New USC School of Social Work Study Reveals Prevalence of Rape Victim-Blaming in Online Culture

Share Article

A new first-of-its-kind study from the University of Southern California School of Social Work and published this month in the journal Computers in Human Behavior has uncovered an extremely prevalent bias against victims of rape within online and comment sections of major media outlets. The most common theme among online comments examined was “victim blaming,” where the commenter assigned at least some responsibility for the alleged crime on the victim; “victim blaming” occurred in one out of four (25.8 percent) of online comments reviewed.

“For the first time, we have definitive data showing that a strong rape culture exists in online comment forums,” said Kristen Zaleski, associate professor at the University of Southern California School of Social Work.

A new first-of-its-kind study from the University of Southern California School of Social Work and published this month in the journal Computers in Human Behavior has uncovered an extremely prevalent bias against victims of rape within online and comment sections of major media outlets.

Exploring Rape Culture in Social Media Forums investigated online attitudes about rape, rapists and gender-based violence by examining more than 4,000 comments made in rape-related online articles published by major newspapers over a four-month period. Comments were posted either on the periodical’s website or Facebook pages.

The most common theme among online comments examined was “victim blaming,” where the commenter assigned at least some responsibility for the alleged crime on the victim. “Victim blaming” occurred in one out of four (25.8 percent) of online comments reviewed.

The study also revealed that the celebrity status of the accused perpetrators impacted the nature of the associated comments. More victim blaming and support for the accused perpetrator was found when that accused perpetrator was a celebrity or public figure. The study also found that victims of sexual assault received the most support and sympathy online when the accused perpetrator was not an American citizen or the assault occurred outside of the United States.

“For the first time, we have definitive data showing that a strong rape culture exists in online comment forums,” said Kristen Zaleski, associate professor at the University of Southern California School of Social Work and lead investigator on the study. “Clearly, further studies are needed to better understand the impact of rape culture online and implications of that culture outside social media. This study is a first step in that direction.”

Implications of that culture could extend into the online gaming community, says Joshua Call, professor at Grand View University in Des Moines, Iowa, and former area chair of the Game Studies Area of the Popular Culture Association/American Culture Association. “There are interesting implications from this study for research into the discourses of online gaming communities. While not named explicitly in the research, the patterns of behavior articulated in this study will be of interest to those who study the intersection of gamer rhetoric, and the rhetoric of violence and rape.”

“This is a very interesting study in a field clearly needing to be explored,” said Matthieu Guitton, professor and expert in virtual communities’ dynamics from the Université Laval in Quebec City, Canada. “This study also hints that communities themselves could play a regulatory role to regulate content and behaviors. Interestingly, there might be a need to implement community-driven sociotechnical norms to help community members label what is acceptable and what is not.”

The USC School of Social Work
The University of Southern California School of Social Work ranks among the nation's top social work graduate programs. A recognized leader in academic innovation, experiential learning, online education and translational research, the school prepares students for leadership roles in public and private organizations that serve individuals, families and communities in need. Its Hamovitch Center for Science in the Human Services was the first endowed research institute for interdisciplinary social work research and remains a pioneer in translational science – the acceleration of research findings into practice settings.

Computers in Human Behavior
Computers in Human Behavior is a scholarly journal dedicated to examining the use of computers from a psychological perspective. Original theoretical works, research reports, literature reviews, software reviews, book reviews and announcements are published. The journal addresses both the use of computers in psychology, psychiatry and related disciplines, as well as the psychological impact of computer use on individuals, groups and society. The former category includes articles exploring the use of computers for professional practice, training, research and theory development. The latter category includes articles dealing with the psychological effects of computers on phenomena such as human development, learning, cognition, personality and social interactions. The journal addresses human interactions with computers, not computers per se. The computer is discussed only as a medium through which human behaviors are shaped and expressed. The primary message of most articles involves information about human behavior. Therefore, professionals with an interest in the psychological aspects of computer use, but with limited knowledge of computers, will find this journal of interest.

# # #

Share article on social media or email:

View article via:

Pdf Print

Contact Author

Jania Palacios
DDK Communications
+1 520-404-7643
Email >
Visit website