Publication - Statistics

Scottish Social Attitudes Survey 2019: attitudes to violence against women

Published: 10 Dec 2020

Findings from the 2019 Scottish Social Attitudes Survey on the attitudes of the Scottish public to the following forms of violence against women: sexual violence, domestic abuse (physical, verbal, mental and emotional), sexual harassment and commercial sexual exploitation.

Chapter 2 - Sexual violence

This chapter explores people's attitudes to sexual violence. While sexual violence can take a number of different forms, the focus here is on rape. Similarly to the research carried out in 2014, people were asked about their views on a man raping a woman in different contexts. They were also presented with some common myths about rape.

While rape has been generally understood and defined as sexual intercourse without consent, it was only with the Sexual Offences (Scotland) Act 2009 that a legal definition of 'consent' was introduced in Scotland. The 2009 Act defines consent as 'free agreement' (SPICE, 2008) and concludes that any 'unreasonable belief' by the perpetrator that the victim consented should not prevent a conviction.

Rape by a stranger and within marriage

Rape within marriage was not made a criminal offence in Scotland until 1982. In this research, as in the 2014 research, we look at attitudes to rape both in the context of a man raping a stranger and a husband raping his wife. This allows us to identify whether views are dependent on whether or not the man and the woman had a pre-existing relationship. Half of the respondents to the survey were presented with a scenario where the rape was perpetrated by someone the victim had just met at a party. The other half were presented with a scenario of a husband raping his wife. Otherwise, descriptions of the actions of the perpetrator and victim were identical across the two scenarios.

The scenario outlining rape by a stranger was as follows:

'Imagine a man and a woman who have just met at a party. They get on well. They go back to the woman's flat and when they get there he kisses her and tries to have sex with her. She pushes him away but he has sexual intercourse with her anyway.'

The scenario outlining rape within marriage was as follows:

'Imagine a married couple have just been at a party. When they go home the man kisses his wife and tries to have sex with her. She pushes him away but he has sexual intercourse with her anyway.'

Respondents were asked how wrong they thought the man's behaviour was on a scale from 1 to 7 where 1 was 'not wrong at all' and 7 was 'very seriously wrong' (see Chapter 1 for further details). The scenarios did not use the term 'rape'. Instead, the intention was for people to give their views on the specific behaviour.

Table 2.1 shows that, irrespective of the scenario, almost everyone gave a score of at least 5 on the 7 point scale, indicating that they thought the man's behaviour was 'wrong' (96% said this for the stranger scenario and 95% for the husband raping his wife scenario). Notably, though, people were more likely to think that the behaviour of a man raping a woman he just met at a party was 'very seriously wrong' (91%), giving it a score of 7 on the scale, than thought a husband raping his wife was 'very seriously wrong' (84%).

Table 2.1 shows that in the scenario of rape within marriage the proportion who thought the man's behaviour was 'very seriously wrong' increased between 2014 and 2019 from 74% to 84%. There was no equivalent significant increase in the proportion who thought the behaviour of the man raping a woman he just met at a party was 'very seriously wrong' between 2014 and 2019. As a result, the gap between the proportion who thought the man's behaviour was 'very seriously wrong' when a man is described as raping a woman he just met at a party and when a husband is described as raping his wife reduced between 2014 and 2019. Whereas in 2014 there was a 14-percentage-point gap, this reduced to 8 percentage points in 2019 (91% believing that the behaviour of the man who rapes a woman at a party was 'very seriously wrong' compared with 84% who said the same of the behaviour of a husband who rapes his wife).

Table 2.1: Attitudes towards man raping a stranger / his wife
Man rapes woman he just met at a party Husband rapes wife
(%) (%)
2014 2019 2014 2019
7 Very seriously wrong 88 91 74 84
6 5 3 13 10
5 2 2 6 2
4 1 1 3 *
3 1 1 1 1
2 1 1 - *
1 Not wrong at all * 1 1 2
Don't know / Refusal 1 1 3 2
Weighted base 695 505 738 460
Unweighted base 688 497 740 455

Base: All respondents who completed either version B (rape by a stranger) or version A (rape within marriage) of the self-completion

How much harm do people think sexual violence causes?

In addition to the question about how wrong or not people thought the man's behaviour was, they were also asked how much harm they thought the man's behaviour did to the woman. They could respond on a 5-point scale ranging from 'a great deal' of harm to 'none at all'.

Similarly to the pattern seen in attitudes to the man's behaviour outlined above, those presented with the scenario of rape by a stranger were more likely than those presented with the scenario of rape within marriage to think the man's actions caused the woman 'a great deal' of harm - 89% and 80% respectively.

The proportion of people who believed 'a great deal of harm' had been done to the woman increased between 2014 and 2019. As shown in Figure 2.1 there was a particularly notable increase among those asked about the scenario of a husband raping his wife, from 67% in 2014 to 80% in 2019. The equivalent increase among those asked about a man raping a woman he had just met at a party was more modest, from 85% to 89%.[5] As a result, when comparing responses to the two rape scenarios the gap had narrowed in the proportion who thought 'a great deal' of harm had been done to the woman between 2014 and 2019 (18 percentage points in 2014 compared with 9 percentage points in 2019).

Figure 2.1: Man rapes a stranger / his wife - Belief about the level of harm done to the woman, 2014 and 2019 (%)
Bar chart showing belief about harm caused by rape by a stranger and within marriage, over time

Base: All respondents who completed version B (Scenario 1) or version A (Scenario 2) of the self-completion

Does the woman's behaviour affect attitudes?

Next, respondents were asked to think about the same scenario - i.e. either rape by a stranger or rape within marriage - but in a slightly different context: 'what if, first of all, she had taken him into her bedroom and started kissing him?'

As shown in Table 2.2, in the context of the woman first taking the man into the bedroom and kissing him, people were much less likely than previously to say that the man's behaviour was 'very seriously wrong': just 67% of those asked about a man raping a woman he had just met at a party now said this, while the corresponding figure among those presented with the scenario of rape within marriage was as low as 55%.

This difference may be due to perceptions that the woman is at least partly to blame if she first takes a man into her bedroom and kisses him. Indeed, as shown in Table 2.2, a notable proportion of people thought that the woman's behaviour was wrong, giving a score of at least 5 out of 7 on the scale: 38% of those presented with the scenario where the rape was conducted by the victim's husband thought the woman's behaviour was wrong, while among those presented with the scenario where the perpetrator was a stranger this was even higher, at 49%. Only around one-fifth thought the woman's behaviour was 'not wrong at all' (21% of those asked about rape by a stranger and 22% of those asked about rape within marriage).

Table 2.2: Man rapes a stranger / his wife after she kissed him and took him into the bedroom - Attitudes to man's and woman's behaviour (2019)
Man rapes woman he just met at a party Husband rapes wife
Man's behaviour Woman's behaviour Man's behaviour Woman's behaviour
(%) (%) (%) (%)
7 Very seriously wrong 67 21 55 15
6 12 15 17 9
5 6 14 8 14
4 5 11 10 17
3 4 6 4 10
2 1 10 2 10
1 Not wrong at all 3 21 2 22
Don't know / Refusal 2 2 2 2
Weighted base 505 505 460 460
Unweighted base 497 497 455 455

Base: All respondents who completed either version B (rape by a stranger) or version A (rape within marriage) of the self-completion

Comparing the 2019 findings with those from 2014, there was a notable increase in the proportion of people who said the man's behaviour was 'very seriously wrong' where the woman first takes him into the bedroom and kisses him. Between 2014 and 2019 the proportion of those asked about rape by a stranger who thought the man's behaviour was 'very seriously wrong' if the woman had first taken him into the bedroom and kissed him increased from 58% to 67%. Similarly views on whether the husband's behaviour was 'very seriously' wrong if the wife had first taken him into the bedroom and kissed him increased from 44% in 2014 to 55% in 2019.

Views on the woman's behaviour also shifted between 2014 and 2019, although to a lesser extent. Looking at the views of people presented with the scenario of a woman raped by a man she had just met at a party, the proportion of people who thought the woman's behaviour was 'not at all wrong' increased from 13% to 21%. Even so, the proportion who believed her behaviour was 'very seriously wrong' remained unchanged. Furthermore, despite the above mentioned changes in views on the husband's behaviour in relation to the scenario of rape within marriage, there were no notable changes in views on the woman's behaviour in this scenario between 2014 and 2019.

How do attitudes to rape vary between groups?

In this section we look at how attitudes to rape in each of the two scenarios (rape by a stranger and rape within marriage) vary according to the following respondent characteristics and circumstances:

  • Gender
  • Age
  • Education
  • Income
  • Area deprivation[6] (as measured by the Scottish Index of Multiple Deprivation)[7]
  • Religious identity
  • Marital status
  • Experience of unwanted sexual contact (e.g. sexual abuse or rape)
  • Whether they held stereotypical views on gender roles
  • Attitudes to paying for sex

For the rape within marriage scenario, those who themselves had experienced unwanted sexual contact were more likely than those who had not to think that the man's behaviour was 'very seriously wrong' (94% compared with 83% respectively). For the rape by a stranger scenario, where the overall proportion stating this was above 90%, differences between those who had and had not experienced unwanted sexual contact were only marginally significant.

Across both scenarios, those who held more stereotypical views on gender roles, defined here as those who would refuse to buy a doll for a 3 year old boy (see Chapter 1 for details), were less likely to think the man's behaviour was 'very seriously wrong'. As shown in Figure 2.2, among those who held stereotypical views on gender roles, 77% of those presented with the rape by a stranger scenario and 71% of those presented with the rape within marriage scenario thought the man's behaviour was 'very seriously wrong'. By comparison, of those who did not hold stereotypical views on gender roles, 96% of those asked about rape by a stranger and 87% of those asked about rape within marriage thought this.

Figure 2.2: Attitudes towards man raping a stranger / his wife by stereotypical views on gender roles (2019, %)
Bar chart showing fewer people with stereotypical gender beliefs think rape is very seriously wrong

Base: All respondents who completed version B (Scenario 1) or version A (Scenario 2) of the self- completion

Among those asked about the scenario where a woman was raped by a man she had just met at a party, although the vast majority (91%) said they believed the man's behaviour was 'very seriously wrong', those with higher levels of education were even more likely than those with lower levels of qualifications to do so. The proportion who thought the man's behaviour was 'very seriously wrong' increased from 81% among those with no formal qualifications to 95% among those educated to degree-level.[8]

Looking at attitudes to rape within marriage, people aged 65 and over were less likely than those aged under 65 to think the husband's behaviour was 'very seriously wrong' (74% of those aged 65 and over thought so compared with 86% of those aged 18 to 64).[9] This may be explained, in part, by the fact that those aged 65 and over were brought up at a time when rape within marriage was not a criminal offence.

Still considering the rape within marriage scenario, people who were divorced or separated[10] were more likely to view the husband's behaviour as 'very seriously wrong' (97%) than those who were currently married or living with a partner (86%) and those who had never been married (75%).

People's attitudes to rape within marriage were also related to their attitudes to paying for sex. Attitudes to paying for sex are discussed in more detail in Chapter 6. In response to the question about how wrong they believed the husband's behaviour was (when presented with the scenario of rape within marriage), those who did not believe paying for sex was wrong (a score of 1-3 on the scale) were less likely to think the husband's behaviour was 'very seriously wrong' than those who believed paying for sex was wrong (a score of 5-7 on the scale): 70% and 90% respectively said the husband's behaviour was 'very seriously wrong'.

Myths about rape

In the previous section, we found that people held different views about rape when it was committed by a stranger and when it was committed within marriage, and that people were also less likely to view rape as 'very seriously wrong' if the woman first took the man to the bedroom and kissed him. The existence of a prior relationship and the woman's behaviour appeared to be viewed as mitigating circumstances when judging the seriousness and harm of rape. Further evidence on how people view rape in different circumstances was collected through asking about six myths about rape.

Respondents were presented with two statements about the extent to which a woman is to blame for being raped. Specifically, respondents were asked:

'How much, if at all, is a woman to blame if she…

…wears very revealing clothing on a night out and then gets raped?'

…is very drunk and gets raped?'

Answers were given on a scale from 1 to 7 where 1 was 'not at all to blame' and 7 was 'entirely to blame'.

As shown in Table 2.3, in relation to both statements, in 2019 around 7 in 10 (69%) felt that the woman was 'not at all to blame'. This represents a notable increase from 2014. In 2014, only around 6 in 10 people (58%) thought a woman is 'not at all to blame' if she 'wears revealing clothing on a night out and then gets raped' with a similar proportion (60%) saying that a woman is 'not at all to blame' if she 'is very drunk and gets raped'. In 2019, therefore, around 3 in 10 still felt that the woman was at least partly to blame for being raped (giving a score of between 2 and 7 on the scale) if she wore revealing clothing (29%) or was very drunk (30%).

Table 2.3: Myths about rape - How much woman is to blame if she wears revealing clothing / gets drunk (2019)
Woman wears revealing clothing and gets raped Woman is very drunk and gets raped
(%) (%)
2014 2019 2014 2019
7 Woman entirely to blame 4 4 5 4
6 4 2 4 2
5 7 4 5 3
4 7 5 6 6
3 6 4 6 3
2 12 9 12 11
1 Woman not at all to blame 58 69 60 69
Don't know / Refusal 2 2 2 2
Weighted base 1,433 964 1,433 964
Unweighted base 1,428 952 1.428 952

Base: All respondents who completed the self-completion

Respondents were also asked about the reporting of rape and presented with a common myth about the cause of rape. Specifically, they were asked to what extent they agreed or disagreed with the following four statements on a 5 point scale from 'strongly agree' to 'strongly disagree'. Two of these statements were repeated from the 2014 survey and two were new questions:

'Women often lie about being raped' (repeated from 2014)

'Women who say that they have been raped while they were awake and conscious, but didn't fight back, are probably lying' (new in 2019)

'Women who take a while to report that they have been raped are probably lying' (new in 2019)

'Rape results from men being unable to control their need for sex' (repeated from 2014)

Fewer than 1 in 10 people (8%) 'agreed' or 'agreed strongly' that 'women often lie about being raped', while 6 in 10 (60%) 'disagreed' or 'disagreed strongly' with this statement. Similarly, only a small minority of people 'agreed' or 'agreed strongly' that 'women who say that they have been raped while they were awake and conscious, but didn't fight back, are probably lying' (6% compared with 77% who 'disagreed' or 'disagreed strongly') and that 'women who take a while to report that they have been raped are probably lying' (7% 'agreed' or 'agreed strongly' compared with 76% who 'disagreed' or 'disagreed strongly').

A higher proportion of people agreed that rape is caused by men being unable to control their need for sex: more than a quarter (28%) 'agreed' or 'agreed strongly' with this statement, while half (49%) 'disagreed' or 'disagreed strongly'.

Between 2014 and 2019, there were some notable changes in the extent to which people agreed or disagreed with these myths. For example, as shown in Figure 2.3, the proportion who 'agreed' or 'agreed strongly' with the statement that 'women often lie about being raped' fell by 15 percentage points, from 23% in 2014 to 8% in 2019. Meanwhile the proportion who 'agreed' or 'agreed strongly' that 'rape results from men being unable to control their need for sex' fell by 9 percentage points, from 37% to 28%.

Figure 2.3: Myths about rape - 'Women often lie about being raped' and 'rape results from men being unable to control their need for sex', 2014 and 2019 (%)
Bar chart showing the proportion of people who agreed and disagreed with rape myths in 2014 and 2019

Base: All respondents who completed the self-completion

How do views on myths about rape vary between groups?

Variations in views on how much a woman was to blame (or not) for being raped when, first, wearing revealing clothing and, second, being very drunk were very similar for the subgroups considered. In response to both questions, those aged under 65 were more likely than those aged 65 and over to say the woman was 'not at all to blame', with around three-quarters (76%) of those aged 18 to 64 saying this about a woman wearing revealing clothing, and a similar proportion (74%) saying so about a woman who was very drunk. Among those aged 65 and over, just 47% and 48% respectively thought the woman was 'not at all to blame'.

Those with any formal educational qualifications were also more likely than those with no formal qualifications to say the woman was 'not at all to blame' if she was raped: 73% of those with any formal qualifications held this view about a woman wearing revealing clothes compared with just 51% of those with no qualifications. The equivalent figures among those who thought a woman who was very drunk was 'not at all to blame' were 71% and 54% respectively.

Whether or not someone identified as belonging to a religion was also associated with their views on the extent to which women were to blame for being raped. Those who did not belong to any religion were more likely than those who identified with having a religion to think that the woman was 'not at all to blame': 78% of those with no religious identity said this about a woman wearing revealing clothes and 74% did so about a woman who was very drunk; among those with a religious identity just 54% said this about a woman wearing revealing clothes, and 59% about a woman who was very drunk.[11]

Some differences by income were also evident. Those in the highest income households were more likely than those in the lowest income households to view the woman as 'not at all to blame' for being raped: 77% of those in the highest income group believed a woman wearing revealing clothes was 'not all all to blame' for being raped compared with 65% of those in the lowest income households. The proportions were the same for the question on whether a woman who was drunk is to blame for being raped.

Holding stereotypical views on gender roles was associated with being more likely to think the woman was at least partially to blame for being raped. In relation to the question about a woman wearing revealing clothes, 79% of those who did not hold stereotypical views on gender roles thought the woman was 'not at all to blame' for being raped, compared with only 50% of those who did hold stereotypical views on gender roles. In relation to the question about a woman who was very drunk and was then raped, the equivalent figures were 75% and 53% respectively.

Having experienced unwanted sexual contact themselves was also associated with the extent to which someone thought a woman was (or was not) to blame for being raped. Those who had experienced unwanted sexual contact were more likely than those who had not to say the woman was 'not at all to blame' if she was wearing revealing clothing (81% compared with 69% of those who had not had such an experience).

Finally, women were more likely than men to say that a woman wearing revealing clothing was 'not at all to blame' (75% of women held this view compared with 64% of men). There was no equivalent significant difference in relation to the question about a woman who was very drunk.

Across the three statements about women lying about being raped ('women often lie about being raped', 'women who say that they have been raped while they were awake and conscious, but didn't fight back, are probably lying', 'women who take a while to report that they have been raped are probably lying') and the statement that men's need for sex is a cause of rape ('rape results from men being unable to control their need for sex') a number of characteristics were consistently associated with higher levels of disagreement.[12] This suggests that some groups of people were less likely than others to believe these myths about rape.

First, women tended to be more likely than men to disagree with all four statements. For example, 65% of women disagreed that 'women often lie about being raped' compared with 55% of men (see Figure 2.4). Second, younger people were more likely to disagree with these statements than older people - in particular, those aged under 65 were more likely to do so than those aged 65 and over. For example, 64% of those aged 18 to 64 disagreed that 'women often lie about being raped', while just 47% of people aged 65 and over did so.

Figure 2.4: Myths about rape - % disagreeing with statement by gender (2019)
Bar chart showing that women are more likely than men to disagree with a range of rape myths

Base: All respondents who completed the self-completion

There were also differences by level of education and by income. In particular, those with formal qualifications were more likely than those with no formal qualifications to say they disagreed. For example, 80% of those with formal qualifications disagreed that 'women who take a while to report that they have been raped are probably lying', while just 53% of those with no formal qualifications disagreed. Those in the highest income group were also more likely than those on lower incomes to disagree with the statements. In response to the statement that 'rape results from men being unable to control their need for sex', for instance, 62% of people in the highest income group disagreed, while just 39% of those in the lowest income group disagreed.[13]

Levels of disagreement with the statements also varied according to whether people held stereotypical views on gender roles, with those who did not hold stereotypical views more likely to disagree with the statements. For example, 83% of those who did not hold stereotypical views on gender roles disagreed that 'women who take a while to report that they have been raped are probably lying', compared with 57% of those who did hold stereotypical views on gender roles.

Finally, those who had experienced unwanted sexual contact themselves were more likely than those who had not to disagree with the three statements about lying: 'women often lie about being raped', 'women who take a while to report that they have been raped are probably lying' and 'women who say that they have been raped while they were awake and conscious, but didn't fight back, are probably lying'. Among those who had experienced unwanted sexual contact, 72% disagreed with the first of these three statements, 91% the second and 93% disagreed with the last, while the equivalent figures among those who had not experienced unwanted sexual contact were 60%, 75% and 77%, respectively.


Contact

Email: social-justice-analysis@gov.scot