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S-5.-INFERRING CONSENT/ INFERRING DANGER: THE ROLE OF PERCEPTIONS IN SEXUAL ASSAULT

Organizers:

Norris, Jeanette
Alcohol and Drug Abuse Institute, University of Washington, Seattle, USA.

White, Jacquelyn W.
Department of Psychology, University of North Carolina at Greensboro, Greensboro, North Carolina, USA

Discussant:

Arias, Ileana
National Center for Injury Prevention and Control, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, Atlanta, USA.

Symposium Abstract

Depending on circumstances, some men view sexual aggression as seduction.  But despite the high risk of acquaintance sexual assault, women often do not perceive social encounters as potentially dangerous.  This symposium will first examine women’s perceptions of acquaintance sexual assault risk and their implications for engaging in high risk behaviors.  Jacquelyn White’s longitudinal study of sexual assault risk will form the basis for examining factors influencing women’s risk perceptions and how they influence high risk behaviors.  Kathleen Parks will present results of an experiment that examined drinking women’s perceptions of a man’s sexual advances.  The symposium will then examine factors that influence men’s interpretation of forced sex as consensual.  Antonia Abbey will present findings from a survey of more than 300 men, one-third of whom were self-reported sexual aggressors, who rated a broad range of sexually assaultive behaviors.  Jeanette Norris will focus on findings from an experiment which compared inebriated and sober men’s perceptions of an eroticized rape.  The discussant, Ileana Arias, will examine the differing perspectives of men and women and how these may contribute to the commission of sexual assault.

S-5.1-A longitudinal perspective on women’s risk perception

White, J.W., Smith, P.H. and Humphrey, J.A.
Department of Psychology, University of North Carolina at Greensboro, Greensboro, North Carolina, USA

Data from a five-year longitudinal investigation of sexual assault experiences spanning adolescence through four years of college address four questions: How does risk perception for stranger and acquaintance assault change over time? How does prior victimization affect perceived risk across time? Does perceived risk affect likelihood of engaging in behaviors known to increase the likelihood of an assault, in particular number of sex partners and use of alcohol and drugs? Does perceived risk act as a risk or protective factor for further victimization?. Results indicated that although the perceived risk of sexual assault declined across the four years of college, perceived risk of assault by a stranger remained higher than perceived risk of assault by an acquaintance. Results also revealed that victims of adolescent victimization reported a greater risk perception than nonvictims across the four collegiate years. Furthermore, victimization in one year of college elevated risk perceptions in the subsequent years, even when controlling for prior victimization. Additionally, there was a relationship between perceptions one year and engaging in high risk behaviors in the subsequent year. However, this was true only for women without a sexual victimization in the preceding year. Among women without a prior victimization, perception of risk was associated with higher levels of alcohol and drug use, as well as the number of sex partners, in the following years. Apparently, the awareness of risk does not lead to a reduction in risky behaviors for women without a prior victimization. Finally, analyses indicated that for women with a prior history of victimization, perceptions of risk are not related to future victimization. However, for women with no prior victimization perceptions were related to an increased risk of victimization in subsequent years. These results have implication for deterrence programs. Simply alerting women to the possibility of acquaintance assault, i.e., increasing their perceived risk, does not lead to a reduction in risky behaviors, i.e., alcohol/drug use and multiple sex partners, nor to a reduction in the likelihood of assault. In fact, the opposite appears to be the case for women with no prior victimization histories.  

S-5.2.-Dangerous body language: alcohol’s effect on women’s perception of men during social interactions in bars

Parks, K.A.
Research Institute on Addictions, Buffalo, New York , USA.

Previous findings from my research suggest that women are at greater risk for experiencing aggression associated with drinking in a bar when they have more contact and interactions with men, experience more behavioral impairment after consuming alcohol, and have made “riskier” choices (e.g., leaving alone with a man, bringing a man to her home) when interacting with male strangers in the past (Parks, 1999). Women bar drinkers have described overtly sexual or suggestive male behavior that makes women uncomfortable during social interactions in bars (Parks et al., 1998).  In a study by Norris, Nurius, and Dimeff (1996) women indicated that alcohol makes it difficult to recognize and successfully resist unwanted sexual advances.  Using female participants and male confederates, the present study was designed to assess a woman’s perception of a social interaction with a male stranger after she had consumed either a low (.02 g/100ml Blood Alcohol Level; BAL) or high (.08 g/100ml BAL) dose of alcohol.  The male confederates were trained to engage in five overt, sexually suggestive “probe” behaviors during a 20 minute interaction with the female participant, after a period of getting to know her and drinking with her in the bar laboratory.  The probe behaviors included: complimenting her appearance, moving closer, touching her arm, whispering in her ear, and touching her hair.  We hypothesized that women would respond more positively and less negatively to the men under the high dose alcohol condition.  We also hypothesized that women in the high dose condition would be less aware of these probe behaviors than women in the low dose condition.  This research is unique in the use of actual social interactions with female participants and trained male confederates, rather than written or video-taped vignettes of social scenarios, to assess alcohol’s role in risk perception.  Changes in the women’s perceptions and non-verbal behavior during these social interactions will be discussed in terms of previous findings on recognition and avoidance of situations that are potentially dangerous for sexual aggression.  

S-5.3.-Perceptions of forced sex:  what determines how men label it?

Abbey, A., McAuslan,  P., Zawacki, T., Buck, P. and Clinton, M
Department of Community Medicine, Wayne State University, Detroit, USA.

College women in the United States report being the victims of sexual assault at a much higher rate than college men report being the perpetrators of sexual assault.  For example, in a survey of 6,159 women and men, 54% of the women reported experiencing some type of sexual assault since the age of 14.  In contrast, 25% of the men reported perpetrating sexual assault since age 14 (Koss, et al., 1987).  Some of this difference may be explained by women being sexually assaulted by individuals who are not college men or by some college men sexually assaulting many women.  A third explanation is that men and women perceive these events differently.  Thus, a woman feels that she was sexually assaulted but the man does not realize it.  From our perspective, if a woman reports that she was forced to have sex she should be believed.  However, it is important to know if perpetrators do not always realize how their actions were perceived.  This presentation explores men's perceptions of forced sexual experiences and what factors relate to whether they label the event as consensual sex or sexual assault. Self-report questionnaires were completed by 343 male college students from a large, urban university.  Sexual assault perpetration was measured with a modified version of Koss et al.'s (1987) instrument.  Twelve behaviorally specific questions asked about acts that constitute sexual assault without using that label.  Thirty-three percent of the men reported committing some type of sexual assault (15% sexual contact, 10% verbally coerced sexual intercourse, 3% attempted rape, and 5% rape). Multiple regression analyses were conducted with the dependent measure being participants' perceptions of the extent to which the physically or verbally forced sex that they acknowledged committing was consensual (rated on a 7-point scale).  Surprisingly, the type of assault committed did not influence perceptions of how consensual the sex was.  Significant predictors included the amount of physical force used, how well he knew the woman, if they had engaged in some type of consensual sexual activity (such as kissing), and his beliefs about alcohol as a disinhibitor of inappropriate behavior.  The implications of these results for prevention programming are discussed.

S-5.4.-Men’s perceptions of an eroticized rape: the role of rape myth attitudes and contextual factors  

Norris, J., Martell, J. and George, W.H.
Alcohol and Drug Abuse Institute, University of Washington, Seattle, USA.

Prior research has shown that judgments of what constitutes rape can vary as a function of both individual difference traits and contextual factors (see, for instance, Norris & Cubbins, 1992).  Thus, it is possible that a man may commit a sexual assault because he believes that he is seducing a woman, even if she clearly resists his advances.  The present study addresses two questions related to this proposition.  First, under what circumstances do some men view sexual assault as sexually consensual behavior?  Second, would any of these circumstances lead a man to indicate a willingness to commit sexual assault himself?  In addition to a strong belief in rape myths, three contextual factors thought to influence this phenomenon are alcohol consumption, the victim’s reaction to an assault, and the amount of violence inflicted. A 2 (Alcohol - .08 mg% BAC/ no alcohol) X 2 (victim reaction - pleasure/ distress) X 3 (violence - low/ moderate/ high), between-subjects factorial design was conducted.  A community sample of 132 men, 21 - 45 years old, was recruited through newspaper advertisements.  Beverage administration was followed by reading one of six versions of a three-page story depicting the forcible rape of a female character by a male character. Multiple regressions were performed predicting subjects’ perceptions of the male character’s behavior, as well as their own willingness to behave like the assailant, from rape myth attitudes and the contextual factors.  Several significant main effects and interactions were found.  In general both alcohol consumption and the victim reacting with pleasure resulted in the perception that the male character’s behavior was seductive, justified, caring and moral and in less violence being employed than among sober subjects or when the victim expressed distress.  However, only alcohol consumption increased subjects’ reported willingness to behave like the assailant.  Rape myth attitudes similarly affected subjects’ perceptions and interacted with each of the contextual variables.  Findings will be discussed in terms of alcohol’s myopia effect, which results in overattention to permissive cues.  In addition, these findings indicate the importance of addressing men’s rape myth attitudes in rape prevention programs.