SAN DIEGO — American women are suffering "an epidemic of sexual assault," say researchers who found that many young women do not consider forced sex to be rape while many men and women believe that submitting to unwanted attentions on dates can be acceptable.
A survey of 245 female and 194 male students at Washington State University found "an alarming minority of students"--5% of women and 19% of men--do not believe that forcible rape on dates is definitely rape or that the male's behavior is definitely unacceptable, psychologist Gloria Fischer said.
They were students who believed that forcing a date to have sex might be acceptable under any one of nine circumstances, including if the man spent a lot of money on the woman, if she led him on, if she had sex with other men, if she was intoxicated or if she excited him, Fischer said.
The study was one of several dealing with rape presented at the recent meeting of the Society for the Scientific Study of Sex.
Sexual Assault Epidemic
"Women are massively victimized in this society at all levels of their relationships, particularly women who are just beginning to date in high school and college," said Texas A&M University psychologist Wendy Stock, who chaired a session entitled "Coercive Sexuality."
"There really is an epidemic of sexual assault," said Diana Russell, a sociologist at Mills College in Oakland. "We have to recognize that as a society, do something about it and stop thinking this is something the psychologists alone can handle."
In another study, Cornell University researcher Andrea Parrot surveyed 595 students at the Ithaca, N.Y., school and 191 others at a nearby women's college, which she declined to identify.
Among Cornell women, "19% reported they had intercourse against their will . . . through coercion, threats, force or violence. Yet only 2% said that they had been raped," Parrot said.
And among women at the small college, "18% reported having intercourse against their will. Only 9% indicated having been raped."
Parrot explained: "If I define myself as a rape victim, then I have to deal with all of the emotional trauma that goes along with being a rape victim. If I don't call myself a rape victim, I can say, 'I didn't want to,' and, 'He pushed me too far,' but I'm not a rape victim. So to some extent it's self-protective."
Didn't Learn From Mistakes
But she also found that 12% of the women had experienced forced sex more than once, suggesting "these women did not learn from their mistakes."
Stock added: "It seems that the more younger women are victimized, the more likely they are to be revictimized and not to learn to deal with sexual aggression."
University of Northern Iowa home economist Marilyn Story and graduate student Angela Stukenberg questioned 449 men and 465 women at the school in April about verbal and physical abuse and forced sex.
About 80% of the women said they received verbal abuse, 40% reported physical abuse and 46% said they were forced to have sex, compared to 38% who considered their relationships abusive.
"While they're not defining it as an abusive relationship, they're saying they don't want this to happen," Story said.
Russell said she made a survey of 930 San Francisco women in 1978 that showed "44% had been the victim of rape or attempted rape at some time in their lives" and "acquaintance rape emerges as the most prevalent type," she said.
Fischer's study found that men who did not believe rape during a date is wrong tend to believe men are superior to women. Russell, Stock and Parrot blamed that attitude for many sexual assaults.
"Males are taught they must pursue sex in order to be males, to fit into that image--that they must get as much as they can and almost at whatever cost," Stock said.