One in three young men believe rape victims actually just regret consensual sex, study in Australia says

Maya Oppenheim

One in seven young Australians think a man can force a woman to have sex if she initiated it but then changed her mind, a new survey has found.

It found one in three men believe women who say they were raped actually had consensual sex and later regretted it. One in five young men were found to believe that domestic violence is a normal reaction to stress.

The National Community Attitudes towards Violence against Women Survey Youth Report found many young people have troubling views about sexual consent and abusive relationships.

The study showed that while young people are increasingly in favour of equality in the workplace, they are less likely to identify sexism, coercion or other problematic behaviours within the context of their own relationships.

Almost one-quarter of young men were found to think women find it flattering to be persistently pursued even if they are not interested.

The report, which was released on Wednesday, surveyed more than 1,700 people across the country aged between 16 and 24. The survey is carried out every four years – with the latest analysis coming from data collected in 2017.

“A large proportion of young people support attitudes that deny gender inequality is a problem,” the report found. “Young men are substantially more likely to express these attitudes than young women across all questions in this theme.”

For instance, 45 per cent of young people believe many women exaggerate gender inequality in Australia, with young men (52 per cent) more likely to hold this viewpoint than young women (37 per cent).

Some 43 per cent supported the statement: “I think it’s natural for a man to want to appear in control of his partner in front of his male friends.”

Almost one in three young people still believe that women prefer a man to be in charge of a relationship. But young men – some 36 per cent – were more likely to support this statement than young women – just 26 per cent did.

Lead researcher Dr Anastasia Powell from RMIT University noted that 20 per cent of young men did not understand that repeatedly keeping track of a partner’s location was a form of violence against women. On top of this, 11 per cent did not think stalking is a form of violence.

Dr Powell said the research showed many young people – and in particular men – apportioned blame on women for sexual assault and failed to fully understand consent.

“We need to do more to teach young men about what consent looks like. Swiping right is not consent, kissing is not consent and saying yes to one sexual act doesn’t give blanket consent to everything,” she said.

“It’s highly problematic that young men think it’s sometimes okay to force sex on a woman, or believe that women want men to persistently pursue them even after they’ve said they’re not interested.

“It’s also disturbing that some young men still resort to victim blaming when it comes to sexual abuse, such as blaming women for being raped, or holding a woman responsible when a nude image is shared without her consent.”

Dr Powell said the findings also drew attention to the fact too many young men did not see controlling behaviours in relationships as violence against women.

“While young men demonstrated a strong understanding of physical violence against women, they were less likely to recognise that things like checking their partners’ emails without permission or following her home from uni are also forms of violence,” she said.

The attitudes towards women in leadership had got better – with the survey finding the proportion of young people agreeing that men make better political leaders than women had decreased from 24 per cent in 2013 to 13 per cent in 2017.

Some 22 per cent of young people were found to think there is no harm in making sexist jokes about women when among their male friends, and young men (30 per cent) are more than two times as likely than young women to agree with this viewpoint.

In the UK, a majority of men think a woman is more likely to be sexually harassed or assaulted if she wears revealing clothes, according to an exclusive survey recently conducted for The Independent. It found 55 per cent of men believed that “the more revealing the clothes a woman wears, the more likely it is that she will be harassed or assaulted”.

The research by polling company D-CYFOR found men are markedly more likely to hold this view than women – with 41 per cent of female respondents subscribing to the view that revealing clothing invites unwanted sexual advances.

Dublin Rape Crisis Centre, which runs a free 24-hour helpline for people who have been sexually assaulted, said the findings illustrated how deeply entrenched victim-blaming is in society.

Noeline Blackwell, head of the centre, said: “There is an assumption – not borne out by any evidence – that the way a woman dresses is likely to lead to rape or sexual assault.

“We know that people are raped wearing a variety of clothing. The idea that a woman who goes out scantily clad will be pounced on is the most common myth across generations. They could be in their jeans, school uniform, or pyjamas.”