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 notexperience 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.