The Many Facets of Sexual Assault

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A model of sexual violence risk proposed by Abbey, McAuslan, and Ross (1998) posits a central role for sexual misperception (i.e., perception of sexual interest or sexual attraction in a potential partner when that partner has not intended to communicate interest). Normatively it has been well documented that male college students perceive more female sexual interest than was intended to be conveyed. Whether viewing still images, video, or live interactions, men tend to perceive women as displaying more sexual interest than women view the female actor displaying and more sexual interest than the female actor intended to display (Abbey, 1982; Abbey & Harnish, 1995; Edmonson & Conger, 1995; Saal, Johnson, & Weber, 1989; Shotland & Craig, 1988). Importantly, sexually coercive men may be particularly prone to this “over perception” of sexual intent (Abbey, McAusland, & Ross). Other researchers have noted that sexually coercive men may be relatively insensitive to women’s negative cues as well and may not respond differentially depending on the nature of her response (Lipton, McDonel, & McFall, 1987; McDonel & McFall, 1991). If a man mistakenly perceives his partner as interested in pursing a sexual relationship, her later refusal may seem arbitrary and hostile. His early misperception leads the man to interpret the situation as indicating that his partner has deliberately led him on. If this experience leads to anger and frustration, some men may choose to aggress against the source of their frustration, that is, their partner. Thus, relatively distal information processing deficits early in sexual bargaining could ultimately increase the risk for sexual aggression in a subset of men. With health behavior change, it is almost alway... ... middle of paper ... ...behavior, and (2) to design new intervention strategies that are sensitive to such an account. The current application seeks to better specify the precise perceptual and cognitive processes that prompt sexual violence perpetration. By explicitly delineating the network of individual and situational variables that predict sexual violence, we will be in a position to better direct intervention and prevention efforts, and ultimately, reduce the suffering and costs currently borne by sexual assault victims. The work is unique in public health research in that it: (1) directs research inquiry and intervention efforts toward the risky behavior of a person who is different from the person who is harmed, and (2) represents a partial “medicalization” of a criminal behavior in order to determine the extent to which is has a modifiable and preventable psychological basis.
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