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Volume 6, Number 8
Submitted: March 16, 2001
Resubmitted: April 4, 2001
Accepted: April 13, 2001
Publication date: April 17, 2001
University of East London
University of Birmingham
Two popular explanations for rape exist in our culture - rape as motivated by either sex or by power. The present study investigated participants beliefs about rape motivation in the context of both female and male rape. College students were administered a version of Feild's (1978) Attitudes Toward Rape (ATR) scale, which incorporates beliefs about rape motivation. A Three-Factor ANOVA revealed two significant main effects but no significant interactions. Findings showed that participants believed both female and male rape to be motivated by sex to a greater extent than by power. In addition, men endorsed the view that rape is motivated by both sex and power to a greater extent than women. The implications of these findings for beliefs about both female and male sexual violence, particularly in the context of recent controversial evolutionary debates about the psychology of sexual violence and motivation for rape (e.g., Thornhill 2000) are discussed.
During the past two decades, a great deal of research has focused on rape perception, with many studies attempting to delineate the conditions under which participants blame the victim and the perpetrator (Pollard 1992; Ward 1995). In particular, research has shown that people often blame the victim as well as or even instead of the perpetrator of the rape and a paradigm of research called the rape perception framework set out to examine the factors which increase victim blame while mitigating perpetrator responsibility. Factors such as the victim's physical attractiveness (Deitz, Littman and Bentley 1984), previous sexual activity (L'Armand and Pepitone 1982), victim resistance (Wyer, Bodenhausen and Gorman 1985), degree of victim intoxication (Richardson and Campbell 1982) and what the victim was wearing at the time of the attack (Edmonds and Cahoon 1986) among others (for a review see Pollard 1992) have been found to influence rape perception so that for example, a drunk or sexily dressed woman will be perceived more negatively than a woman who is described as sober or conservatively dressed. Another set of conditions which have been identified by previous research as playing a significant role in rape perception is the attitudes and beliefs of the observer. Studies have examined beliefs which center on sexual violence such as beliefs in myths about rape (Burt 1980; Lonsway and Fitzgerald 1994) and their relationship to other prominent social issues such as beliefs about womens roles (Quackenbush 1989) and acceptance of interpersonal violence (Burt 1980). The focus of the present study is on a particular subset of observer attitudes beliefs about the motivation for rape.
The scientific and psychological literatures have produced two prominent explanations for rape motivation1. The best known in undoubtedly the 'rape as a sexually motivated act explanation. In other words, rape occurs as a result of a conscious or unconscious desire for sexual contact on the part of an often socially inept perpetrator. Thus, as Matoesian (1993) suggests, until the 1980s, rape was most frequently conceptualized in terms of the psychopathological model (Matoesian 1993). According to this model, rape is a rare and random act committed by a "small lunatic fringe" of the male population (Scully 1990), abnormal individuals suffering from sexually psychopathic diseases such as uncontrollable sexual impulses. Thus, a popular conception of rape and rapists has been that "Rape is always a symptom of some psychological dysfunction... The rapist is, in fact, a person who has serious psychological difficulties which handicap him in his relationships to other people and which he discharges, when under stress, through sexual acting out" (Groth 1979: 5-6).
More recently however, the feminist explanation for rape has gained prominence not only among professionals but also among the general population. This explanation focuses on rape as motivated by power. In particular, feminist scholars gave argued that the psychopathological view of rape reflects a flawed understanding of the motivations for sexual violence, one of the many "myths" surrounding rape (Burt 1980; Lonsway and Fitzgerald 1994). This type of reasoning, according to feminist researchers, leads to increased victim blame and a view of rape that it is inconsequential because it is only sex. Instead, feminist scholars contend that rape occurs with sufficient regularity and in sufficient numbers across societies to warrant an explanation at the level of cultural structures rather than in terms of individualistic pathology. As Russell (1984) observed "How could it be that all these rapes are being perpetrated by a tiny segment of the male population?" The feminist explanation for rape maintains that violence against women is an integral part of patriarchal society and that rape is a social tradition of male domination and female exploitation (Brownmiller 1975; Ward 1995) where rape and the fear of rape produce and reproduce female subordination to males. In this way, the major theme within this explanatory framework centers on power, where rape constitutes an act of violence, domination and control rather than any sexual acting out.
These perceptions of rape have been observed among specialists who deal with rape such as health worker and the police as well as ordinary citizens. While early research found that individuals were more likely to believe that rape was motivated by sex, recent findings suggest that feminist conceptualizations of rape, namely that rape is a crime of violence, "may be becoming more widespread and familiar" (Ward 1995:45). For example, in 1977, a study found that 88% of the university students surveyed agreed with the statement that rape is a sex crime (Barnett and Feild 1977). Likewise, in an examination of counselors, police workers, rapists and ordinary citizens, Feild (1978) found that all of these groups, to some degree, believed that rape was motivated by sexual tendencies. Recently however, research with urban populations revealed attitudes more in line with feminist theorizing. A study by Rich and Sampson (1990) showed that 90% of 18-31 year olds, 89% of 32-46 year olds and 81% of 47-99 year old respondents agreed with the statement that most rapes are a crime of violence rather than a crime with sexual motives. In addition, studies have also found a gender difference in these beliefs, with men generally exhibiting more traditional attitudes than women, believing that rape is more likely to be motivated by sex than by power (Ward 1995).
Although attitudes concerning the motivation for rape have been extensively investigated in relation to female rape, little information exists about beliefs about the motivation for male rape. Yet, male rape2 (rape is now defined as the non-consensual penetration of a vagina or anus by a penis in English law and by a penis, a hand or other object in the United States see Footnote 2) is an increasing problem for many societies. Although it is difficult to obtain accurate figures for the incidence of male rape, several recent studies have attempted to measure the prevalence of sexually coercive behavior against men by both men and women, although rape of men by women that is reported to and recorded by the police is rare and as such does not feature in official rape statistics (Lees 1997; although anecdotal evidence exists that this does happen, e.g., Smith, Pine and Hawley 1988. As such, most peoples lay beliefs center on the fact that both female and male rape is predominantly committed by men; Anderson, in preparation)3. Incidence measures of non-consensual sex amongst adult males in the general population have recently been calculated at 3% in the United Kingdom (Coxell, King, Mezey and Gordon 1999) and as high as 7% in the United States (Sorenson, Stein, Siegel, Golding and Burnham 1987). Indeed, some American rape crisis centers have documented that between 6 and 20 per cent of treated rape victims are male (Struckman-Johnson and Struckman-Johnson 1992) although many welfare organizations estimate the real figure of male rape to be considerably higher, implying that a significant number of men are hidden survivors of rape with many more incidents not formally reported.
Although incidence studies have begun to appear, generally research on male rape has been limited, particularly in relation to the perception of male rape victims and lay beliefs surrounding male rape. For example, studies have shown that male rape survivors also become targets for blame attributions in much the same way as female survivors (Whatley and Riggio 1993; Struckman-Johnson and Struckman-Johnson 1992; Smith, Pine and Hawley 1988) although the most frequent finding in the literature is that female rape survivors are blamed more than male rape survivors (Anderson 1999, McCaul, Veltum, Boyechko and Crawford,1990; Schneider, Soh-Chiew Ee and Arondon 1994; Travis and Allgeier 1986, both latter references cited in Schneider et al 1994). Other researchers have found that participants subscribe to certain beliefs or myths about male rape such as "It is impossible for a man to be raped" and "Getting raped does not really upset men" (Struckman-Johnson and Struckman-Johnson 1992) although only three major myths have been identified so far by these researchers. Despite several recent studies (Anderson 1999; Anderson, Beattie and Spencer 2001; Mitchell, Hirschmann and Nagayama Hall,1999), there remains a paucity of research on male rape perception and no study so far has examined perceived motivation for male rape. The purpose of the present study was to explore this issue as well as to examine current beliefs concerning the perceived motivation for female rape.
Rationale for the Present Study
The aims of the present study are to examine the perceived motivations underpinning both female and male rape, and to examine whether these vary according to participant gender. Previous literature suggests that the predominant distinction in perceived motivations underpinning rape is a two-fold one, conceptualizing rape as either motivated by sex (the evolutionary explanation) or by power (the feminist explanation). Previous findings suggest that the rape as motivated by power explanation has taken over in popularity from the rape as motivated by sex explanation, measured by peoples responses to questionnaire items asking them to agree or disagree with statements such as "Rape is predominantly a crime of passion" (Rich and Sampson 1990). The present study also utilizes a questionnaire format in the form of statements pertaining to rape motivation derived from Fields (1978) early Attitudes Toward Rape scale, together with a vignette format describing either a male or a female rape. The vignettes were utilized in order to prime the participants to think about male or female rape prior to answering the rape motivation items. Two specific hypotheses were predicted from the literature. No predictions were made regarding perceived motivation for male rape, as one of the purposes of the present study was to explore this very issue.
All participants will view female rape as motivated more by power than by sex
Men will view female rape as motivated by sex more than women
120 participants took part in this study - 60 women and 60 men. The participants were undergraduate students at Birmingham University, UK. The age range was 18-30 with a mean age of 20 years.
Rape Motivation Assessment.
Participants beliefs in the motivation for rape were assessed using Feilds (1978) Attitudes Toward Rape (ATR) scale4. This scale is a 32-item questionnaire comprising statements investigating a variety of rape-related issues such as rape motivation (sex or power), womens responsibility in rape prevention, punishment for rape, victim precipitation of rape, normality of rapists, favorable perception of a woman after rape and resistance during a rape. Although first constructed in 1978, the ATR scale has been widely used (Ward 1995), allowing comparison with other studies. It is also of particular interest for the present study because the principal components factor analyses of the ATR responses (Field 1978) produced clearly identifiable clusters of factors, among which Sex as motivation for rape and Power as motivation for rape featured as two separate factors. The ATR was thus selected for these reasons. Although each participant completed an entire ATR scale, the items of interest to this research (the rape motivation items) were extracted from the overall questionnaire to comprise two sub-scales measuring sex as motivation for rape (e.g., "Rape is the expression of an uncontrollable desire for sex", "Rape is a sex crime, "Rapists are sexually frustrated individuals", "The reason most rapists commit rape is for sex") and power as motivation for rape ("All rape is a male exercise in power over women/men", "The reason most rapists commit rape is for the thrill of physical violence"). Each sub-scale contained 4 items, which were randomly distributed among the other items. The items that referred to women only in Fields original study (e.g., "All rape is a male exercise in power over women" were systematically varied to include men as well (e.g., "All rape is a male exercise in power over women/men"). Each participant filled out an entire ATR questionnaire, the other items not relating to rape motivation being theorized as serving a filler/distracter function. All items were presented to participants in a five-point agree/disagree bipolar Likert format. Each scale demonstrated adequate internal consistency (Cronbach alphas 0.79 and 0.82 for sex and power as motivation scales respectively). Each participant received two cumulative scores representing their perception of each type of rape motivation, scored on a 1-5 basis (1=strongly disagree; 5=strongly agree). High scores indicated a greater endorsement of a particular motivation.
The Rape Vignettes.
The questionnaire was completed in response to a simplified and shortened version (the originals were considered too long, being over 10 typed pages) of Howards (1984) Jogging Assault Script'. This is presented below (the male rape version is in brackets):
Linda (Mike), a 23 year old, works as a clerical assistant at a health group clinic. About six months ago, she (he) was sexually assaulted while out jogging. Linda (Mike) had started jogging after work in a nearby park, and had been doing it for only a couple of weeks. At the time of her (his) assault, she (he) was wearing shorts and a loose-fitting T-shirt, and was running along one of the jogging trails. She (he) slowed down to catch her (his) breath. As she (he) walked along, an unknown man came up beside her (him) and started talking to her (him). She (he) was used to meeting new people when jogging and thought nothing of it. Linda (Mike) chatted to him for a while about her (his) jogging, and after a few minutes of walking along with him, she (he) thought she (he) had rested enough and told him that she (he) had to get moving again. She (he) started moving faster when the man grabbed her (his) arm. His expression changed as he told Linda (Mike) that he had a knife. By this time it had become quite dark and Linda (Mike) began to feel scared. She (he) asked him what he wanted only to be told to shut up. She (he) thought that maybe she (he) could outrun him but the man must have guessed what she (he) was considering. and punched her (him) hard in the ribs with his fist. She (he) was knocked to the ground and then kicked when she (he) started to get up again. He then dragged Linda (Mike) up off the ground and pushed her (him) onto a nearby picnic table and pushed her legs up so that she (he) was lying flat out (He threw him from the waist up onto a nearby picnic table so that he was leaning up against it). He then yanked her (his) shorts down and raped her (him). Linda (Mike) was terrified then her (his) attacker panicked, stood up quickly, looked round and ran off.
These particular vignettes were utilized here in order to prime the participants to think about either female or male rape prior to answering the rape motivation questions. They did not directly contribute to any scores. These particular vignettes were chosen because in Howards original study, they assessed male as well as female rape. Also, Howards descriptions are more realistic than many favored by rape perception researchers in that they appear to portray the incident in sufficient detail. By contrast, many rape perception studies utilize very short descriptions, some as short as 50 words, which respondents have described as lacking in the crucial details deemed necessary by them for a satisfactory analysis of the incident (Krahé 1991).
The study employed a 2x2x2 (participant gender x victim gender x rape motivation) full factorial design with 2 levels on each factor (male vs. female; male vs. female; sex vs. power). There were four experimental conditions with 30 participants in each condition. The conditions were systematically varied according to participant and victim gender: 30 men read about female rape; 30 men read about male rape; 30 women read about female rape; 30 women read about male rape. In all instances of the rape description, the attacker was specified as male. All participants answered identical questions concerning perceived motivation for rape although these questions varied the gender of the victim to include men for those participants who read about male rape.
Participants were run in large groups of 20-30 participants following a lecture or a seminar session. They received credits for participating in the study. Participants were issued with a standard set of instructions, informing them that their participation was voluntary and that their answers would remain confidential. Each participant received a questionnaire booklet to be completed and returned to the experimenter. The questionnaire booklets contained a cover sheet informing participants that they would be asked to complete a social issues questionnaire, a version of one of the vignettes (describing a female or male rape incident) and a copy of Fields ATR scale. Participants were asked to indicate their sex, age and occupation on the cover sheet and were told that they could terminate their participation in the study at any time. Participants were then asked to read a description of a rape incident (either female or male rape) and then to answer a series of questions related to it. Following the experiment, the participants were thanked for their participation and debriefed as to the nature of the study. The participants were also informed of relevant contact details of university counseling services and telephone Helplines should they wish to discuss further any issues raised by the study.
An SPSS ANOVA program was employed to perform a 2x2x2 (rape motivated by sex vs. rape motivated by power, male vs. female participant, male vs. female victim) full factorial between-subjects Three Factor Analysis of Variance on the questionnaire responses. Table 1 documents the mean scores and standard deviations for this analysis. The ANOVA revealed two significant main effects and no significant interactions. Participant gender was found to have a significant effect on the perceived motivation for rape (F= 8.12 (1, 116), p<.005) where males (mean=2.79) perceived both types of rape to be motivated by both sex and power to a greater extent than women (mean=2.55). Type of motivation also produced a very significant main effect (F=104.14 (df=1, 116), p<.0001), with participants in all cases perceiving rape to be motivated by sex (mean=3.11) to a greater extent than by power (mean=2.22). No other significant main effects or interactions were observed.
Table 1. Male and female participants mean and standard deviation scores assessing perceived rape motivation in response to female and male rape.
Note: Judgements on a 5-point scale from (1) strongly disagree to (5) strongly agree.
The present study examined perceived motivation for female ands male rape among a student population in the United Kingdom. The study had two main aims. Firstly, the study aimed to explore current beliefs about the motivation for female rape - is rape motivated by sex or power issues? Previous research suggests that while 'rape as motivated by sex' has been a frequent belief among the lay population and even professionals who deal with rape, recent trends have found a shift in general attitudes in relation to this issue toward a more feminist orientation which stresses the underlying motivation of power in sexual violence. For example, while early studies found some evidence for the prevailing belief that rape is motivated by sex (e.g., Field 1978), Rich and Sampson in 1990 found that the majority of their respondents drawn from the general population (90% of 18-31 year olds, 89% of 32-46 year olds and 81% of 47-99 year olds) agreed substantially with the statement that most rapes are a crime of violence rather than a crime with sexual motives - "a crime of passion". Secondly, the present study sought to examine the perceived motivation for male rape as this question has not been systematically addressed in previous research.
Two major findings emerged from these data. Firstly, present findings indicate that contrary to predictions, respondents continue to regard rape, including male rape, as motivated by the need for sex rather than as an act motivated by power. This finding contrasts with Rich and Sampsons (1990) influential study which prompted researchers such as Ward (1995) to conclude that feminist conceptualizations of rape were becoming more widespread and familiar in Western culture. However, the present study would appear to suggest that the belief that rape is underpinned by issues of sexuality is a prevailing one. Although the difference in the findings between Rich and Samsons study and the present one may be accounted for by the use of different respondent samples (students in the present study versus urban residents in Rich and Sampson's study) and cultural differences (UK in the present study versus USA in Rich and Sampsons study), the present findings are nevertheless both interesting and worrying, particularly in relation to the recent resurrection of evolutionary explanations for sexual violence (e.g., Thornhill 2000) which stress that sexual violence is primarily influenced by sexuality. Thornhill for example claims that rape is a naturally adaptive response used by males to secure sexual partners, a "strategy that was directly favored by natural selection because it increased reproductive success " (Thornhill 2000:46). Thus, "a male rapes because he is horny, and wants the sexual experience " (pg. 46). It would appear then that sexually driven explanations for rape continue to influence scientific theorizing and this may be one reason why such explanations are reproduced in lay conceptualizations of rape motivation as well. It is also interesting to note that an ostensibly lesser known and more ambiguous event such as male rape is also viewed as sexually motivated rather than motivated by power. This finding is especially surprising given the (mostly, but not always, anecdotal) evidence that, when asked, the lay population (and rape researchers) have tended to view male rape as an act motivated primarily by power and not sex unless it is described as occurring in the context of a gay relationship (Lees 1997). Further research needs to be conducted in order to establish the veracity of these findings. Nevertheless, the present study offers an intriguing insight into current beliefs about both female and male rape.
Finally, although no differences were observed in the perception of rape victim gender, differences were revealed between the responses of male and female participants. In general, higher scores were obtained for male than for female participants on both sex and power scales suggesting that men endorsed the ideas expressed in the questionnaire items more than women. This finding partially supports the second hypothesis of the present study where it was hypothesized that men would view rape as motivated by sex more than women. However, they also agreed with the statements that rape is an expression of power as well. There may be several reasons for this finding. In line with previous research, women's lower scores may be part of a wider expression of a less traditional attitude toward rape issues in general (of which attitudes toward rape motivation are a part) than men's. Women may also be more familiar with answering questionnaires about rape than men and the lower scores may in fact represent annoyance at being asked to complete yet another one whereas men's higher scores may be representative of their genuine attitudes. This reasoning may also be reversed whereby men's higher scores on the rape motivation items may not so much reflect their genuine attitude toward rape in general but their general strategy of answering the questions as quickly as possible. However, extracting items for analysis from a wider response scale seems a reasonable approach to take given that with this method, the extracted items may be theorized to belong to a wider response set whereas the alternative method of presenting only the questions of interest to the researcher is well known to suffer from unintended experimental effects and other demand characteristics such as altering participants' behavior in favor of self-presentational actions. Yet another explanation for the present findings is that as the usual targets of rape and the fear of rape (Griffin 1971; Ward 1995) women may consider other, less conventional motivations for rape such as anger, contempt, revenge or punishment to be more relevant. They may thus operate with a multi-faceted as opposed to a bipolar view of rape motivation. For example, women may consider sexually or power-driven explanations for rape of little use in helping to eradicate sexual violence given that in modern Western societies, crime figures often reveal increases and not decreases in sexual violence. They may also consider a simple dichotomy between sex and power motivations as too simple to explain a complex behavior such as rape. Conversely, men are not the usual targets for rape (despite recent research and media interest in male rape) and as such may not have considered issues concerning sexual violence in any great depth. They may thus refer to the popular conceptualizations surrounding rape as a way of adequately fulfilling the experimental task. Future research should investigate gender differences in the beliefs surrounding the motivations for rape further, particularly in the five primary motivations for rape outlined in the sexual violence literature (see Footnote 1) to see whether women would score higher than men on the other three hypothesized motivations (sex and power being the two included in this list as well). These analyses should be extended to male rape as well, given the recent interest and increasing awareness of this issue in society (Lees 1997) and to an analysis of female perpetrators of sexual violence. With respect to the latter issue, will people perceive female perpetrators to be motivated primarily by sex or by power? This is an interesting future question to examine, particularly in the light of traditional conceptualizations of femininity and normative gendered heterosexuality where women are seen as passive recipients rather than the instigators of both sexual and aggressive behavior (Ussher 1998). Only then will we be able to draw adequate conclusions concerning beliefs about the motivation for sexual violence directed at both women and men, by both men and women.
Finally, studies such as the one presented here frequently encounter methodological problems, usually at the vignette selection stage. It is undoubtedly the case that whatever vignette description of the incident is chosen will have some unintended impact on the results. In the present case, although the choice of the vignette can be justified in many ways (for example, it has been used before, thus allowing at least some uniformity across studies; it is long enough for participants to form a reasonable impression of the incident), it may also have unintended effects. It may be argued that the portrayal of the present incident is largely of a classic stranger or blitz rape (Ward 1995), where a sex-starved psychopathic individual jumps out of the shadows to rape a hapless victim, although the vignette does present a fair degree of aggression and violence as well (which was one of our considerations when selecting the vignette). One can only speculate as to the unintended effects that the stimulus materials employed in studies such as this have on the findings. Furthermore, it is difficult to imagine how to partial out such effects as whatever vignette is chosen will bring with it its own inferences regarding category membership and stereotypes. At the very least, researchers should be aware of such effects and select future stimulus materials to be employed in rape perception studies with care.
1. Several explanations for the motivation for rape are identified in the literature, for example, Canter and Heritage (1990) describe five major motivations, including rape as a sexual act, rape as an act of power, rape as a desire for intimacy and social contact on the part of the perpetrator, rape as one mode of wider criminal activity and finally, rape as impersonal sex. However, the two best known explanations and which have created the most controversy (Thornhill 2000) are rape as motivated by sex and rape as motivated by power.
2. Until 1994, rape in English law was defined as non-consensual penile-vaginal penetration. This definition was then widened to include non-consensual penile-anal penetration as well as the penetration of the vagina. Buggery of women had thus been a criminal offence in itself so that these changes in the law meant that consensual anal sex between heterosexuals became legal for the first time (Lees 1997). These changes were also in line with other countries. For example, in most American states, "rape is defined more broadly as non-consensual penetration of the vagina and anus by a penis, hand or other object" (Lees 1997:91). Although rendering rape a gender-neutral act has caused concern among some feminists, who have argued that precious resources dedicated to dealing with the female survivors of sexual violence may be co-opted for the purposes of dealing with their male counterparts, rape remains a gendered act in another respect. The perpetrators of both types of sexual assault tend to be male (Groth 1979).
3. In addition, recent studies have begun to focus on the sexual coercion, by physical and/or verbal means of men by women (e.g., Struckman-Johnson and Struckman-Johnson 1994; McConaghy and Zamir 1995) although studies such as these are limited to the college student population and most frequently involve dating high school or university partners. These studies reveal that "relatively comparable proportions of men and women were victims of coercive experiences" and that "forms of coercion not involving threat or use of force were more common, more exclusively heterosexual, and carried out by more equivalent percentages of men and women Threat or use of force to attempt to or obtain intercourse were employed by 4% of men and 2% of women and experienced by 5% of both sexes" (McConaghy and Zamir 1995: 489).
4. Questionnaire booklets containing the ATR scale and vignettes are available on request from the first author.
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Irina Anderson is Senior Lecturer in the Psychology Department at the University of East London, Romford Road, London, E15 4LZ, to whom correspondence concerning this article should be sent (E-mail address: I.Anderson@uel.ac.uk). Her main research interests include attitudes and attributions in rape perception, womens health issues and qualitative methods including discourse analysis. She used to lecture in the Psychology Department at Birmingham University, United Kingdom.
Victoria Swainson is a previous student of the Department of Psychology at Birmingham University, UK. She can be contacted on V.Swaisno@Bham.ac.uk.
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