Academic journal article Journal of School Health

A Preliminary Study of Eighth Grade Students' Attitudes toward Rape Myths and Women's Roles

Academic journal article Journal of School Health

A Preliminary Study of Eighth Grade Students' Attitudes toward Rape Myths and Women's Roles

Article excerpt

Law enforcement agents reported 102,555 forcible rapes during 1990, generating 80 rapes per 100,000 American females.[1] An aggregate of data proposes that rape incidence may be 6-10 times greater than that measured by the National Crime Statistics (NCS).[2] The NCS place acquaintance rape at 25% to 30% of all rapes. Koss[3] believes acquaintance rape accounts for 60% to 80% of all rape.

Adolescents often are neglected when it comes to investigating acquaintance rape. Adolescents typically start dating in middle and high school and may be in danger of sexual coercion and rape.[4] Although adolescents make up less than 10% of the population, an estimated 20% to 50% of all rapes occur against them, and six of 10 forcible rapes occur before the rape survivor reaches age 18.[5-7] Ageton[8] reported 67% of raped adolescent and college-age women involved an acquaintance. Ageton's[8] findings showed that between 7% and 9% of the adolescent female population has been raped, and 1 million teen-age females are raped each year. This study calculated that 1.5 million rapes occurred in each of the five years of the National Youth Survey. Only 5% of these rapes were ever brought to the attention of law enforcement agencies. Supporting Ageton's findings, data from the 1987 National Survey of Children reports 7% of all adolescents interviewed said they were forced to have sex against their will.[9] Thus, this preliminary study focused on this neglected population, and specifically middle school adolescents.

Sex-role stereotyping may explain why acquaintance rape is seen as less severe and more attributed to the behavior of the survivor than stranger rape. Sheffield[10] attributes this response to "sexual terrorism," because sex-role stereotyping is preserved by instructing men to be "terrorists" as part of their masculine role and women, "victims" as their feminine role. Many people believe in rape myths and their rape perspectives are strongly entwined with sex-role stereotyping.[11]

If adults who are more accepting of sex-role stereotyping support rape myths, it is likely that the same relationship would be found in adolescent populations. Goodchilds and Zellman[12] surveyed 432 adolescent females and males ages 14-18, and 79% of respondents believed it was acceptable for males to use coercive measures to obtain sexual intercourse under particular circumstances. The data suggested male adolescents considered sexual coercion toward women as ubiquitous and even acceptable in sexual relationships.[12] Ageton[8] found adolescent males often were supported in their coercive behavior by their male contemporaries. Companions of coercive adolescent males, contends Ageton, usually overwhelmingly sanctioned the aggressive behavior. Data from the National Youth Survey, a five-year study of adolescents ages 13-19, indicated males perceived the capabilities and character of the genders in a more stereotyped perspective when compared to females. Both genders, however, endorsed comparable conventional roles for women and men when it came to matters of childbearing and economic providing in the family.[13] Adolescents are not excluded from violence and sexual coercion in dating. One risk factor in particular for adolescent date rape is males' acceptance of rape myths.[7]

This preliminary study determined if a relationship exists between stereotyped attitudes toward women and beliefs in rape myths among a sample of eighth grade adolescents attending middle school.


Data for this study were collected from a middle school in central North Carolina. The surrounding county has a population of 10,000 and the town site has 2,600 people. Major industries of this rural area include textiles and tobacco farming. The county has one elementary, one middle, and one high school. This school was selected because of administration and faculty cooperation, and a full-time health education program is provided for all three grades and has been in existence for the past four years. …

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