Category Sexuality,. Society and. Feminism

Comparison of the Quantitative and Qualitative Approaches to Rape Acknowledgment

Taken together, the qualitative and quantitative approaches give a more complete picture of why many women do not acknowledge their assault experiences as rape than data using only a single research paradigm. “For a positive social science, knowledge is constituted by the theoretical ordering of empirical observations of an objective reality. The data are descriptions of social behaviors and the subjective beliefs, attitudes, and values of individuals” (Comstock, 1994, p – 627). The goal of such a science is a causal analysis, explanations of what produces something else (e. g., scripts are associated with rape acknowledgment). Using the quantitative methods of logical positivism described in this quotation, we have identi­fied some factors on which acknowledged and unacknowledged victims differ. The end goal is to use this knowledge to help us predict when a woman will or will not acknowledge a sexual assault experience as rape.

From the quantitative data we discovered some of the conditions that make a woman less likely to label her experience as rape, such as possessing a stranger rape script, using alcohol prior to the assault, or the assailant using some level of force. From qualitative research we learned why a rape victim does not label her experience as rape. Discourse analysis, for example, re­veals the interpretations people give to their experiences and events; it reveals the norms, values, motives, and meanings shared by the community within which the individuals live. From Phillips’ (1996) research we gain insights into why large numbers of women are unacknowledged rape vic­tims—we learn the reasons, meanings, and implications associated with acknowledging or not acknowledging their experience as rape. Phillips’ qualitative data inform us that for a college woman to acknowledge an experience as rape, she must change her conception of herself. The research shows why it is important for college women to avoid thinking of them­selves as victims.

The qualitative approach underscores the importance of the woman’s constructed social reality and her constructed place in that reality. There may be pressures operating to lead a rape victim to construe her rape ex­perience in such a way that it does not threaten the reality she has con­structed. Although it is possible for women to change their constructions of reality and the discourses to which they adhere, this process is not easy. For example, Walker et al. (1996) reported that even when they provided an alternative context and an opportunity to change the male sexual drive discourse, their efforts were not effective. Guba and Lincoln (1994) sug­gested that although constructions may change, such change is most likely to occur when individuals are exposed to different constructions and given the opportunity to compare and contrast them through social interaction. Because women are not likely to discuss their rape experiences with others, the opportunities to change their discourses or perceptions of social reality are limited. Furthermore, even when they do discuss such experiences with friends, these friends are likely to reinforce the dominant discourses iden­tified by Phillips (1996). Hence, the constructed reality that there is a natural progression leading to the man’s fulfillment of his sexual arousal despite the woman’s desire to avoid this is not likely to change, and women may feel pressure to interpret their rape experience to be consistent with this reality.


Both quantitative and qualitative research methods lead to the con­clusion that what constitutes rape for college women is complex, multiply determined, and complicated. Phillips (1996) and Walker et al. (1996) found this complexity in their participants’ conflicting discourses on what it means to be a good woman, the nature of sexual danger, and victimi­zation. Quantitative research comparing acknowledged and unacknowl­edged rape victims has identified several variables on which these groups differ. However, the extent to which these variables lead to rape acknowl­edgment or are by-products of how the woman labeled her experience is not clear. Because we cannot manipulate these variables systematically, causal relationships are difficult to establish.

Clearly, further research is needed to enhance the understanding of why some women do not label rape experiences as rape. From the quan­titative research perspective, there may be additional variables not yet identified that are important predictors of rape acknowledgment. New sta­tistical procedures also may be helpful. For example, larger samples of un­acknowledged and acknowledged rape victims would permit the use of so­phisticated statistical methods such as discriminant analysis or structural equation modeling. These statistical procedures could help researchers identify which variables are most important in predicting whether or not women would acknowledge their experiences as rape.

From a qualitative perspective, we need to expand our knowledge of the dominant discourses in our society, particularly of those dealing with relationships between women and men. Analyses of men’s dominant dis­courses and how their shared beliefs and values compare with those of women would be useful. This research could shed light on the reasons men engage in sexual intercourse after a woman has indicated she does not want to participate. Perhaps through research of this sort, women and men can come to share common dominant discourses about love, sex, and relation­ships such that all nonconsensual sex is acknowledged as rape.

‘We agree with АРА style in the use of the terms gay men and lesbians. However, most of the research reviewed in the meta-analysis used the terms homosexuality or homosexuals in the questions given to respondents. We therefore use those terms in order to reflect the content of the actual research questions.

[2] am assuming in my frequent use of the term our that both reader and writer come from the industrialized world, probably North America or Europe. Since situatedness is central to the argument of this chapter, it is imporant that both writer and reader acknowledge their own situatedness. I will refer to the idea of global culture as a new trend at some point, but a completely globalized culture is still some time away (although Coca-Cola and Elvis Presley seem to be everywhere already).

[3]A lengthier elaboration of these ideas would identify multiple sexological models arising from the various multidisciplinary perspectives. However, in this chapter 1 can only allude to such subtleties as it paints a picture of a framework that sorely needs feminist interrogation.

[4] Sex is a universal natural force, a product of evolution. This encourages the researcher to identify universal variables and cause and effect relationships.

2. Sex is “a material phenomenon which involves an extended series of physical, physiologic and psychologic changes [which] could be subjected to precise instrumental measure­ment if objectivity among scientists and public respect for scientific research allowed such laboratory investigation” (Kinsey, Pomeroy, & Martin, 1948, p. 157).

3. Biological factors such as hormones are a major source of sexual desire and explain changes at the time of puberty and changes in sexual desire with age and in response to illness.

4. There are important and natural differences between the

*The recent growth of evolutionary psychology with its heavy reiteration of the falseness of the nature—nurture dichotomy and its insistence on interaction makes the use of a word like determined seem old-fashioned (e. g., Allgeier &. Wiederman, 1994). Yet the prevailing sexological model does view biological variables as deterministic, and I am not yet persuaded that evolutionary psychology is not just window-dressing for biological determinism (Lewontin, 1992).

[6]The first college textbook I know of was by James L. McCary in 1963. Human Sexuality, (McCary, 1976). He was a long-term psychologist member of the American Association of Marriage and Family Counselors (founded in 1942).

’A subsequent volume used the same methods to study American women.

[8]By texts is meant not just textbooks that are studied in schools, but all forms of representation and discourse about sexuality, such as laws, novels, films, news articles, magazine features, advertising, art, popular music, hymnals, sermons, advice books, television, and so forth. Different types of sexual discourse, of course, will have significance for different audiences, and the more fragmented the culture the less uniform the sexual authority.

This study was supported by a National Institute of Mental Health B/START award and a University of Tennessee Professional Development Award to Deborah Welsh.


‘A number of Masters and Johnson’s (1966) findings reported in this chapter are discordant with others’ research. We believe that this is likely due to the problematic methods of sampling used by Masters and Johnson, which may yield a distorted view of female sexuality, as feminist critics have noted (Tiefer, 1991). In particular, participants in Masters and Johnson’s research were required to be well-functioning sexually; for women, this was operationalized as having the capacity to have orgasms through vaginal intercourse, which may characterize only a minority of women in the United States.

[12] A different method was used for data collection with fathers (telephone interview) than with mothers (face-to-face interview in the home). In pilot testing, many fathers expressed an unwillingness to participate in the lengthy face-to-face interviews to which their wives or partners committed and expressed a strong preference for a telephone interview. In the interests of maintaining a high response rate from fathers, then, we opted for telephone interviews for them.

[13]In order to maintain privacy and encourage honesty, interviewers were instructed to conduct the interview with only the woman in the room. Occasionally someone walked through the room, as recorded by interviewers in their notes, but in no case was a husband, other adult, or child above preschool age present in the room during the interview. Moreover, the sex questions were not administered or responded to orally (they were recorded by the woman on paper and sealed in an envelope before handing to the interviewer), further ensuring that responses would not be influenced by the presence of another person in the room.

[14] The primacy of intercourse—all men want is sex.

2. The availability of women—all women are sexually available to all men even when they pretend not to be.

3. The objectification of women—women exist to meet men’s needs, and are, or should be, passive.

[15]A number of metaphors could have been chosen. These four are particularly prominent. Analyses of portrayals of romance in magazines confirm the frequency with which men are portrayed as strong, masterful, confident, aggressive, and protective of women, whereas women are portrayed as domestic, weak, passive, and emotionally dependent (Smith & Matre, 1975). Thurston (1987) describes the classical romance novel as reflecting traditional power dynamics between women and men, and states that “the romance novel continues to reaffirm the domestic, subservient role of women in a patriarchal society” (p. 70). Even more contemporary romance novels that present “Cinderella as feisty female” or “Cinderella as virgin temptress” ultimately acquiesce to the patriarchal vision. “In fact, the heroine’s militant demands are cast as threats to her own and the hero’s happiness and security, and she is confronted and humbled repeatedly until she sees the error of her ways and embraces traditional male/fcmale complementarity as a relationship style. . . she is led gradually and forcefully by him to the realization that her attempts to assume power and to enjoy sexual freedom will bring her own ruin. In the end, she not only accepts his domination but rejoices in it” (Hubbard, 1985, p. 119). The complex links between sex and violence are explored in depth in a series of articles edited by Dines and Humez (1995) entitled “Modes of Sexual Representation T. Romance Novels and Slasher Films.” They state that “romance novels and slasher novels appear to have in common the presentation of women as passive victims of sadistic male victimizers. This is most obvious in the narrative formula of the slasher” (p. 162). They suggest that this remains the case because of readers’ actual gendered subjectivity, defined by race, class, and other social experiences, in spite of recent critiques suggesting multiple and complex interpretations of the text.


Although quantitative methods search for explanations, qualitative methods seek understanding (Comstock, 1994; Guba & Lincoln, 1994). Knowledge consists of consensus among informants regarding the meanings of their experiences. One method of gaining such knowledge is discourse analysis. Discourse refers to a “system of statements, practices and institu­tional structures that share common values” (Hare-Mustin, 1994, p. 19). People know what they know because they share common discourses about the nature of the world. A dominant discourse within a society defines what is true and why it is true. From this perspective, often referred to as social construction (Gergen, 1985; Schwandt, 1994), people construct the world around them by learning the meanings given by language, history, and culture. Discourse analysis, then, is a qualitative method of analyzing the themes that occur when people talk about how they define what has happened to them and why it happened. It is a means for understanding subjectivity, the construal process (Ross & Nisbett, 1991), or the way a person understands and interprets her world. Qualitative methods adhere to the position that in order to address problems of everyday life we must first understand the social situation (Comstock, 1994).

Although quantitative research on rape acknowledgment asked women about their own experiences, the participants were not free to tell their own stories in their own words. For example, although Kahn et al. (1994) asked participants to write their rape scripts, they did not allow for multiple scripts. The assumption was implicitly made that women have a single, dominant rape script. Likewise, Andreoli Mathie and Kahn (1995) asked participants what happened during and after their assault, but pro­vided them with categories and dimensions on which to make check marks; participants were not given the opportunity to use their own words, cate­gories, and dimensions. Furthermore, the data gathered about women’s experiences using a quantitative approach do not allow the researcher to see the context in which the assault occurred. The complexity of a woman’s actual rape experience is ignored when a single aspect of that experience, such as assailant force, is measured alone without taking into account the woman’s relationship with the man, her past relationships and experiences, her goals and fears, her beliefs and attitudes about men, women, love, and sex, and so much more that put her experience in context.

A growing body of research suggests women’s sexual experiences can­not be understood by looking at isolated categories and classifications of experience (e. g., Thompson, 1995; Tolman, 1994), and that methods such as discourse analysis may be superior to traditional empirical methods in psychology for understanding the complexities of women’s experiences, in­cluding sexual assault. Lynn Phillips (1995) recently conducted 2- to 5- hour in-depth interviews of 30 women college students to learn about their experiences with romance, sex, and violence. The participants were all self – defined feminists. All but a few participants had one or more experiences that would legally be considered rape, but none of them called themselves a rape victim. In other words, most of these women were unacknowledged victims. Through her interviews, Phillips extracted a number of dominant discourses these women possessed about sex, love, victimization, and gen­der. She found three interrelated themes: how to be a “good woman,” the nature of sexual danger, and the nature of victimization. For each theme she found two conflicting dominant discourses. These are listed in Ta­ble 6.

Phillips’ (1995) use of discourse analysis leads to a very different way of viewing the unacknowledged rape victim than is found with quantitative research. We quote her at length:


Themes and Dominant Discourses Relating to Sex, Love, Victimization, and Gender Found by Phillips (1995, 1996) in Her Interviews

With Women


Dominant Discourse


Good woman

Pleasing woman discourse

Liberated woman discourse

“A woman is feminine, virtuous, pleasing to men," which is in conflict with

“A woman is entitled to be sex­ual and to full equality in a re­lationship.”

Sexual danger

Normal vs. danger­ous sex dis­course

Male sexual drive discourse

“Normal sex and coercive, dan­gerous sex are completely different and clearly distinct,” which is in conflict with “Men possess an instinctive sexual drive that once aroused must be satisfied.”


Sex as victimization discourse

True victim dis­course

“Sex is inherently victimizing to girls and young women,” which is in conflict with “Real victims are virtuous, good girls who avoid danger and fight back assailants.”

Explaining their reluctance to consider themselves victims, the women pointed to the complicated circumstances surrounding their own ex­periences. Echoing the normal/danger dichotomy discourse and the true victim discourse, they suggested that “real” victimization was clear-cut, leaving their sometimes murky, and always contextualized, experiences somehow outside that category. While they were quite willing to de­scribe the pain, fear, and humiliation they endured, they stopped short of labeling their experiences, except to say that things “went badly.” Here we see an unexpected twist on the well-intentioned, popularized feminist notion that rape is about violence, not about sex. Since these women’s encounters were seldom simply about violence, they did not count them as real cases of victimization.

At the same time, confronted with the victim/agent dichotomy posed by the sex as victimization discourse, these women express a com­pelling dilemma: they can be either a victim or an active subject, but not both. Within the terms of this discourse, then, an acknowledgment of their victimization would require them to forfeit their “status” as an agent. Coming of age in an era where the liberated woman discourse tells them to be strong and autonomous, these young women place a premium on their ability to appear “together,” in control, and “grown up.” If victimization and agency are dichotomous, then naming them­selves as victims would represent a threat to their sense of self.

Thus, we see women’s reluctance to name personal victimization fueled by at least two inter-locking phenomena: 1) the need to preserve agency, encouraged by the liberated woman discourse; and 2) the lack of fit between their complex interactions on the one hand, and the sim­plicity presumed by both the normal/danger dichotomy discourse and the true victim discourse on the other. These two concerns come together dialectically to inform the woman’s thought process: their situations are complicated, so they must not be real victims. And as agents they cannot allow themselves to be framed as victims, so the complexities of their own experiences must preclude them from falling into that category. Viewed in light of their development into young womanhood in an individualistic society, the tendency to minimize one’s victimi­zation begins to make sense. Rather than representing an acceptance of male aggression, this tendency may be seen as a strategy for pre­serving a sense of self within a culture which seeks to oversimplify such complex phenomena as selfhood, gendered power, and sexual violence. (Phillips, 1996, pp. 10-13)

Walker, Gilbert, and Goss (1996) offered further evidence of the existence of the male sexual drive discourse. They found that men and women shared the common beliefs that men have uncontrollable sexual drives when they are aroused and women should acquiesce to the men’s needs. When role playing negotiating a date or sexual intimacy, these beliefs were common discourse themes. By making women feel obligated to fulfill men’s needs, the male sexual drive discourse may lead women to see themselves as ful­filling their role rather than seeing themselves as a victim of rape. Having the man continue his sexual advances through to intercourse may be viewed as the natural progression of events, rather than as a violation of the woman’s desires.

Summary of Quantitative Research

The quantitative research reported thus far suggests there are at least seven variables on which acknowledged and unacknowledged rape victims differ—the nature of her rape script, the amount of force experienced in nonrape sexual experiences, the amount of force used by the assailant in the rape, the amount of negative affect and feelings of victimization ex-

perienced during the rape, whether she used alcohol or drugs prior to the rape, the amount of negative affect experienced after the rape, and the influence of peers following the rape. Researchers examining these variables suggest the cognitions and experiences that a woman brings to the assault situation (rape script, previous sexual experiences, use of alcohol), the cog­nitions and experiences that occur during the assault (level of assailant force, amount of negative affect), and the cognitions and experiences that occur after the assault (amount of negative affect and behavioral disrup­tions, reaction of peers) are all likely to affect rape acknowledgment. Put­ting all of these variables together suggests the following composite of a rape victim who is likely to be an acknowledged victim. Thinking of rape as a violent assault committed by a stranger out of doors predisposes a woman to define her subsequent nonconsensual sexual intercourse with someone she knows as something other than rape. Her rape script and her sexual experience do not match. This discrepancy is heightened if she experienced little force in her nonassaultive sexual experiences as well as in the actual rape. Drinking alcohol and being intoxicated at the time of the incident are additional factors reducing the likelihood of labeling the incident as rape. Unacknowledgment is even more likely if she did not experience intense negative emotions at the time or subsequently, and if her peers suggested she was at least partially to blame for what happened.

On the other hand, acknowledged victims are more likely to think of rape in terms of an acquaintance, and to have experienced force in nonrape sexual situations. Their assailants were more likely to have used at least some level of force, and the victim was less likely to have been intoxicated. She was likely to have had intense negative emotional reac­tions both during and after the assault; and if she told her peers, they were likely to tell her she was not to blame.

Lise of Alcohol or Drugs

A situational variable that may influence rape acknowledgment is the use of alcohol or drugs. Richardson and Campbell (1982) found that when the victim was intoxicated, college student observers viewed her as more responsible for the rape than when she had not been drinking. Similarly, Abbey (1991) found that observers rated a woman more sexually available and responsive to sexual overtures when she had been drinking alcohol than when she had been drinking soda. These findings suggest that if the victim had been drinking at the time of the rape, she may be more inclined to see herself as responsible for what happened and be less likely to ac­knowledge the incident as rape. Results from the Andreoli Mathie and Kahn (1995) study lend some support to this logic. Significantly more unacknowledged victims reported they were impaired by alcohol or drugs during the incident (54-2%) than acknowledged victims (28%).

Reaction of Peers

As Festinger (1950) noted many years ago, other people help us define reality. This can also be true in defining an experience as acquaintance rape. If a woman tells her friends about an assault experience and they label the experience as rape, the victim will more likely acknowledge the experience as rape then if her friends say something like, “well, you shouldn’t have been in that place at that time.” Pitts and Schwartz (1993) presented evidence that peer reactions were a determinant of rape ac­knowledgement. In a sample of 288 women they found 19.3% of the re­spondents reported to have had an experience since entering college that would legally be classified as rape in Ohio. However, only 27% of these women acknowledged that they had been raped; 73% were unacknowl­edged. These participants were asked if they told anyone about the expe­rience, and if so, whether their friend helped them establish blame. Thir­teen participants mentioned that their friend helped them establish blame. All four of the victims who stated that their friend told them it was not their fault were acknowledged victims. All nine of the victims who stated that their friend held them at least partially responsible did not acknowl­edge victimization.

Counterfactual Thinking

Counterfactual thinking is another cognitive process that may lead women to not acknowledge their experience as rape. As applied to rape, counterfactual thinking would involve mentally changing or reconstructing the events that culminated in rape in such a way that something other than rape occurred (Kahneman & Miller, 1986; Kahneman & Tversky, 1982). Unusual or negative events, such as nonconsensual sexual inter­course, elicit more counterfactual thinking than mundane or positive events (Davis, Lehman, Wortman, Silver, & Thompson, 1995; Kahneman &. Miller, 1986; Kahneman & Tversky, 1982; Miller &. McFarland, 1986; Wells, Taylor, & Turtle, 1987) because alternatives, including more typical or desired outcomes, such as nonconsensual intercourse not occurring, can be readily brought to mind.

Andreoli Mathie and Kahn (1995) suggested that some rape victims may engage in upward counterfactual thinking (Markman, Gavanski, Sher­man, &. McMullen, 1993), and think about how they could have avoided


SES Items on Which Acknowledged Rape Victims had Signficantly Higher Levels of Endorsement Than Unacknowledged Victims

SES Item

Kahn et al. (1994)

Andreoli Mathie et al. (1994)

Andreoli Mathie & Kahn (1995)

Man misinterpreted sexual intimacy you desired




Man used force in kissing or petting




Man threatened force, but intercourse did not occur




Man used force, but inter­course did not occur




Man obtained sexual inter­course after you asserted no




Had sexual intercourse be­cause man threatened force




Had sexual intercourse be­cause man used force




Had anal or oral intercourse because of threat or ac­tual force




Note. NA = not asked; NS = not significant.

the rape or made it less traumatic (e. g., “If only I had not had so much to drink, this never would have happened”). Other victims may engage in downward counterfactual thinking, and think about how the situation could have been worse case (e. g., “At least he didn’t beat me up or it would have been worse”). Upward comparisons produce more intense neg­ative affect (Gleicher, Kost, Baker, Strathman, Richman, & Sherman, 1990; Johnson, 1986; Kahneman & Miller, 1986; Kahneman & Tversky, 1982; Landman, 1987; Miller &. McFarland, 1986; Wells et al., 1987), more feelings of deprivation and resentment (Folger, 1987; Folger, Rosenfleld, & Robinson, 1983; Hemphill & Lehman, 1991; Markman et al., 1993; Roese, 1994; Taylor, Buunk, &. Aspinwall, 1990), more regret and self-blame (Boninger, Gleicher, & Strathman, 1994), and poorer adjustment (Bulman & Wortman, 1977; Burgess & Holmstrom, 1979; Taylor, Wood, & Licht – man, 1983) than downward comparisons. However, upward comparisons also can provide information about how to change the situation in the future and this may make the person better prepared for and more hopeful about the future (Boninger et al., 1994; Roese, 1994; Taylor et al., 1990; Taylor & Schneider, 1989; Taylor et al., 1983).

Rape acknowledgment may also be influenced by whose behavior is changed in the counterfactuals, the victim’s own behavior or that of her assailant (Branscombe, Owen, Garstka, & Coleman, 1996; Miller &

McFarland, 1986; Wells & Gavanski, 1989). When participants imagined what a rape victim could have done (but did not do) to avoid rape (Bran – scombe et al., 1996) or to impose justice on the assailant (and hence make it better for her) (Nario-Redmond & Branscombe, 1996), they assigned a greater percentage of blame to the victim, saw her as more responsible, and perceived the situation as less serious than when a change in her behavior did not alter the outcome. Similarly, the more counterfactual thoughts rape victims had in which they changed their own behavior to avoid the rape, the more self-blame they reported (Branscombe et al., 1995). It appears that the more people think they could have changed their behavior to alter the outcome, the more they think they should have done so. This may be what leads to the guilt and self-blame (Miller, Turnbull, & McFarland, 1990).

Based on these findings, Andreoli Mathie and Kahn (1995) hypoth­esized that the more women engaged in upward counterfactual thinking, especially upward counterfactual thinking that altered the assailant’s be­havior, the more intense the negative feelings they would have about the incident, the less self-blame they would experience, and the more likely they would be to acknowledge their experience as rape. On the other hand, the more women engaged in downward counterfactual thinking, the less traumatized they would feel about the incident and the less likely they would be to acknowledge the situation as rape.

To examine what counterfactual thoughts victims had about the in­cident, they were asked in an open-ended question if they had replayed the event in their mind such that the outcome was better or worse, and if so, to list the thoughts they had. All counterfactual thoughts were coded by their direction (upward or downward) and whose behavior changed (victim, assailant, or other).

Our data provided little support for the importance of counterfactual thinking in rape acknowledgment. Acknowledged and unacknowledged victims did not differ on the total number of counterfactual thoughts or on the various types of counterfactual thoughts. The 56 women who listed their thoughts reported an average of 2.66 counterfactual thoughts, with a range of 0 to 8. However, almost all of these thoughts were upward and victim-focused counterfactuals (e. g., “if only I had done something differ­ent, things would have been better”). Forty-eight women reported one or more upward victim-focused counterfactuals (M = 2.13), eight women re­ported one, and one woman reported two upward assailant-focused coun­terfactuals. Only two women reported one downward victim-focused coun­terfactual, three women reported one, and two women reported four downward assailant-focused counterfactuals. There were no significant cor­relations between any of the types of counterfactual thoughts and the total affect, total self-blame, or total victimization scores.

Sexual Experiences

Although we had no prior hypotheses regarding sexual experiences and rape acknowledgment, in each of our studies (Andreoli Mathie et al., 1994; Andreoli Mathie & Kahn, 1995; Kahn et al., 1994) we examined whether acknowledged and unacknowledged victims differed in their re­sponses to each item of the SES, such as those who indicated consensual


Mean Reactions of Acknowledged and Unacknowledged Victims Following Their Assault





Felt guilt




Felt devastated




Kept thinking about incident




Was depressed




Felt angry




Had lowered self-esteem




Afraid of what others thought of me




More fearful of men




Saw world as scarier place




Difficulty relating with others




Had nightmares




Lost time from school or work




Had suicidal thoughts




Note. Multivariate F(13,59) = 4.79, p < .001. The higher the mean, the greater the reaction the woman experienced on a scale from 1 to 7.

sex, force during petting, and attempted rape. As can be seen in Table 5, acknowledged victims reported greater frequencies of sexual experiences involving force than unacknowledged victims in their nonrape experiences, including forced kissing and petting, and the threat or actual use of force when intercourse did not occur. Thus, compared with acknowledged vic­tims, unacknowledged victims appear to have had a less violent nonrape sexual history.

Affective Reactions to the Rape Experience

Some victims may not acknowledge that rape occurred because they did not have strong emotional reactions either during the assault itself, after the assault, or both. Acknowledged victims, on the other hand, may have experienced intense emotional reactions that helped them define their experience as rape. Research has shown that women who seek assis­tance from agencies following a rape report severe distress, fear, anxiety, depression, lowered self-esteem, and self-blame (Branscombe, Owen, & Al­lison, 1995; Janoff-Bulman, 1979; Janoff-Bulman & Timko, 1987; Koss, 1993; Koss & Burkhart, 1989). These reactions are reflective of posttrau­matic stress disorder (Rothbaum, Foa, Riggs, Murdock, &. Walsh, 1992) and often last for several months or years (Hanson, 1990; Resick, 1987). Women who seek help from rape crisis centers, social service agencies, or hospitals also tend to label their experience as rape (Pitts &. Schwartz, 1993). Thus, it appears that severe emotional reactions are associated with help-seeking behavior that in turn is associated with rape acknowledgment. We must be cautious, however, when drawing conclusions about the rela­tionship between severity of emotional reaction and rape acknowledgment based primarily on women who have sought help because there is a con­found that makes causal relationships difficult to assess. More specifically, compared with victims of acquaintance rape, victims of stranger rape are more likely to seek help or tell the police (Koss, Dinero, Seibel, & Cox, 1988; Pitts & Schwartz, 1993). Victims of stranger rape also tend to have experienced a more violent rape, feel more victimized, and are more likely to see their experience as rape (Koss et al., 1988). Thus, when using data from help seekers, it is difficult to determine whether it was their intense emotional reaction, the fact that the assailant was a stranger, or the higher level of violence that led these women to label their experience as rape.

To explore further the relationship between emotional reaction and rape acknowledgment, Andreoli Mathie and Kahn (1995) asked partici­pants to indicate from 1 (not at all) to 7 (a great deal) the extent to which they felt a number of emotions at the time of their rape experience. These emotions and the mean endorsement for acknowledged and unacknowl­edged victims are listed in Table 3. The items were later grouped into three categories—self-blame, feelings of victimization, and negative affect—and the items in each group were summed to provide scores for total self-blame, total victimization, and total negative affect. Table 3 shows that acknowl­edged victims reported experiencing greater feelings of victimization and more negative affect than unacknowledged victims. The two groups did not differ on their feelings of self-blame. Covariance analyses also revealed that differences in feelings of victimization and negative affect remained even when level of force, whether measured by the total weighted force score, the victim’s perceived level of force, or the victim’s weighted resis­tance score, was held constant. These findings suggest that acknowledged victims differed from unacknowledged victims in their emotional reaction, with more intense reactions predictive of rape acknowledgment.


Mean Affective Reactions of Acknowledged and Unacknowledged Rape Victims to Their Assault





Total Self-Blame
















Angry at Self








Total Victimized












Not Strong




Not in Control












Total Negative Affect




































Note. The higher the mean the more of the characteristic the women reported feeling on a scale of 1 to 7. For individual items, Multivariate F{23,47) = 2.13, p < .05. For composite scores, Multivariate F(3,68) = 7.90, p < .001.

A similar pattern of responses was found for the victims’ reactions following the assault. The items and the mean responses (on 7-point scales) for acknowledged and unacknowledged victims are shown in Table 4. Table 4 shows that acknowledged victims reported stronger and more negative reactions to their assault experience than did unacknowledged victims. Ac­knowledged victims not only reported feeling worse after the assault, but also reported more life disruptions (nightmares, lost time from work and school, and suicidal thoughts). It is not clear whether labeling their ex­perience as rape led to these negative reactions following the assault, or whether the negative emotional experience and life disruptions led these women to acknowledge their experience as rape.

Force and Resistance in the Rape Itself

Perhaps the most obvious explanation for the existence of unacknowl­edged rape victims lies in the nature of the assault itself. It is quite possible that those victims who acknowledge the assault as rape were subjected to a higher level of physical force or threatened physical force, or displayed a higher level of resistance. There is a sizable literature showing that the perceived amount of force and resistance are the most important factors in an observer’s decision as to whether or not a situation is rape (e. g., Bourque, 1989; Parrot, 1991). Perhaps the level of force and resistance are also de­terminants of whether a victim labels her own experience as rape.

Research on the relationship between force and rape acknowledgment has provided contradictory results. In Koss’s (1985) pioneering study, ac­knowledged victims did not differ from unacknowledged victims on of­fender verbal pressure, offender physical violence, type of force, degree of force, victim resistance, or clarity of nonconsent. However, Bondurant (1995) found that level of force was significantly related to rape acknowl­edgment. Sixty-two percent of women who experienced physical force ac­knowledged their experience as rape, whereas less than 10% of women who were intoxicated or threatened with force acknowledged their expe­rience as rape. Furthermore, when Bondurant examined various predictors of rape acknowledgment, she found that the perceived amount of assailant force accounted for more of the variance than any other factor. Bondurant’s acknowledged victims also reported engaging in greater resistance and suf­fering more physical harm than those who were unacknowledged.

Andreoli Mathie et al. (1994) asked rape victims to check one of four alternatives—“none,” “slight,” “moderate,” and “large”—in respond­ing to the question, “How much force did he use?” Acknowledged victims indicated experiencing a significantly greater level of assailant force than unacknowledged victims. More than 87% of the acknowledged victims indicated that either a moderate or large amount of force was used by the assailant, whereas only 28% of unacknowledged victims reported a mod­erate or large degree of force. This finding was replicated by Andreoli Ma­thie and Kahn (1995) who asked rape victims to respond on a 7-point scale to the question, “Overall, how much force did he use in this situa­tion?” Acknowledged victims perceived their experience as involving sig­nificantly more assailant force than did unacknowledged victims.

To explore more thoroughly differences in the amount of force ex­perienced by acknowledged and unacknowledged rape victims, Andreoli Mathie and Kahn (1995) asked participants to indicate the extent to which the man used verbal pressure, threatened physical harm, covered her mouth, held her down, twisted her body, pushed or shoved, scratched, slapped, hit, kicked, bit, choked, threatened use of a weapon, and actually used a weapon. Participants responded to each item on a 7-point scale ranging from 0 (“not at all”) to 6 (“a great deal”). A similar set of questions was asked regarding amount of victim resistance using the same response format to the stem, “What I did to resist,” and included tried to leave, tried to talk him out of it, verbally protested, tried to scream, screamed or shouted, verbally attacked him, pushed or shoved him, scratched him, slapped him, hit him, kicked him, bit him, tried to use a weapon, and used a weapon.

Overall, regardless of acknowledgment status, level of assailant force and victim resistance were quite low, typically between 0 and 1 on the 0— 6 scales. The only assailant force items for which the mean was greater than 3.0 were assailant’s use of verbal pressure (both acknowledged and unacknowledged victims) and being held down by the assailant (acknowl­edged victims only). The only items for which the mean for victim resis­tance was greater than 3.0 were for “tried to talk him out of it” (both acknowledged and unacknowledged victims) and “verbally protested” (both acknowledged and unacknowledged victims). These findings support the conclusions of Muehlenhard and Linton (1987) and Rapaport and Burkhart (1984) that most men gain nonconsensual sexual intercourse by simply ignoring the verbal protests of the woman and refusing to stop, rather than by using high levels of force.

Although the overall level of force was low, we found significant differences between acknowledged and unacknowledged victims in levels of assailant force for some assailant behaviors. Acknowledged victims re-


Percentage of Rape Victims Responding “Not at All” to Each of the

Resistance Items



Tried to leave


Tried to talk her way out of it


Verbally protested


Tried to scream but was unable to do so


Screamed or shouted


Verbally attacked or swore at him


Pushed or shoved him


Scratched him


Slapped him


Hit or punched him


Kicked him


Bit him


Tried to use a weapon


ported that the assailant was more likely to have used verbal pressure, threatened physical force, held her down, and pushed or shoved her than did unacknowledged victims. When all of the individual assailant force items were combined to form an overall measure of assailant force, ac­knowledged victims reported significantly more force than unacknowledged victims. Unlike the victims in Bondurant’s (1995) study, no significant differences were found between acknowledged and unacknowledged victims for level of victim resistance either on the individual items or on a com­posite score.

Although not found by Koss (1985) in her original study, the evi­dence seems clear from the more recent research that the amount of as­sailant force is an important factor in women acknowledging that they have been raped. Apparently, one way women know they have been raped is that their assailant used at least some minimal level of force. Although Bondurant (1995) found that acknowledged victims reported greater resis­tance to their assailant than unacknowledged victims, Andreoli Mathie and Kahn (1995) did not find a difference in victim resistance. Table 2 presents the percentage of rape victims (acknowledged and unacknowl­edged combined) from Andreoli Mathie and Kahn who responded “not at all” to each type of resistance. For the majority of these rape victims, resistance either did not occur or was limited to attempts to leave and verbal protests. The lack of resistance may have been due to the low levels of force used by their assailants.