The Influence of Victim's Attire on Adolescents' Judgments of Date Rape

Article excerpt

Recent estimates on the incidence of rape committed by persons who know their victim are alarmingly high, particularly in the case of date rape among teens and young adults. In one report, Koss, Gidcyz, and Wizniewsky (1987) estimated that approximately 20% of college women experience date rape. More recently, Ward, Chapman, Cohn, White, and Williams (1991) reported statistics that ranged from 15% to 25%.

Date rape has received increasing attention from researchers in the social sciences. Studies assessing attitudes and beliefs about date rape and sexual aggression among high school and college students (Berger, Searles, Salem, & Pierce, 1986; Blumberg & Lester, 1991; Garret-Gooding & Senter, 1987) have provided a valuable array of findings for educators and other professionals involved in efforts directed toward the prevention of rape and sexual assault.

A number of studies investigating the influences on attitudes and perceptions of rape have focused on the role of the victim and victim characteristics. Factors such as the victim's emotional expressiveness (Calhoun, Cann, Selby, & Magee, 1981), physical attractiveness (Calhoun, Selby, Cann, & Keller, 1978), and respectability (Feldman-Summers & Linder, 1976; Jones & Aronson, 1973) have been found to influence perceptions of victim responsibility in rape.

The clothing worn by the victim at the time of the rape also has been found to influence attributions of victim responsibility. For example, Kanekar and Kolsawalla (1980) found that greater fault was attributed to a victim dressed in provocative attire than to a victim dressed unprovocatively. While the issue of victim's manner of dress has important implications for education and prevention, the study conducted by Kanekar and Kolsawalla (1980) has limited applicability in that it was carried out in India and used a group of college students as a sample.

The study reported here extends the research of Kanekar and Kolsawalla (1980) to a sample of adolescents in the United States. Its purpose was to investigate the influence of a date rape victim's clothing on judgments concerning whether (1) the victim was responsible for her assailant's behavior, (2) the assailant's behavior was justified, and (3) the victim was actually raped. It was expected that provocative attire on the part of the victim would result in a greater likelihood of judgments attributing responsibility to the victim and judgments justifying the behavior of the assailant, and a lesser likelihood of judgments of rape.

METHOD

Subjects

The subjects were 173 male and 179 female volunteers, all seniors attending one of four single-sex private high schools. Their ages ranged from 15 to 19 years with a mean age of 17.04. Of these, 271 (77%) were white, 37 (10.5%) were African-American, 22 (6.3%) were Hispanic, 6 (1.7%) were Asian, and 2 (.6%) were Native American. Fourteen subjects (4%) provided no information on their ethnic or racial background.

Materials

A questionnaire containing a vignette depicting a date rape was employed:

Jennifer and John are high school seniors who are in the same math course. One Thursday afternoon, John asked Jennifer if she was going to the Yearbook Party the next evening. She replied "Yes," and immediately, John offered her a ride to the party. She accepted. John asked, "Shall we call it a date?" Jennifer agreed.

On Friday night, John met Jennifer at her house. They got into the car and John started driving to the party. When they reached the parking lot of the building where the party was being held, they started talking in the car. At that point, John began to kiss and fondle Jennifer. Jennifer told him to stop. John refused. Sexual intercourse followed.

Three statements, (1) Jennifer was responsible for John's behavior, (2) John was justified in having sex with Jennifer, and (3) John raped Jennifer, followed the vignette. …