Perceptions of the freezing response of male and female rape victims, and the moderating role of rape myth beliefs

Judith Christiane Ostermann, Steven James Watson

Research output: Contribution to journalArticleAcademicpeer-review


The purpose of this study was to investigate whether indicating victims of sexual attacks actively resisted their attacker or froze during their assault affected perceptions of victim blame, perpetrator blame and seriousness of the crime. We also tested whether victim and perpetrator gender or participants’ rape myth endorsement moderated the outcomes.

This study was a cross-sectional, vignette survey study with a 2 × 2 between-participants experimental design. Participants read a mock police report describing an alleged rape with a female or male victim who either resisted or froze, while perpetrator gender was adjusted heteronormatively.

Freezing and male victims were blamed more than resisting and female victims. Perpetrators were blamed more when the victim resisted, but male and female perpetrators were blamed equally. Seriousness of the crime was higher for male perpetrators and when the victim resisted. Female, but not male, rape myth acceptance moderated the relationship between victim behaviour and outcome variables.

This study highlights the influence of expectations about victim behaviour on perceptions of rape victims and the pervasive influence of rape myths when evaluating female rape victims. The data is drawn from the German border region of the Netherlands, which is an especially valuable population given the evolving legal definitions of rape in both countries.
Original languageEnglish
Number of pages17
JournalJournal of Criminal Psychology
Publication statusPublished - 12 Apr 2024


  • 2024 OA procedure
  • Sexual assault
  • Rape
  • Freezing
  • Tonic immobility
  • Victim blame
  • Perpetrator blame
  • Seriousness of the crime
  • Rape myth acceptance
  • Female perpetrators
  • Male victims


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