ can be defined as a person with whom one has/has had a close personal sexual relationship. This can include a current or former partner, an opposite-sex or same-sex partner, a cohabiting partner, a boyfriend or girlfriend, a friend with benefits, and/or a date.

16.8% of all women in Aotearoa New Zealand have experienced IPSV in their lifetime and 42.4 % of physically abused women have also experienced sexual violence from their intimate partner (Fanslow & Robinson, 2011). In the USA, nearly 1 in 10 (9.4%) women have been raped by an intimate partner in her lifetime, and 60% of domestically abused women have also been sexually assaulted by their intimate partners (Howard et al., 2003). So, despite the common assumption that only stranger rape is ‘real’ rape, there are a lot of women going through very real and very traumatic experiences at the hands of their intimate partners.

‘Real Rape’ Stereotype

The prevalence of rape culture has perpetuated a stereotype that sexual assault can only be perpetrated by a stranger who uses force on an unsuspecting victim (preferably an intoxicated female) in a dark alleyway at night (Krahe, 1999). This type of sexual assault does happen occasionally but this stereotype is redundant because 92% of victims in NZ know their offender (Kingi & Jordan, 2009) and 55% of sexual assaults in the USA occur at or near the victim’s home (Department of Justice, 2013).

Beyond its myth-making, this stereotype is problematic for other reasons. Firstly because it controls women through making us scared to walk alone at night especially if we’ve been drinking and, secondly, because it influences how police and the criminal justice system respond to survivors of sexual assault (Temkin & Krahe, 2008). The ‘real rape’ stereotype lays down restrictive criteria that a sexual assault case must meet in order to be deemed ‘real’ and credible. If a case fails to meet the criteria, police are less likely to believe the victim (Temkin & Krahe, 2008).

Intimate partner sexual violence is a serious and prevalent form of violence against women. It’s an uncomfortable topic to talk about but in order to raise awareness and prevent it, the silence needs to be broken. Similarly, the ‘real rape’ stereotype needs to be openly discussed so prevalent social perceptions of sexual assault scenarios can change.

Eliza Melling is a Third Year BA student, double majoring in Criminology and Education at Victoria University of Wellington. Her recent internship at VUW Student Health involved creating a public health campaign to increase awareness of, and to prevent, Intimate Partner Sexual Violence in tertiary education settings.

References:

New Zealand Family Violence Clearinghouse. (July 28, 2011). United Nations Report on Status of Women Released. Retrieved from New Zealand Family Violence Clearinghouse: https://nzfvc.org.nz/news/united-nations-report-status-women-released

Fanslow, J. L., & Robinson, E. M. (2011). Sticks, Stones, or Words? Counting the Prevalence of Different Types of Intimate Partner Violence Reported by New Zealand Women. Journal of Aggression, Maltreatment & Trauma, 20, 741-759.

Howard, A., Riger, S., Campbell, R., & Wasco, S. (2003). Counselling Services for Battered Women: A comparison of outcomes for physical and sexual assult survivors. Journal of Interpersonal Violence, 18(7), 717-734.

Department of Justice. (2013). Female Victims of Sexual Violence, 1994-2010. Office of Justice Programs.

Kingi, V., & Jordan, J. (2009). Responding to Sexual Violence: Pathways to Recovery. Wellington: Ministry of Women’s Affairs.

Krahe, B. (1999). Police Officers’ Definitions of Rape: A prototype study. Journal of Community & Applied Social Psychology, 1(3), 223-244.

McOrmond- Plummer, L., Easteal, P., & Levy-Peck, J. (2014). Intimate Partner Sexual Violence. London: Jessica Kingsley Publisher.

Temkin, J., & Krahe, B. (2008). Sexual Assault and the Justice Gap a Question of Attitude. Oxford: Hart.

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