Towards a cultural definition of rape: Dilemmas in dealing with rape victims in Palestinian society

Nadera Shalhoub-Kevorkian*

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

55 Scopus citations


Although rape is a cross-cultural crime stemming primarily from patriarchal ideologies and gender power, the analysis of its effect on victims from various cultural groups remains to be unveiled. This study analyzes dilemmas that face mental health workers when dealing with rape victims within a specific cultural context-namely, Palestinian society. It demonstrates the multidimensionality of the crime and the intricacy of social reactions to rape, the rape victim, and abuse of women, deriving from a sociocultural need to protect and/or control victims. The in-depth analysis suggests that sociocultural determinants, such as the need to silence the occurrence of the rape, preserve female virginity, and privatize the crime in order to safeguard family honor and reputation, revictimizes and weakens the victim. This article argues that there is no universal method of dealing with rape victims and that professionals who are assisting victims of rape need to anchor their efforts within the cultural context, while at the same time treating each victim as a world unto herself. This calls for rethinking at both the sociopolitical and individual levels.

Original languageAmerican English
Pages (from-to)157-173
Number of pages17
JournalWomen's Studies International Forum
Issue number2
StatePublished - 1999


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