Adolescent Attitudes about Rape

By Kershner, Ruth | Adolescence, Spring 1996 | Go to article overview

Adolescent Attitudes about Rape


Kershner, Ruth, Adolescence


INTRODUCTION

Study after study have demonstrated the vulnerability of young women to rape. Not only are they at risk for stranger rape, but rape within the context of dating (Ageton, 1983; Krasner, Meyer, & Carroll, 1976; Muehlenhard, & Linton, 1987; Warshaw, 1988).

Unfortunately, young women are least likely to contact law enforcement agencies; even so, the numbers are troubling (Violence Against Women: The Increase of Rape, 1990). Between 1973 and 1987, 11% of female victims were deemed to be between the ages of 12 and 15, while 25% were 16 to 19 (Crime of Rape, 1985). Youth Indicators (1991) indicated that 1.9 rapes occurred per 1,000 girls of ages 16 to 19.

Research findings support governmental studies. Walmsley and White (1979) found that 24.3% of rape/attempted rape victims were between 13 and 15. Other studies with similar findings include Medea and Thompson's (1974), where 8% of victims were under age 15, 20% were between 15 and 17, and 23% were 17 to 18. Hall and Flannery (1984) conducted a telephone survey of 508 Milwaukee adolescents in which 12% of the females and 2% of the males reported a sexual assault. In another study of 122 adolescent victims, 45 were between ages 12 to 14; the remaining 77 were ages 15 to 17 (Mann, 1981).

A large number of rape offenders are adolescents. Males between the ages of 12 to 20 were involved in 17% of single-offender rapes for the years 1973-1982 (Crime of Rape, 1985). There was no respite to this trend in the ensuing years. Statistics for years 1979 to 1987 reveal that youths 20 years of age and younger were responsible for 18% of single-offender and 30% of multiple-offender rapes (Female Victims of Violent Crime, 1991). The FBI reports a 3% increase in adult sexual offenders, but the greatest rise in arrested offenders is for adolescent males (Ingrassia, Annin, Biddie, & Miller, 1993).

What do young people believe about rape? Much of our information comes from college-age students. Coercive sex is complicated by the fact that perpetrators and victims are often not cognizant of what constitutes assault (Copenhauer & Graverholz, 1991; Miller & Marshall, 1987; Peterson & Franzese, 1987). Evaluation of adolescent attitudes about rape reveal some illuminating findings. Forced intercourse was considered acceptable by a significant number of both adolescent males and females in certain situations (Felty, Ainslie, & Geib, 1991; Giarusso, Johnson, Goodchilds, & Zellman, 1979; Ogletree, Kupecz, & La-Cursia, 1993). The relationship between victim blaming and adherence to rape myths is also of note in the adolescent population (Blumberg & Lester, 1991). Additionally, an element of male dominance, the perception of females as sex objects, and the negation of acquaintance rape as sexual assault has also been ascertained in our youth (Hall, Howard, & Boezio, 1986).

METHOD

The present study was initiated to serve as a basis for curriculum development germane to rape prevention. Construction of the survey instrument began with a literature review from which 65 items were extrapolated. Three parents evaluated the items for offensive and/or questionable terminology specific to adolescents. Four adolescents assessed the items for readability.

The original test pool was sent to a review panel. The judges included high school health teachers, school counselors, a physician who works with rape victims, and rape crisis-center coordinators. The judges were asked to evaluate the items for content, clarity, readability, and appropriateness for the adolescent population. The revised scale contained 25 items.

The survey instrument was administered to six health education classes at a high school in northern West Virginia in which 154 students (ages 14-19) were enrolled. Parental permission was obtained for 146 students to participate. On the day of administration, 13 students were absent, and 11 students were not included because of missing data, resulting in 122 participants with completed instruments. …

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