The Exonerating Effect of Sexual Objectification: Sexual Objectification Decreases Rapist Blame in a Stranger Rape Context
A blossoming body of research documents the effect of sexual objectification on social perception, but little is known about the consequences of sexual objectification. This paper examines how sexual objectification influences men and women’s rape perceptions in case of a stranger rape. We hypothesized that victims’ sexual objectification might diminish rapist blame and increase victim blame in cases of stranger rape. Fifty-eight male and 57 female Belgian undergraduate students were assigned to either a sexual objectifying (i.e., body focus) or to a personalized portrayal (i.e., face focus) of a rape victim. After reading a newspaper report depicting a stranger rape, participants were asked to evaluate the extent to which they blamed the rapist and the victim. As predicted, participants blamed the rapist less in the sexual objectification condition, regardless of participant gender. In contrast, sexual objectification did not increase victim blame. These results have implications for the well-being of rape victims, as well as for the functioning of justice if it leads authorities to show leniency towards the length of penalty a rapist may receive. The implications of these findings for future research on sexual objectification and gender differences in rape perception are also discussed.