Calling it rape: Differences in experience of women who do or do not label their sexual assault rape

Past research had found that one-half or more of all women who have had an experience that might meet the definition of rape do not label themselves as rape victims. The present study examined the actual rape experience of 233 women who labeled their assault as rape and 56 women who did not label their assault experience as rape through questionnaires and open-ended descriptions of what happened during their assault. Quantitive findings replicated past research, finding that acknowledged victims, compared to unacknowledged victims, were older, knew their assailant less well, experienced more forceful assaults, and had stronger negative reactions to the experience. Qualitative analysis revealed that women were most likely to acknowledge their experience as a rape when the assailant was not their boyfriend and woke up with a man penetrating them or the assailant used force and dominated them to obtain intercourse. Women assaulted as children also acknowledged their experiences as rape. However, when the assault involved a boyfriend, or if the woman was severely impaired by alcohol or drugs, or if the act involved oral or digital sex, the women were unlikely to label their situations as constituting rape.
Author: 
Kahn,Arnold S.
Jackson,Jennifer
Kully,Christine
Badger,Kelly
Halvorsen,Jessica
Reprint Status: 
IN FILE
Start Page: 
233
End Page: 
242
Journal/Periodical Name: 
Psychology of Women Quarterly
Volume: 
27
Abstract: 
This article describes a study of 504 predominantly White female college students from a midsize, Southeastern, public university. These women responded to three surveys: a questionnaire with 16 questions about criminal/aggressive acts or beliefs including one question that asked, Have you ever been raped by a man?; a modified version of the Sexual Experiences Survey; a series of questions asking about the elements of an assault experience; and a written portion asking for descriptions of sexual assaults experienced by the subject or based on disclosures from other women. The rape experiences of 33 women who chose to call what they experienced rape were compared to 56 women who did not label their experience as rape. Acknowledged rape victims were older, did not know the perpetrator as well, experienced more forceful assaults, and had stronger negative emotions to the assault. Women were most likely to call an assault rape if the perpetrator was not a boyfriend, they woke up being penetrated, or the perpetrator used force to dominate them during the assault. Women were unlikely to call their experience rape when the assault involved a boyfriend, impairment by alcohol or drugs, forced oral sex, or forced masturbation.
Topic Areas: 
College, Male-Female Relations, Survivors
Reference Type: 
JOUR
Reference ID: 
1574
Publication Date: 
2003