Shades of Gray: A Qualitative Study of Terms Used in the Measurement of Sexual Victimization

Methodological analyses of sexual victimization research are still rare, despite the explosion of interest in this topic and widely varying rates across studies. In-depth analysis of the meaning of differences in rates is especially lacking. A series of five ethnically and geographically diverse focus groups were held to explore how wording in sexual victimization surveys affects the reporting of various types of negative sexual experiences. Participants provided rich formulations about sexual intercourse that suggest there is a wide range of coercion, from peer pressure to lose one's virginity to partner pressure to demonstrate one's commitment to stereotypical forced rape. Focus group participants asserted that many terms that are often used synonymously, such as unwanted, nonvoluntary, and forced, have distinct meanings. They also described how different social pressures on women and men, and differences in physical size lead to inevitable differences in perceptions of coerciveness. Although recent sexual victimization surveys have increased the specificity of descriptions of sexual acts, these findings suggest that it is equally important to be precise in communicating what is meant by coercion
Hamby,Sherry L.
Koss,Mary P.
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Psychology of Women Quarterly
This article presents results from five ethnically and geographically diverse focus groups that investigated the relationship between language in sexual victimization surveys and consequent reporting of sexual experiences. Participants were asked to examine the terms unwanted, voluntary, against your will, and sexual intercourse as they pertain to an understanding of sexual experiences. The authors found terms such as unwanted, nonvoluntary, and forced to exhibit separate definitions. Participants perceived the concept of coercion to exist along a continuum. In addition, they emphasized the importance of gender differences such as social pressures, physical size, and the disproportionate burden of female victimization as they contributed to dissimilar perceptions of coercion. The authors suggest that forms of coercion need to be operationalized into specific, behavioral terms rather than remaining as general descriptors in order to improve any assessment of sexual victimization.
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Avoidance/resistance; community attitudes/responses; racial/ethnic differences
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