Date of Award

8-7-2008

Document Type

Dissertation

Degree Name

Doctor of Psychology (PsyD)

Department

Psychology

First Advisor

Kimberly J. Husenits, Psy.D.

Second Advisor

Elizabeth A. Kincade, Ph.D.

Third Advisor

Krystof Z. Kaniasty, Ph.D.

Abstract

A review of recent psychology and medical literature reveals that the term ‘unwanted sex’ has become commonly used in journals. Despite this, no universally held definition for the term could be found. Uses ranged from consensual, yet undesirable sexual intercourse, to rape. It was hypothesized that the term ‘unwanted sex’ may have different connotations than the word rape and impact perceptions of what occurred. It was also hypothesized that using the term ‘unwanted sex’ instead of rape would result in perceptions that a crime did not occur, and punishment for and reporting of the assault would not be warranted. It was further hypothesized that using ‘unwanted sex’ may increase victim blame. To investigate these hypotheses, four scenarios were created. Two described a sexual assault committed by a stranger, and were identical other than term for assault (‘unwanted sex’ or ‘rape.’) The other two scenarios described a sexual assault committed by an acquaintance. These were also identical other than term (‘unwanted sex’ or ‘rape’). One hundred sixty participants each read one scenario and answered questions indicating their perceptions of the appropriateness of reporting, punishment and victim blame. Multiple regression analyses were conducted to determine if term, gender and type of assault were predictive of reporting, punishment and blame. Type of assault was predictive of behavioral blame. Gender was found to be predictive of character blame; when ‘unwanted sex’ was used, women perceived higher levels of character blame than men. Term and type of assault were significant predictors of perception of appropriate punishment. When ‘unwanted sex’ was used participants perceived that less punishment was appropriate. Additionally, when ‘unwanted sex’ was used or the assault was committed by an acquaintance, participants were less likely to indicate that they would report the assault. In this study, the terms ‘unwanted sex’ and ‘rape’ were not found to be interchangeable. Using the term ‘unwanted sex’ seemed to connote that either no crime or less of a crime had occurred and also increased reported character blame by female respondents. Researchers and practitioners should carefully choose the words that they use to describe sexual assault to avoid revictimization.

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