When it comes to discussions about sexual assault, a new study suggests a link between strong partisan ideology and victim blaming
Authored by assistant professor Rebecca Ortiz and PhD student Andrea Smith at the Syracuse University Newhouse School of Public Communications, the study found that the more intensely a person identified with the identity of Republican or Democrat – the more likely they were to victim blame in situations of sexual assault.
Their theory is that people feel defensive of their political identities, in a time where many political leaders are being levelled with accusations of sexual assault.
This kind of bias is crucial to how sexual assault cases go – as separate, previous research found that many people make decisions about the believability of a case depending on the appearance of the victim.
“The consequences of that are very severe for women who fall outside of the narrow representation of who a victim is,” said Bryn Bandt-Law, a graduate student in psychology.
“If we have biased perceptions of harm for nonprototypical women, it will drastically change their legal outcomes. If they’re not being believed, they’re effectively being silenced.”
Republican men more likely to believe assault myths
Assistant professor Rebecca Ortiz said: “What we found is that the more Republicans and Democrats strongly identified with their party, the more likely they were to agree, or at least not strongly disagree, with these sexual assault myths and then the less likely they were to perceive the #MeToo movement as having a positive impact.
“As predicted, these sexual assault myth attitudes were significantly higher among Republicans than Democrats and among men than women. We also found that our participants aligned more closely by party than gender, such that Republican women more closely aligned with Republican men and Democratic men with Democratic women.”
When in 2016, former President Donald Trump was accused by several women of sexual misconduct and harassment, he was still able to press ahead and win the Presidential election – with strong support from Republican politicians and voters.
While Democrats called this out, when it came to accusations against President Biden by a former staffer during the 2020 elections – strongly identifying Democrats were less willing to discuss this.
However, this reluctance can be attributed to a party-wide desperation to prevent Trump from attaining a second term. Either way, the concept of strong belief in politicians being linked to engagement in victim blaming could be an interesting condemnation of how contemporary politics asks us to suspend our belief.
More research exploring this initial study could give a more cohesive picture.
Professor Ortiz further commented: “It appears that both Democrats and Republicans have the potential to engage in victim blaming and acceptance of these harmful cultural myths about sexual assault survivors as a means of preserving and defending their political identities, perhaps especially when powerful members and leaders of their political group are accused of these crimes.”
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