• Attributions of blame and social reactions to scenarios of sexual assault of adult women

      Skanis, Marie L.; Lopez, Ellen; Rivkin, Inna; Gifford, Valerie; Worrall, John (2019-08)
      Alaska consistently has the highest rate of sexual assault in the nation, yet research within the state has focused on stranger rape or assaults which were reported to medical or law enforcement professionals. National research suggests these characteristics are not representative of most victims. The current study fills a gap in research by examining the attitudes and reactions towards victims of stranger and acquaintance rape who have disclosed their assault to friends rather than authorities. Attribution theory was hypothesized to underlie relationships between attributions, emotional reactions, and social behaviors that victims encounter. Using an experimental design, participants were randomly assigned to read either a scenario of realistic acquaintance (common) or stereotypical (rare) stranger rape. The stereotypical assault scenario depicted a victim who was attacked outdoors by a stranger in a physically violent manner. The acquaintance rape scenario, in which a woman experiences assault inside her home by a known acquaintance who uses coercive verbal tactics, reflects characteristics of sexual assault that are experienced by most victims. The influences of type of rape, modern sexism, rape myth acceptance, expected peer rape myth acceptance, gender, training, or experience responding to disclosures of sexual assault on participant reactions were explored. It was hypothesized that participants reading the acquaintance rape scenario, participants with higher acceptance of negative attitudes (rape myths and modern sexism) and expectations that peers accept high levels of rape myths, male participants, and those who lack training or experience responding to disclosures would report more negative attributions (high fault and blame), emotional reactions (low empathy and high anger), and social reactions to the victim and positive reactions towards the perpetrator (low attributions of fault and blame, high empathy and low anger). Results revealed that acceptance of modern sexism, rape myths, and expecting that friends accept rape myths were associated with higher attributions of fault and blame to the victim, more anger towards the victim, more empathy felt for the perpetrator, and increased likelihood of offering the victim negative social responses. When asked what would improve response to sexual assault at UAF, participants indicated that changes in training, the UAF community, Title IX processes, awareness, resources, and demonstrating trustworthiness are important. Given these results, recommendations for stakeholders include communicating that most students do not accept modern sexism or rape myths to combat pluralistic ignorance and targeting the most prevalent rape myths in training. Changes to education and awareness efforts are recommended, including conducting sessions in-person, over several sessions, within single-gender groups, and utilization of pre- and post-training outcomes assessments to measure a variety of biases (such as rape myths). Stakeholders are encouraged to use existing research as a framework for teaching students about different types of reactions to disclosures of sexual assault, emphasizing which reactions victims experience as helpful and hurtful. Limitations and strengths of the study are also discussed.