Fear of Acquaintance versus Stranger Rape as a "Master Status": Towards Refinement of the "Shadow of Sexual Assault"

Article excerpt

Using a sample of 1,010 women from a southeastern state university, we explore whether associations between fear of sexual assault and other crime-specific fears vary based on presumed victim-offender relationship. More specifically, we assess the extent to which fear of stranger- and acquaintance-perpetrated sexual assaults differ in the extent to which they are correlated with fear of other crime victimizations. Multivariate logistic regression analysis revealed that both fear of stranger-perpetrated sexual assault and fear of acquaintance-perpetrated sexual assault were positively associated with nearly all other crime-specific fears under examination. However, associations were particularly strong between fear of sexual assault by a stranger and fear of other stranger-perpetrated crimes. Findings have significant implications for how academic institutions should comprehensively address direct and indirect negative influences of violence against college women.

Keywords: fear of crime; sexual assault; victimization; campus crime

Sex is one of the more robust predictors of fear of crime, with women typically indicating higher levels of fear, including overall fear of crime as well as fear of different, specific types of crime (see Ferraro, 1995, 1996 for reviews). Women's heightened fear of crime has traditionally been described as a paradox given their lower levels of actual victimization risk for most crimes as compared to men. A great deal of attention has been paid by scholars to this apparent contradiction, with the so-called shadow of rape hypothesis emerging as a leading explanation for women's heightened fear levels (Ferraro, 1995, 1996; May, 2001; Warr, 1984. 1985). This hypothesis attributes women's higher levels of fear of crime, generally speaking, to their very intense fear of the specific crime of rape, which is the only index offense for which women stand a far greater likelihood of victimization in comparison to men. As Ferraro (1995) succinctly points out, "Rape is a particularly vexing experience and women are especially susceptible to it" (p. 86), a point leading to the idea that, for women, "fear of crime is fear of rape" (Warr, 1984, p. 700).

Recent scholarship, however, has called for refinement of this notion of the shadow of sexual assault. Specifically, scholars have suggested that increased attention be given, when examining the impact of fear of sexual assault on other crime fears, to disentangling (1) the effects of fear of the physical versus sexual aspects of rape (Lane & Meeker, 2003) and (2) the effects of fear of sexual assault by strangers versus acquaintances (Fisher & Sloan, 2003). Regarding this latter area for refinement, previous research has shown that college women fear stranger rape more than acquaintance rape (Barbaret, Fisher, Farrell, & Taylor, 2003; Hickman & Muehlenhard, 1997) in spite of the fact that they are at increased risk for experiencing victimization by someone they know (Fisher, Sloan, Cullen & Lu, 1998). Given this trend, it would seem necessary to assess whether fear of rape relates to other fears differently depending upon whether it is fear of stranger rape or fear of acquaintance rape. In other words, is the shadow of rape effect conditional upon victim-offender relationship for a group that is particularly vulnerable to acquaintance rape yet more fearful of stranger rape?

We attempt to address this question using survey data from a sample of 1,010 college women. Through multivariate logistic regression modeling, we assess the extent to which fear of stranger- and acquaintance-perpetrated sexual assault relates to a variety of other crime-specific fears, including worry about stranger- and acquaintance-perpetrated physical assault and stalking.


Understanding the epidemiology and etiology of violence against college women has received increased attention over the last two decades. …