Make your own free website on

An Investigation of the Relationship between Religiosity and Victim Blame in Cases of Sexual Assault


LMC Contact Author

West Chester University


This study investigated the relationship between religiosity and tendencies toward victim blame in sexual assault cases. Thirty-two individuals were given surveys that included items measuring acceptance of rape myths, sex role stereotyping, and sexual conservatism. The survey also asked subjects to self-identify as either religious or non-religious. In the final analysis, ten subjects were in each condition, and the mean scores of each were compared using an independent-samples t-test. The results of this test, t(18)=.610, showed that the means were not significantly different when p<.05. Thus it could be concluded that both religious and non-religious individuals have similar victim blame propensities. However, insufficient sample size and a relatively undiversified sample could have been the cause of these insignificant results.

An Investigation of the Relationship between Religiosity and Victim Blame in Cases of Sexual Assault

It is unfortunately a common experience for survivors of rape and sexual assault to be blamed by others for causing or contributing to their abuse. The tendency toward victim blame is found throughout American culture and elsewhere in the world, and it can have a strongly negative effect on the rape survivor. While victim blame is a widespread phenomenon throughout all levels of society, it may occur more frequently and more strongly within certain populations. One such population is those people that are active followers of a particular religion. A large portion of Americans do hold some religious beliefs, so if victim blaming was related to these beliefs, there could be negative consequences for a great number of survivors.

Religion aside, the blaming of sexual assault victims is pervasive in American culture. This may be related to the simple fact that most sexual assault victims are female. In a study of four newspapers by Anastasio and Costa (2004), it was found that personal information was mentioned much less often for female crime victims than for male crime victims. The same study also showed that including personal information increased readers' empathy for the victim. By using less empathy-generating language in describing the female crime victims, the news media is merely reflecting an attitude toward female victims that is found within the larger society: that female victims are more likely to have contributed in some way to their victimization.

Previous research has shown that certain populations are more likely to accept rape myths, which can in turn lead to victim blame. Some of the characteristics of these individuals include male gender, having less education, being older, being sexually conservative and accepting of sex role stereotyping, adversarial sexual beliefs, and interpersonal violence (Burt, 1980). Religious individuals, particularly those of certain Christian denominations, are likely to be much more sexually conservative and accepting of stereotypical sex roles. These individuals, both men and women, often point to the Bible to justify patriarchy and the idea that women are morally weaker than men. Women are expected to be passive and submissive. A woman or child who claims rape or abuse, especially committed by a husband, father, or person of religious authority, is more likely to be viewed as disobedient or even evil rather than as having been victimized (Kroeger and Beck, 1996; Bottoms, Shaver, Goodman, and Qin,1995). Religious perpetrators of abuse frequently use biblical teachings to justify their actions (Miles, 1999). It is also possible that religious individuals would subscribe to a "need for control" version of attribution theory as described by Gray, Palileo, and Johnson (1993), in that since they expect God to be just and protect good people from harm, a rape victim must have in some way contributed to her/his victimization.

Burt's study (1980) suggests that younger, more educated individuals are often less likely to accept rape myths and engage in victim blame. The study proposed by the current researcher would include subjects from a limited age range, from about 18 to 22 years old, who are in a higher education setting. The objective of this study is to investigate the possible correlation between religiosity and rape victim blame within this population. It is predicted that subjects who self-identify as religious will show greater tendencies toward victim blame. The importance of this relationship is that victims of rape within this population, particularly those victims who are religious, could be negatively affected by such attitudes. If the correlation between religiosity and victim blame is confirmed, this information could be helpful to mental health professionals and others who come in contact with rape victims. In the proposed study, religiosity is the tenacity with which the subject subscribes to a particular major religion, regardless of what religion that is. Tendencies toward victim blame are to be measured by the subject's acceptance of rape myths, stereotypical sex roles, and interpersonal violence.



Thirty-two individuals from West Chester, Pennsylvania area with varying degrees of religiosity were surveyed in this study. These individuals ranged in age from 19 to 68 years, but most were in their early 20's. The subjects who identified themselves as either a rape survivor or perpetrator were excluded from data analysis, as individuals who have personally experienced sexual assault in some way could have vastly different views on victim blame than the general population. Upon analysis, conditions were balanced for gender, providing four males and six females in each condition. Previous studies (Burt 1980) have indicated that females are less likely to engage in victim blaming than males.


All subjects were given a questionnaire containing a section assessing the favorable or unfavorable attitudes toward rape victims, as well as the subject's acceptance of sexual conservatism and sex role stereotyping. This section was modeled after the Attitudes toward Rape Victims Scale (ARVS) developed by Ward (1988) and included items modified from Burt (1980) (see Appendix). All questions were presented in Likert scale format, asking subjects to respond using a 5-point scale ranging from "strongly disagree" to "strongly agree". Next, subjects were asked to identify their religion, if any, and to indicate how strongly they follow this religion. Subjects were then asked open-ended questions regarding their own personal experience with rape. Finally, demographic information, including age and gender, was collected.

The independent variable in this study is the degree of religiosity of the subject, with the conditions of this variable being either "religious"; or "non-religious". These conditions were measured by the subject's self-report of his/her religious denomination, if any, as well as the level of dedication the subject has to that particular religion. This study investigated the relationship between this variable and the dependent measure, which is tendency toward victim blame. Victim blame was measured in particular by the acceptance of rape myths and negative attitudes toward rape victims, as shown by answers to survey questions.


Subjects were approached prior to various classes as West Chester University, at Sykes Student Union, as well as at the University's Catholic Newman Center. They were asked if they would complete a survey on sexual assault. Individuals agreeing to participate were given the questionnaire, and were then thanked for their participation and verbally given the researcher’s contact information should they have any concerns.

As this study was conducted in a survey form, there were few ethical concerns with it. Subjects were reminded that they were not in any way obligated to participate or complete the survey. As previously mentioned, all responses were anonymous.


In total, 32 surveys were given, but only 20 of these met the criteria for inclusion, which were the subject’s religious adherence being ranked as either one or two for the non-religious condition, or four or five for the religious condition. Subjects whose surveys indicated they were sexual assault survivors were excluded. Surveys were scored by adding the score for each Section 1 item. Four items in Section 1 (items 3, 5, 8, and 11) were reverse scored. This yielded possible total scores ranging from 20 to 100.

An independent-samples t-test was performed on the scores from surveys that met all specified inclusion criteria. For each condition in this test, n=10. The mean score for the religious condition was 52.4 with a standard deviation of 7.3, and the mean for the non-religious condition was 49.9, with a standard deviation of 13.3. The t(18)=.610, with p<.05. This test showed that the means of each condition were not significantly different from one another.


The results of this study indicate that both religious and non-religious individuals have approximately the same tendency toward victim blame. Therefore, the hypothesis that religious individuals would be more likely to engage in this behavior must be rejected.

Despite the results of this study, the relationship between religiosity and victim blame cannot be entirely discounted. There are several flaws in the collection of data that could have produced results counter to the hypothesis. First, due to time and resource constraints, the sample size was insufficient to produce accurate results. A large number of surveys given had to be discarded for various reasons, leaving a rather small amount of useable data. The inclusion of a larger number of participants could have produced significantly different results. Another issue that could have led to the rejection of the hypothesis was the general population from which the samples were taken was relatively young (mean age for the religious condition was 20.4 years) and mostly female. As previous studies have shown, these individuals are less likely to engage in victim blaming behaviors. This fact, as well as social desirability issues, could have caused a floor effect, meaning that the scores were unnaturally low.

A future study investigated the relationship between victim blame and religiosity must include a larger number of participants, as well as a more diverse group of individuals. Most of the individuals who indicated a religious devotion were some Christian denomination, and of these, almost all were Roman Catholic. Thus, the results of this study cannot describe all religious individuals, and are actually a better picture of Roman Catholic individuals.

This topic is worthy of further investigation, in spite of the lack of significant findings from this particular study. Religion has the potential to have important effects on sexual assault survivors, and religious communities could also be a means of educating individuals on rape myths and ways of supporting sexual assault survivors.


Anastasio, P.A., & Costa, D.M. (2004). Twice hurt: How newspaper coverage may reduce empathy and engender blame for female victims of crime. Sex Roles, 51(9/10), 535-542.

Bottoms, B.L, Shaver, P.R., Goodman, G.S., & Qin, J. (1995). In the name of God: A profile of religion-related child abuse. Journal of Social Issues, 51(2), 85-111.

Burt, M.R. (1980). Cultural myths and support for rape. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 38(2), 217-230.

Kroeger, C.C., &Beck, J.R. (Eds.). (1996). Women, abuse and the Bible: How scripture can be used to hurt or to heal. Grand Rapids: Baker Books.

Gray, N.B., Palileo, G.J., & Johnson, G.D. (1993). Explaining rape victim blame: A test of attribution theory. Sociological Spectrum, 13, 377-392.

Miles, A. (1999). When faith is used to justify abuse: Helping victims of domestic violence. American Journal of Nursing, 99(5), 32-35.

Ward, C. (1988). The attitudes toward rape victims scale: Construction, validation, and cross-cultural applicability. Psychology of Women Quarterly, 12, 127-146.

Contact Author