Fear of Rape: Rape Phobia

Learn why most women have a fear of rape and how rape phobia develops. Discover what triggers intense fear of rape in women.

According to Patricia D. Rozee, author of "Fear of Rape" from the Women's Studies Encyclopedia, women fear rape more than any other violent offense, such as physical non-sexual assault, armed robbery, and even murder. Fear of rape or rape phobia often causes women to avoid activities that they enjoy, such as going out in the evening for a play or a coffee or visiting with friends and loved ones. Based on their desire to avoid putting themselves at risk for sexual assault, women develop their own self-imposed restrictions to avoid danger of rape.

Developing a Fear of Rape – An Early Lesson

According to Rozee, studies indicate that this intense fear of rape, common among a significant majority of girls and women, develops in the early years, between about age 2 and 12. She reports that women, participating in the studies claim to remember hearing parental warnings about stranger danger at very young ages. The early parental instructions about stranger avoidance contained no explicit reference to sexual assault. But as the girls grew in age and maturity, parents added increasingly explicit warnings that they probably deemed as age-appropriate for their individual child.

Women Say Fear of Rape Always There

Women have a fear of rape most often when at home alone or walking along a street, especially at dusk or after dark. In the book, The Female Fear: The Social Cost of Rape, authors and researchers Margaret T. Gordon and Stephanie Riger say that fully one-third of the women in their study reported worrying about rape once a month or more. These women said that the fear of rape is just something that lives in the back of their minds at all times, even when it's not present in conscious thought. Another third of the participants claimed to never worry about rape; yet, they took precautions to guard against sexual assault.

Situational Factors that Trigger Fear of Rape

Situational circumstances can bring a shelved fear of rape to the forefront of the conscious mind. These rape phobia triggers arise from parental teaching and experiences of implied and explicit sexual harassment and intrusions. Some factors that trigger a conscious fear of rape in women include:

  • Men who honk, whistle, or leer at them as they walk on public streets
  • Poor lighting in parking areas or along streets and in the workplace
  • Sexual harassment by an acquaintance or co-worker
  • Sexually overt commentary by males about their body and appearance
  • Obscene phone calls
  • Several men with only one or two women in a group of strangers or near strangers
  • Witnessing a man exposing himself or masturbating
  • Men known to them or strangers that fondle and grope their body parts
  • Stigma of rape exacerbates fear of rape because women fear societal scorn and blame if they are is raped.

While men can be raped by other men, they rarely live with a fear of sexual assault lurking in the backs of their minds. Perhaps in a prison or other confinement situation, the fear may arise, but most men simply cannot truly relate to women's fear of being raped.

Men can, however, take measures to help alleviate some rape phobia in women. Men need to develop awareness about women's fear of rape and consider this when approaching them in an isolated or dark area. Even if he has innocent intentions, the woman has no way of knowing that. If men can empathize with this uniquely female fear with even minimal understanding, they will only approach a woman in one of these trigger situations if absolutely necessary, such as to ask directions or ask her to call for help if someone is injured.

Women's Fear of Rape Focused on Wrong Type of Rape

Although acquaintance rape represents the most common type of sexual assault perpetrated against women, they fear stranger rape significantly more. According to anti-sexual violence organization, RAINN, strangers do commit 27 percent of reported sexual assaults. That's too high a statistic to ignore for most women. However, placing too much focus on stranger rape is problematic in that women tend to discount the possibility of acquaintance and date rape. They put too much trust in male "friends" they actually know very little about. They enlarge the perimeter of their personal boundaries to expose vulnerabilities usually reserved for people they know well.

Everyone, women and men alike, should take common sense precautions to stay safe in potentially dangerous situations and to remain aware of surroundings. Women need to get prepared, stay alert and refuse to allow fear of rape to keep them from fully participating in the activities they enjoy and society in general.

(See: Rape Prevention: How to Prevent Rape)

article references



 nextDo Women Enjoy Being Raped? Myths About Rape
~ all articles on rape
~ all articles on abuse

Last Updated: 26 May 2016

Reviewed by Harry Croft, MD

Related Articles

Follow Us

Mental Health Newsletter