Impact of the Media
The media play a powerful role in transmitting cultural values and norms. Some novels, films, videos, Internet websites, and computer games perpetuate the notion that women want to be raped. Often, fictionalized rape scenes begin with a woman resisting her attacker, only to melt into passionate acceptance. In the rare cases where male-to-male rape is shown, as in the films Deliverance and The Shawshank Redemption, the violation and humiliation of rape are more likely to be realistically portrayed.
The mere act of viewing sexually explicit media, a practice indulged in by many American men (especially with the proliferation of Internet pornography), does not necessarily contribute to sexually aggressive behavior. In fact, one comprehensive review of available research studies assessing the effects of pornography concluded that "for the majority of American men, pornography exposure. . . is not associated with high levels of sexual aggression" (Malamuth et al., 2000, p. 85). Nevertheless, it does appear that exposure to violent pornography may have negative effects on men’s attitudes and behaviors toward women (Simons et al., 2008).
A number of social scientists have suggested that sexually violent films, books, magazines, videos, and computer games contribute to some rapists’ assaultive behaviors (Allen et al., 1995; Hall, 1996; Simons et al., 2008). Boeringer (1994) found that viewing pornography that depicted violent rape was strongly associated with judging oneself capable of sexual coercion and aggression and engaging in such coercive acts. Other research suggests that "exposure to media that combine arousing sexual images with violence may promote the development of deviant patterns of physiological sexual arousal" (Hall & Barongan, 1997, p. 5).
Is rape, then, a sexualization of violence? The evidence is equivocal. In two studies, the erectile responses of matched groups of rapists and nonrapists were measured as the men listened to audiotape descriptions of rape and of mutually consenting sexual activity. In both studies, rapists were more aroused by the sexual assault description than were nonrapists (Abel et al., 1977; Bernat et al., 1999). However, other research has failed to support this conclusion, finding little difference in the erectile responses of rapists and nonrapists in similar research designs (Eccles et al., 1994; Proulx et al., 1994). More research is needed to clarify these findings.