“It is rape but …” issues with definition and implications for the Australian legal system
Stewart, Laura Ann
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Through the use of focus groups and interviews, this research aims to increase understanding of the ways in which the public in Adelaide, South Australia draw on well documented rape myths and the influence of this process on their understandings of consent to sexual intercourse. This research explores how individual attitudes and opinions about rape are shaped through social interaction, including comparing the attitudes of men and women. Equal numbers of men and women were drawn from one geographical location by snowball sampling and vignettes were used to facilitate discussion in focus groups. Findings showed that rape myths remain influential amongst the public and are often used to attribute responsibility to women in acquaintance rape scenarios. However, analysis of the public’s engagement with rape myths revealed a complex process. People did not simply adhere to or challenge rape myths but rather these myths were engaged with in different ways at different times and in different circumstances. Findings also highlighted the complexity of the notion of consent and revealed contradictions in the ways in which consent was understood. Moreover, in many cases despite being willing to label an incident as rape, participants were still reluctant to say that they would find the man guilty of the crime of rape. Overall, this study suggests that the public struggle with issues concerning how rape is defined and that this has widespread implications both for rape victims and for the Australian legal system. Findings also suggest that radical attitude change is required before any real improvement will be seen in rape conviction rates.