Considering the Mythology of Rape Myths’ Utility in Research and Prevention Science.

Joseph E. Gonzales (University of Massachusetts, Lowell); Annabelle Frazier (Committee for Public Counsel Services; Southern New Hampshire University); Melissa M. Pope (University of Massachusetts, Lowell).

Rape myths describe a set of largely-false cultural beliefs that rationalize or minimize sexual violence by blaming victims and absolving perpetrators. These often include false indicators of consent and culpability, as well as gender role stereotypes, and are theorized to be reinforced through social learning and exposure.

Over the decades, rape myth instruments have been developed, revised, and reported to show a relation between their acceptance and actual sexual violence. These findings have made rape myths an attractive measure for primary prevention efforts; as a measure of assault likelihood and as a proxy outcome for prevention program efficacy. However, limited work has been conducted to determine the scope of their efficacy or appropriateness in research and prevention applications.

In this symposium we consider the most ubiquitous rape myth measure, the Illinois Rape Myth Acceptance Scale (IRMAS), using a combination of theoretically and empirically based talks where we: (a) review measurement invariance and its role in establishing reliability and impacting empirical research using latent constructs (e.g., IRMAS): (b) conduct between-groups measurement invariance testing of the Updated IRMAS across four grouping variables of interest in sexual violence and prevention research, and (c) reevaluate the criterion validity of the IRMAS as a predictor of sexual criminal behavior while controlling for other theoretically identified predictors.

The goal of this presentation is to provide researchers with a critical evaluation of the appropriateness of the IRMAS in their own research programs, by highlighting limitations of the IRMAS (and rape myths generally) in sexual violence research.


Joseph E. Gonzales

University of Massachusetts, Lowell

Annabelle Frazier

Committee for Public Counsel Services; Southern New Hampshire University

Melissa M. Pope

 University of Massachusetts, Lowell