Academic journal article North American Journal of Psychology

Perceptions of Outcomes for Men and Women in Ambiguous Date Rape Situations

Academic journal article North American Journal of Psychology

Perceptions of Outcomes for Men and Women in Ambiguous Date Rape Situations

Article excerpt

For a number of reasons, it is difficult to estimate accurately the incidence of sexual assault and rape on campus. Researchers vary in the terms they use and in the definitions of those terms; respondents may define sexual assault differently from the way researchers do or may not recognize that they have experienced sexual assault; and feelings of shame, responsibility, and questions about one's own sexuality may inhibit victims (especially men) from coming forward. Nevertheless, the number of college students who experience significant levels of sexual assault is cause for great concern. Krebs and his colleagues (Krebs, Lindquist, Warner, Fisher, & Martin, 2009), using a web-based survey of college students at two large universities found that 28.5% of their sample of women reported having experienced an attempted or completed sexual assault, 19%-26% since entering college (the higher rate is for seniors only). Cantalupo (2012) reported that estimates of the number of college women who experience sexual assault are consistently between 20 and 25%.

Although not yet available specifically for campus assaults, so not directly comparable, estimates are that one in 71 men experience sexual assault or rape during their lifetimes (compared to one in five women) (Black, Basile, Breiding, and Ryan, 2014), and that 9% of rape victims are men (Rennison, 2002). Perhaps because of the low incidence, relatively few researchers have investigated perceptions of male victims of rape, and those who do, tend to focus on men who are raped by other men rather than by women. However, rates of male rape may be artificially low because of unique obstacles to male reporting--for instance, being presumed to be gay if raped by another man, the assumption that men cannot be raped by women, and the lower chance of violence when a woman rapes a man that when a man rapes a woman (Coxell & King, 2010).

In a foundational study comparing perceptions of the rape of a man to the rape of a woman, Smith, Pine, and Hawley (1988) asked participants to imagine themselves jurors in a courtroom, then presented them with written evidence regarding a case in which a college student experienced car trouble, accepted a ride from another person, was subsequently taken to a field and forced to engage in mutual oral-genital sex, and then left in that field. The sex of the perpetrator and victim were varied, and participants were asked to make a series of ratings about the encounter. Results showed that male victims of female perpetrators were perceived as more likely to have initiated the encounter, to have encouraged it, and to have enjoyed it--especially evident in the responses of male participants. On the other hand, when the case described women victims of male rape, the situation was perceived as more aggressive and stressful; male victims of male rape were perceived similarly to female victims of male rape.

The authors explain the results in terms of gender role and sexual behavior expectations (men are supposed to initiate and enjoy sex more than women) that influence social cognitions (rape of men by women is sexual while rape of women by men is violent). Indeed, Sleath and Bull (2010) found that in judgments of male rape victims, acceptance of stereotypical male rape myths and traditional sex-role beliefs were associated with harsher evaluation of the male victim and less perpetrator blaming (the assumption being that the male rape victim has failed as a "real man").

Authors of a British study (Davies, Pollard, & Archer, 2006) asked participants to read a scenario describing a male victim (either gay or hetero) being forced to engage in oral-genital sex by either a man or a woman. Overall, men perceived the female perpetrator more favorably than the male perpetrator. When the perpetrator was someone the victim was usually attracted to (a man for gay men, a woman for hetero men), men blamed the victim more than in the other conditions. …

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