Labeling Acts of Sexual Violence: What Roles Do Assault Characteristics, Attitudes, and Life Experiences Play?

Sapir Sasson, Lisa A Paul


The label assigned to a given act of sexual violence (e.g., rape, sexual assault) can have a notable impact on perceptions of the incident and the role of the individuals involved.  Research has identified personal rape scripts and assault characteristics as factors that influence the labeling of sexual violence.  This study advances the field by providing information about the influence of participant-related variables (e.g., life experiences, personal attitudes) on the labeling of a sexual violence vignette.  Results from this online study of 379 participants revealed that victim empathy, perpetrator empathy, rape myth acceptance (RMA) and receipt of a rape disclosure were associated with correctly labeling a sexual violence vignette as a rape; RMA remained a significant predictor of labeling after all variables were entered into the regression simultaneously.  Assault characteristics, victimization history, acknowledgement of victimization and gender were not associated with the label assigned to the vignette in the regression, although inspection of qualitative reasons given for labeling the vignette revealed that some of these factors may influence label choice.  Importantly, participants who labeled the event as a rape were less likely to assign responsibility for the assault to the victim.  Implications of correctly identifying and labeling experiences of sexual violence, both for victims and for support providers, are discussed.


Rape, sexual assault, victim, blame, responsibility, rape-related attitudes, labeling

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Published by the University of Illinois at Chicago Library

And Behaviorists for Social Responsibility