Publication Date


Document Type

Masters Thesis


School for Social Work


Rape-Public opinion, Rape-Psychological aspects, Discourse analysis, Justice-Psychological aspects, Foucault, Michel, 1926-1984, Theoretical, Rape myths, Steubenville, System justification theory


Sexual violence is an endemic problem in the United States. Despite the ubiquity of rape and our legally affirmed agreement that it is a crime, research and observation indicates that people who would not perpetrate sex crimes nonetheless frequently endorse sexual violence through both passive and proactive behaviors. Evidence of such cultural norms can be found in public discourse when we observe how people talk about sexual violence, a concept that has been operationalized in the field of psychology as the rhetoric of rape myths. Using the 2011 Steubenville, Ohio high school rape case, this theoretical project explores psychological and cultural roots of both individual and collective rape myth acceptance as it becomes manifest in public discourse. System Justification Theory and Foucauldian discourse analysis frame this discussion. System justification provides a theoretical framework for examining reasons why people often act in ways that support existing systems even if the needs of the system are at odds with their individual needs. Foucault's method of discourse analysis exposes how power and knowledge interact to create the repressive – and yet generally agreed upon – boundaries of public discourse. The intersection of these theories in the context of Steubenville provides a useful framework for understanding rape myth acceptance in public discourse by examining the utility of rape myths within the context our discursive traditions. This project demonstrates that rape myths serve two separate but important purposes: 1) to alleviate individual anxiety about sexual violence and 2) to regulate sexual behavior through the creation and perpetuation of social norms.




iv, 74 pages. Thesis (M.S.W.)--Smith College School for Social Work, 2015. Includes bibliographical references (pages 68-74)