Whether a woman has been raped or not and whether she perceives her experience as rape are usually determined by her responses to the Sex­ual Experiences Survey (SES) (Koss & Oros, 1982). In completing the SES a respondent anonymously checks either yes or no to a variety of sexual experiences. Some of these experiences are not rape, some are attempted rape, and some would be classified as rape under almost all state laws. At some other point the respondent is asked to respond yes or no to the direct question, “Have you ever been raped by a man?” Based on responses to these questions, participants can be classified as nonvictims, acknowledged rape victims, and unacknowledged rape victims.

The results from a number of surveys have demonstrated with re­markable consistency that many women do not acknowledge their rape experience as rape. In her initial study of the hidden rape victim, Koss (1985) found that 33% of college women indicated that they had engaged in sexual intercourse when they didn’t wish to, and 12.7% of the sample responded yes to at least one of the SES questions indicating they had experienced sexual intercourse with force or threat of force. Of these women who had experienced a situation that could be classified as rape, 43% were unacknowledged or hidden victims, responding no to the ques­tion directly asking if they had ever been raped.

Using a modified version of the SES we found a consistent pattern of results regarding rape and rape acknowledgment, which are summarized in Table 1 (Andreoli Mathie et al., 1994; Andreoli Mathie & Kahn, 1995; Kahn et al., 1994). In the two studies in which participants included women at all levels of their college undergraduate careers, almost one fourth had an experience that would legally be considered rape (Andreoli Mathie & Kahn, 1995; Kahn et al., 1994). In a third study, in which the

TABLE 1

Percentages of Rape Victims, Acquaintance Rape Victims, and Unacknowledged Rape Victims Across Three Studies

Study

Total N

N and % victims

N and

% unacknowledged victims

N and

% acquaintance rape

Kahn et al. (1994)

198

46

22

45

23.2%

47.8%

97.8%

Andreoli Mathie et

222

34

19

32

al. (1994)

15.3%

55.9%

97.0%a

Andreoli Mathie &

307

74

48

69

Kahn (1995)

24.1%

64.9%

97.2%b

aBased on 33 participants who responded to this item.

°Based on 71 participants who identified the relationship between the assailant and victim.

percentage was slightly lower (15.3%), most of the participants were first – semester college students. The percentage of unacknowledged victims was quite high, ranging from 47.8% to 64-9%. Table 1 also reveals that almost all the rape victims were the victim of an acquaintance rape, with the percentage of acquaintance rapes ranging from 97% to 97.8%. The few victims of stranger rape were all acknowledged victims. In other words, lack of acknowledgment that her experience was rape only occurred when the victim knew her assailant. Across the three studies, we have discovered 154 rape victims. Of these, 146 were known victims of acquaintance rape, and only 4 were known to be victims of stranger rape. Eighty-nine of the rape victims (57.8%) did not believe they had been raped.

Confirmation of this high level of victim unacknowledgment comes from Bondurant (1995) and Pitts and Schwartz (1993). Bondurant found that out of a sample of 109 college women rape victims identified by re­sponses to the SES, 64% of them were unacknowledged victims. Likewise, Pitts and Schwartz (1993), using an instrument similar to the SES, found that in a sample of 288 college women, 19.3% had an experience since beginning college that would legally be considered rape. However, of those women who had been raped, 73% of them were unacknowledged. Finally, Phillips (1996), in interviews with 30 college students, found that 27 of the 30 women reported experiences that fit legal definitions of rape, sexual harassment, or battering. Yet none of these women considered themselves to have been raped or to have been a victim.

Why is there such a high proportion of unacknowledged rape victims? This question is not just of academic interest. If a woman does not ac­knowledge that a rape has occurred, she will not report the incident and the assailant will not be punished. It is quite likely the assailant will engage in additional sexual assaults on the same or other women. If we are to eliminate or reduce the frequency of rape, it is critical that both women and men recognize rape when it occurs. In this chapter we review research on rape acknowledgment from two research perspectives: quantitative methods using the perspective of logical positivism, and qualitative meth­ods such as discourse analysis using a social constructionism perspective. After presenting a summary of the methods used and the results, we com­pare the two methods in terms of their usefulness for understanding the unacknowledged rape victim.