The racial patterning of rape

Scott J. South, Richard B. Felson

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48 Scopus citations


Using data on 1, 396 rapes reported in the National Crime Survey, we examine various explanations for interracial (black offender white victim) rape. We find little support for the hypothesis, derived from conflict theory, that interracial rape reflects black economic deprivation and politicalization. Interracial, as opposed to intraracial, rapes were no more frequent in cities with high black poverty, unemployment, or racial inequality. Nor does interracial rape appear to result from blacks' limited sexual access to white women; we do not find the expected relationship between a city' interracial marriage rate and the racial composition of rape. Rather, in support of Blau' macrostructural theory, the racial patterning of rape is most strongly influenced by opportunities for interpersonal contact between whites and blacks. Both the racial composition of a city, representing the pool of rape victims or offenders of a particular race, and the degree of black-white residential segregation emerged as significant predictors of the racial patterning of rape. Finally, we find no evidence that black rapists, given equivalent opportunities to rape a white or a black woman, prefer white victims. In fact, during the course of robberies involving strangers, black men are slightly more likely to rape a black woman than a white woman.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)71-93
Number of pages23
JournalSocial Forces
Issue number1
StatePublished - Sep 1990

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • History
  • Anthropology
  • Sociology and Political Science


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