One-Third of College Men Would Rape If No Repercussions

A new study finds that a disturbing percentage of men in college — nearly one-third — say they would coerce a woman into sex in very specific ways if they knew they could get away with it. But if you use the word “rape” the percentages will be considerably smaller. And much the same is true of whether women perceive that they have been raped. The abstract:

Sexual assault is a problem on many college campuses, and many researchers have conducted studies assessing the prevalence of sexual assault perpetration and intentions to be coercive. Behaviorally descriptive survey items (i.e., ‘‘Have you ever coerced somebody to intercourse by holding them down?’’) versus labeling survey items (i.e., ‘‘Have you ever raped somebody?’’) will yield different responses, in that more men will admit to sexually coercive behaviors and more women will self-report victimization when behavioral descriptions are used (Koss 1998) instead of labels. Indeed, some men will endorse items asking whether they have used force to obtain intercourse, but will deny having raped a woman. There has been little research on differences between individuals to endorse a behaviorally descriptive item versus a labeling item. The present study uses discriminant function analysis to separate men who do not report intentions to be sexually coercive, those who endorse behaviorally descriptive intentions but deny it when the word rape is used, and those who endorse intentions to rape outright. Results indicated that participants can be differentiated into three groups based on scores from scales on hypermasculinity and hostility toward women. High hostility toward woman and callous sexual attitudes separated the no intentions group from those who endorsed either intentions to rape or those who endorses only the behavioral description of rape. The two types of offender groups were distinguishable mostly by varying levels of hostility,

suggesting that men who endorse using force to obtain intercourse on survey items but deny rape on the same may not

experience hostile affect in response to women, but might have dispositions more in line with benevolent sexism.

Tara Culp-Ressler describes the results:

Nearly one in three college men admit they might rape a woman if they knew no one would find out and they wouldn’t face any consequences, according to a new study conducted by researchers at the University of North Dakota.

But, when the researchers actually used the word “rape” in their question, those numbers dropped much lower — suggesting that many college men don’t associate the act of forcing a woman to have sex with them with the crime of committing rape.

According to the survey, which analyzed responses from 73 men attending the same college, 31.7 percent of participants said they would act on “intentions to force a woman to sexual intercourse” if they were confident they could get away with it. When asked whether they would act on “intentions to rape a woman” with the same assurances they wouldn’t face consequences, just 13.6 percent of participants agreed…

“Given that callous sexual attitudes permit violence and consider women as passive sexual objects, it follows that for men who endorse these, sexual aggression becomes an appropriate and accepted expression of masculinity,” the researchers write. “In this sense, using force to obtain intercourse does not become an act of rape, but rather an expression of hyper-masculinity, which may be thought of as a desirable disposition in certain subcultures.”

I think this points to how we rationalize our own behavior, often through the use of euphemism. “Oh sure, I held her down so she couldn’t get away, but I didn’t rape her.” The fact that such a large percentage of the men in the study expressed a willingness to coerce women into sex is highly disturbing, but not terribly surprising given the staggering rate at which women are raped.

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  • http://twitter.com/#!/TabbyLavalamp Tabby Lavalamp

    I’m not surprised how many don’t see rape as rape. The cartoonish “I am an evil criminal!” type probably doesn’t exist in reality, or at least in very few people. Outside of sociopaths and psychopaths, most criminals probably find some way to justify their actions to themselves.

  • http://freethoughtblogs.com/crommunist Crommunist

    When people say that the solution to rape is to “teach men not to rape”, this is the kind of thing they’re talking about. Everyone agrees that “X” is bad, and the most cognitively simple solution is to just reclassify “acts of X” as being something other than “X”. It’s true for rape, it’s true for homophobia (or really any other form of discriminatory violence), it’s true for nationalism, the list goes on.

    What I would like to see is a follow-up study that uses these non-explicit items (i.e., describe rape without using the WORD rape) before and after some kind of rape education seminar, or in different schools that do/don’t have rape prevention education for male students. If you TELL guys that getting a woman drunk enough to pass out so you can have sex with her isn’t “partying” but is in fact date rape, does that make them less likely to do it? Even in the absence of consequences? The answer to that question is the difference between “teach men not to rape” and “lock men up on an island for everyone’s safety”.

  • eric

    That’s frakking awful, much worse than I would have expected. I am ashamed just being the same sex as these miscreants.

  • http://freethoughtblogs.com/crommunist Crommunist

    The scientist in me does want to point out that the sample size of this study is extremely small and relegated to a single institution. It could very well be the case that some number much larger/smaller than 1/3 is the ‘true’ proportion.

  • matty1

    I feel slightly nauseous reading that, like everyone I am not wholly average, so I don’t expect everyone’s views of sex to be like mine but to learn that a large proportion of my gender hold a view that is so at odds with my own – that the point of any sexual interaction is that both people enjoy it – is disturbing.

  • Jordan Genso

    One factor may be the use of the word “coerce”. While it means “to compel by force…”, I don’t think everyone properly interprets the word that way. It wouldn’t surprise me if a percentage of the population thought that “coerce” was a synonym for “convince”, where the latter indicates it is a voluntary action.

    As evidence, when looking at antonyms of “coerce”, “discourage” is listed (ironically, “encourage” is also listed as an antonym).

    The results of the study are appalling, so I don’t want my pointing out the language problem to take away from the larger point, especially since the “by holding them down” part should clarify any misunderstandings that the word isn’t meant to indicate “talking them into it”.

  • Alverant

    I wonder what would happen to the percentages if there were questions that made them the recipient and the aggressor was a homosexual man. I take that back, I don’t have to wonder I know full well what would happen. There will be a lot of “It’s not a crime unless it affects ME.” rationalization.

  • http://en.uncyclopedia.co/wiki/User:Modusoperandi Modusoperandi

    Awful. It’s people like them that make me stick to peeping. Plus, I like to climb trees.

  • eric

    @6:

    One factor may be the use of the word “coerce”. While it means “to compel by force…”, I don’t think everyone properly interprets the word that way.

    It’s possible you’re right, but I wouldn’t count on it. The coercion question asked “Have you ever coerced somebody to intercourse by holding them down” (my italics), and pretty much everyone knows what ‘holding someone down’ means. Other questions asked about forcing a person to have sex with you. Sadly, I think its safe to say that the folks answering the questions understood what was being asked.

  • pocketnerd

    Gosh, that sounds like rape culture. Except I’m assured by skepbros that rape culture doesn’t exist, so the study must be wrong. Somehow.

  • http://freethoughtblogs.com/crommunist Crommunist

    matty1 – you may want to examine your use of the term “sex” in your comment. There are those, myself included, who would say that rape and sex are not the same thing and should not be used interchangeably. The act of sex requires consent, in their (and my) view, and rape is defined by the lack of consent. What you’re experiencing is the divergence between yourself and the large proportion in terms of your views of RAPE, not sex (in that your definition of sex does not include rape, which is what I take your comment to mean).

  • busterggi

    Its not that these guys don’t value women, its just that the money saved on dinners & movies adds up fast – its all free-market capitalism.

  • howardhershey

    A good reason to emphasize that only “yes” means “yes” and anything else is sexual assault.

  • http://Reallyawakeguy.blogspot.com somnus

    I’m more than a little disturbed by the fact that when the study stripped away all the self-deceptive nonsense and flat-out asked the men if they would rape a woman if they could get away with it, 13.6% said yes. That’s *way* higher than I would have expected. That means that 1 in 7 men actually *do* see themselves as potential rapists lacking only the right opportunity, and don’t see any need to kid themselves or sugarcoat it. That’s… Scary.

  • leni

    The scientist in me does want to point out that the sample size of this study is extremely small and relegated to a single institution.

    The authors did mention that it was ‘exploratory” and also stated (in the “Limitations and Future Directions” section):

    Our study was only a first exploration

    of this topic. Future studies could help account for

    this by examining more dispositional measures. Given the

    high perpetration of sexual assaults on college campuses

    (Abbey et al. 1996), coupled with the fact that many studies

    on sexual assault use college men, we felt that a convenience

    sample of college males was a good place to start.

    That seems reasonable.

    But yeah, more diverse populations and larger studies would be helpful.

  • marcus

    Crommunist @ 11 I’ve heard it said, and I tend to agree, that while it is, obviously, not ‘sex’ for the victim of an attack, that it is for the attacker. It is, after all, a sexual assault. The point being, as this study suggests, that the perpetrators have normalized this type of behavior to justify their own reprehensible actions.

    This is one reason that I think, as you pointed out in your comment at #2, that education is so crucial.

  • qwints

    Worth pointing out that the wording on this survey did not include the specific scenarios that were in previous studies.

    This scale measures self-reported likelihood to engage in a variety of sexual behaviors ‘‘if nobody would ever know and there wouldn’t be any consequences’’ for the participants. The behaviors that were included were heterosexual intercourse, forcing a female to do something sexual she does not want to, and rape.

  • Gvlgeologist, FCD

    But there’s no such thing as rape culture… nope, that’s just a liberal fantasy.

  • David C Brayton

    I don’t put much faith into this study for several reasons. First, surveys, especially anonymous surveys, are notorious for their limitations. Constructing survey questions that are not leading is actually quite difficult to do.

    Unfortunately, the survey questions weren’t revealed. So, it’s hard to say the survey itself was flawed. But when I read the following sentence my spidey-sense was all atwitter: “As hypothesized, [emphasis mine] a sizable number of participants indicated that they might use force to obtain intercourse, but would not rape a woman.” The fact that researchers had a preconceived notion of the results suggests that confirmation bias might be a big concern with these researchers.

    Also, the survey participants received extra credit for particpating. I find this type of an incentive a problem because folks that don’t need the extra credit are less likely to participate. Smart students that are performing well in the class are more likely to be nerds, geeks and others that are not hypermasculine, which may skew the results more towards men that are more likely to rape.

    Further, the group was very select. Apparently people in just one class. And more than 90% of the folks at this school were white. It seems to me that the average college is much more diverse.

    Then, the overall premise is rather iffy. Everyone has fantasies and lots of folks have fantasies that they would never act on. (I use the word fantasies in the formal, clinical sense–where you simply imagine things.) Adding qualifiers such as “confident you wouldn’t get caught and there would be no social consequences” along with anonymity is a sure-fire way to get answers that are totally unreliable. Hell, if I were taking a survey that asked whether I would eat roasted babies for dinner if I knew no one would find out and there would never be a consequence (like guilt?), I’d be tempted to answer “Hell yeah! Make mine medium rare. And add a side of fava beans.”

    Let me be clear….What I am saying here is that there are problems with the methodology used in this particular study. I am not saying that rape isn’t a problem.

  • matty1

    @11 Thank you, you’ve clarified what I was trying to say – yes the thing that disturbs me is that these respondents use the word sex to describe something that I regard as not only, not sex but pretty much the opposite. It’s like a worse version of someone saying “I want to cuddle you, and by cuddle I mean punch in the face”

  • http://lykex.livejournal.com LykeX

    “As hypothesized, [emphasis mine] a sizable number of participants indicated that they might use force to obtain intercourse, but would not rape a woman.” The fact that researchers had a preconceived notion of the results suggests that confirmation bias might be a big concern with these researchers.

    I don’t think so. Any study deeper than the most preliminary examination will include a hypothesis. That fact alone doesn’t suggest that confirmation bias would be any more a problem than in any other case.

    As for the questions, they can be found in the references cited in the “Materials and Methods” section. The one for hostility against women appears to be an unpublished dissertation, but the others are available. From a brief scan of the Sexual Aggression Scale paper, they do seem to distinguish between simply fantasizing about something and actually doing it.

  • EnlightenmentLiberal

    Also, the survey participants received extra credit for particpating. I find this type of an incentive a problem because folks that don’t need the extra credit are less likely to participate. Smart students that are performing well in the class are more likely to be nerds, geeks and others that are not hypermasculine, which may skew the results more towards men that are more likely to rape.

    Do you have hard evidence evidence of this? Or even actual anecdotal evidence? Being of the nerd persuasion, I don’t think the reasoning is rational. Nerds get good grades because they’re responsible and they work for it. Working hard and being responsible is fundamentally incompatible with avoiding doing easy work, a survey, for extra credit. Your supposed nerd motivation is that they feel confident in their grades to avoid doing the survey, which I find questionable at best. I always did easy-work extra credit.

    Which means that I suspect the not-nerds are less likely to take time out of their busy rapy schedules to complete the survey, which makes the results of this survey look even worse. (Assuming the correctness of the observation that nerds rape less often. I’m not entirely confident of that assertion, but I can run with it.)

  • Anne Marie

    1. This makes me think of the Scott Adams’ idea of “Argument by Bizarre Definition: Example: He’s not a criminal. He just does things that are against the law.”

    2. In the 1990s, Ms. Magazine did a survey of 6000 men and women in college (just under 3000 men). They asked men if they “ever engaged in sexual intercourse with a woman when she didn’t want to by threatening or using some degree of physical force.” 8% had committed or attempted rape in the last year. 84% of the men who had committed rape said what they did was definitely not rape.