By David Lee on April 22, 2010 · tagged as

Looking at methods to study men’s perceptions about rape

Each week I review summaries of the titles and abstracts for newly published articles to find research relevant to prevention of sexual violence and domestic violence. Yet, without reading the article, I will not know how they came to those findings. Here is an example of the methods used for a study recently published in the International Journal of Offender Therapy and Comparative Criminology titled Understanding Men’s Perceptions of Risks and Rewards in a Date Rape Scenario.

This study was conducted by looking how college males respond to a scenario where after picking up a women with a reputation for being “loose” and being “pretty drunk” they go to her apartment:

After listening to music for a few minutes, Susan turns down the lights and begins to kiss you and rub your penis through your pants. In response, you begin to kiss and fondle Susan’s breasts. You then reach under her skirt and begin to attempt to remove Susan’s clothes. Susan tells you that she thinks she is not interested in having sex but does not try to physically stop you.

The researchers then examined the men’s perceptions of potential costs and benefits associated with having sex in this hypothetical situation. (The scenario was presented after being exposed to either viewing photographs of fully clothed models, photographs of nude women or 10-minute segment of video that depicted an adult male and adult female engaging in consensual intercourse.) The researchers found

75% of the men reporting the possibility of legal consequences (including arrest, rape charges, conviction, and a jail or prison sentence). Participants also indicated potential positive outcomes of having sex with Susan in this situation, and nearly 29% of the respondents reported some type of future romantic or sexual relationship with her.

The researchers use a “rational choice perspective” to understand how men perceive costs and benefits. While the study does not examine actual behaviors, the researchers suggest that the behavior intentions are important to predict future action.

It is helpful to understand how the researchers came to their conclusion of implications for prevention:

Achieving longer-term attitudinal and behavioral change may require a broader focus not just on changing attitudes but on changing the perception of risks and rewards of sexual aggression.

What do you think about the method of this study? Do you think that behavior is primarily influenced by perceptions of risks and rewards?

Below is the full citation and abstract:

Understanding Men’s Perceptions of Risks and Rewards in a Date Rape Scenario.

Bouffard LA, Bouffard JA. International Journal of Offender Therapy and Comparative Criminology 2010; ePublished April 2, 2010.

Click here for a link to the article on the journal’s web site.

(Copyright © 2010, Sage Publications)

Existing research on date rape has identified important correlations between rape-supportive attitudes and sexual aggression. What remains unclear is the mechanism by which these attitudes are translated into sexually aggressive behavior. This study borrows from a rational choice framework to explore the relationship between attitudes, perceptions of the risks and rewards of engaging in date rape, and self-reported hypothetical aggression in a date rape scenario. Results suggest that rape-supportive attitudes are related to particular patterns of identified risks and rewards of date rape as well as to the self-reported likelihood of engaging in date rape behavior. This supports a perspective that certain attitude structures may alter the risks and rewards that potential offenders consider in deciding whether or not to engage in sexual aggression. Implications for future research and prevention programs are discussed.

David Lee

More Posts by David Lee

David S. Lee, MPH, is the Director of Prevention Services at the California Coalition Against Sexual Assault where he provides training and technical assistance on prevention. David manages the national project PreventConnect, an online community of violence against women prevention practitioners, funders, researchers and activists. For over 27 years David has worked in efforts to end domestic violence and sexual assault.

{ 1 comment… read it below or add one }

Chris April 28, 2010 at 10:56 am

I am hesitant to approach prevention from a risk/reward model, although that it not to say it doesn’t have *some* merit. First, I wonder whether those who commit acts of sexual violence would be swayed by the risk of a criminal sentence. Moreover, I would like to promote the idea that sexual assault is illegal because it is wrong; not the other way around. Like you, David, I would like to see a study on actual behaviors, if that is even possible…

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