Late Adolescents' Perspectives on Marital Rape: The Impact of Gender and Fraternity/sorority Membership

Article excerpt

ABSTRACT

Although recent studies of marital rape have examined both victims' and perpetrators' social and psychological characteristics, little attention has been directed to the attitudes of others toward marital rape. Using a systematic sample of college students, this study examined attitudes toward marital rape--in particular, the impact of gender and fraternity/sorority membership on respondents' (1) views regarding marital rape compared to rape by a stranger; (2) feelings about possible actions a woman who is a victim of marital rape can take; and (3) attitudes toward legislation pertaining to marital rape. It was found that college women were significantly more likely than college men to say they strongly agree that marital rape and stranger rape should be treated as similar crimes. In addition, nonfraternity men were significantly more likely than fraternity men to indicate that they strongly approve of marital rape legislation and that husbands who perpetrate marital rape should be prosecuted. Sorority member ship had little impact on women's responses.

As individuals make the transition from childhood to adolescence, their behavior and attitudes are increasingly shaped by peer groups. Informal intimate friendship groups as well as more formally organized groups, such as those associated with school-supported extracurricular activities, have an impact on adolescents' conduct and beliefs. Single-sex social organizations, such as fraternities and sororities, may also affect late adolescents' attitudes and actions.

The purpose of the present analysis was to examine the effects of gender and fraternity/sorority membership on how highly educated late adolescents, namely college students, conceptualize marital rape laws and the legal right of a woman to prosecute her spouse for rape. The findings may reveal not only the degree to which fraternity/sorority membership and gender influence late adolescents' views of several aspects of marital rape, but also how they may influence the level of tolerance for violence against women more generally.

BACKGROUND

For the past two decades, human rights activists and women's rights advocates have fought to change U.S. legislation prohibiting a wife from pressing criminal charges against her husband for marital rape. As of 1993, "... marital rape became a crime in all fifty states, in at least one section of the sexual offense codes, usually regarding force" (National Clearinghouse on Marital and Date Rape, 1998). However, in thirty-two states, there are still some provisions for exempting husbands from prosecution for rape, and some states identify marital rape as a lesser crime than nonmarital rape or rape by a previously unknown assailant (Brown, 1995; National Clearinghouse on Marital and Date Rape, 1998; Sitton, 1993). Nevertheless, greater public awareness of such issues as domestic violence, child abuse, and incest has led to increased attention to family violence in general, and, more recently, some social scientists have become attentive to the issue of marital rape.

Studies of marital rape have tended to focus on the social and psychological factors associated with this form of spousal abuse, as well as the impact on the victim (Bergen, 1996; Bidwell & White, 1986; DeKeseredy & Schwartz, 1996; Finkelhor & Yllo, 1985; Hanneke & Shields, 1985; Russell, 1990; Shields & Hanneke, 1983). Such examinations of the life experiences of victims has led to a much greater understanding of the dynamics and consequences of marital rape. In addition to research on victims, Jeffords and Dull (1982) studied the effect of demographic variables on Texas residents' attitudes toward a law that would permit a wife to accuse her husband of rape. They found that young, single, educated women expressed more support than others for such a law. More recently, Roberts et al. (1996) surveyed Canadians about rape-reform legislation, particularly the change in legal terminology from rape to sexual assault and the elimination of spousal immunity. …