Causes and Effects of Rape Culture

[joint work with Dara Kay Cohen and Matthew A. Baum]  

Abstract: What drives variation in media coverage of rape and sexual assault? Scholars and media critics have long worried that certain biases in news coverage of sexual violence -- empathy toward accused perpetrators, blame and incredulity toward victims -- may lead to an increased incidence of rape. This phenomenon -- sometimes called ``rape culture'' -- operates through two mechanisms: perpetrators may experience a sense of impunity, while future victims of rape may be less likely to report their attacks to authorities. However, these effects are often assumed in policy discourse, rather than based on well-documented data. Our project fills this gap by systematically examining the existence, magnitude and effects of rape culture, across millions of news reports and social media postings from over 110 countries for a period of over a decade. By harnessing new technologies and data, we seek to address a set of questions that have yet to be studied systematically, and never before on such a large scale.