Patriarchy, Not Hierarchy: Rethinking the Effect of Cultural Attitudes in Acquaintance Rape Cases

Eric R. Carpenter

Volume 68, Issue 2, 225-258

Do certain people view acquaintance rape cases in ways that favor the man? The answer to that question is important. If certain people do, and those people form a disproportionately large percentage of the people in the institutions that process these cases, then those institutions may process these cases in ways that favor the man. In 2010, Dan Kahan published Culture, Cognition, and Consent, a study on how people evaluate a dorm room rape scenario. He found that those who endorsed a stratified, hierarchical social order were more likely to find that the man should not be found guilty of rape.

If Kahan is right, radical change may be necessary. The institutions responsible for handling sexual assault complaintslaw enforcement, the military, and university and college administrationsare stratified and hierarchical, and are likely over-populated by people who are attracted to hierarchical institutions and who hold hierarchical worldviews. These institutions may need to be overhauledor even replaced. However, the study has a serious methodological flaw: It uses the Hierarchy-Egalitarianism Scale to measure those hierarchical worldviews, and as this Article demonstrates, this scale has reliability and validity issues.

This Article then applies a different methodology to the underlying data and shows that patriarchy, not hierarchy, explains the differences in guilt perceptions. This more accurate understanding of Kahan’s data carries important policy implications. Rather than radical change, targeted training that addresses inaccurate rape beliefs may be enough to ensure accurate processing of these cases.

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