DURHAM, N.H. – Robert Eckstein, senior lecturer in psychology and justice studies at the University of New Hampshire, is available to discuss why people often blame rape victims for their attack and sympathize with accused rapists. A trained psychologist, Eckstein’s area of expertise – prevention of violence against women -- is timely given recent incidents of victim blaming and sympathy for convicted and accused rapists in Steubenville, Ohio, and Torrington, CT.

According to Eckstein, many people still hold antiquated and stereotypical ideas about sexual assault and sexual assault assailants. Most people do not realize, and do not want to believe, that up to 90 percent of women who are sexual assaulted are attacked by someone they know, such as a friend, acquaintance, partner, or former partner.

“We don’t want to believe that people who are our classmates, our teammates, and the people we socialize with are capable of this type of behavior. The media often sees these young men as decent people who ‘had a misunderstanding’ or ‘had too much to drink.’ As a result, people sympathize with them and are willing to give them a benefit of the doubt,” says Eckstein, who is a lead trainer and curriculum development specialist with UNH’s nationally known sexual and intimate partner violence prevention program, Bringing in the Bystander.

“However, research indicates that far more often than not these types of offenders are intentionally predatory in their actions. I believe that if more people were familiar with this criminal profile, they would be less likely to side with the alleged perpetrators in these cases,” he says.

According to Eckstein, research indicates that people victim blame rape victims at a higher rate than victims of other crimes. One reason may be the concept of the “just-world theory,” which is the false notion that we live in a just world. People who believe in a just world believe that if something bad happens to someone, she must have had something to do with it occurring.

In addition, race and social class can affect the level of victim blaming. “Victims who are perceived as less respectable, less popular, or more marginalized are more likely to be blamed. Conversely, perpetrators who are perceived in a positive light, such as being popular or of high social status, are less likely to be blamed,” Eckstein says.

“Victim blaming is almost always an issue in sexual assault cases, and it does seem to be especially salient in some of the recent high-profile cases because the alleged predators are textbook examples of high-status offenders. This has a tendency to bring out the worst type of victim blaming behaviors,” he says.

Finally, sexism and misogyny play a role in the level of victim blaming in sexual assault cases. “Research has indicated that people who hold more sexist attitudes, who have more generally negative views of women, and who adhere more to traditional gender roles are more likely to blame victims in cases of rape,” Eckstein says.

The University of New Hampshire, founded in 1866, is a world-class public research university with the feel of a New England liberal arts college. A land, sea, and space-grant university, UNH is the state's flagship public institution, enrolling 12,200 undergraduate and 2,300 graduate students.

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