In the research literature, there are currently no clear and unified definitions for such terms as rape, sexual coercion, sexual assault, and sexual aggression. Instead, definitions of these terms vary widely across studies depending on the measurement technique that is used, and even legal definitions of the terms continue to vary between states.
The following section will review these terms as they are commonly used in both legal settings and research settings, noting some of the problems and controversies in this area. Legal Definitions On a national level, the Federal Bureau of Investigation FBI uses a very narrow definition of rape that includes only acts of physically forced sexual intercourse against a female that are reported to the police FBI, For example, a report by the U.
Though the federal rape statute is quite restrictive, rape laws vary by state such that a broader range of behaviors meets the legal definition of rape in most states. In addition to rape, there are several other categories of sexual offenses defined by state and national laws, such as statutory rape, sexual battery, sexual abuse, coercion and enticement, indecent exposure, and several others an overview of U. It is important to note that many researchers include attempted rape in their definitions of rape, with attempted rape defined as penetrative sexual acts attempted but not completed through force, 5 threat of force, or when the victim is incapable of consent e.
Not surprisingly, rape prevalence estimates differ markedly between studies that include attempted rape in the definition of rape and those studies that report only completed rape statistics. In an effort to be as clear and accurate as possible in the current project, attempted rape and completed rape will be discussed separately whenever possible.
Sexual coercion is a broader term used in the research literature that may include completed rape experiences but also refers to other penetrative sexual experiences oral, anal, or vaginal sex that are obtained through verbal pressure or coercion, but do not meet the more rigid requirements for rape e.
Not all researchers clearly distinguish between rape, sexual coercion, and sexual assault, making it difficult to accurately document the prevalence of sexual coercion across studies. Finally, sexual assault and sexual aggression are often used interchangeably in the research literature and are the most inclusive terms. These terms include a range of unwanted sexual acts that also include sexual coercion, attempted rape, and completed rape.
Recently Abbey et al. In general, sexual assault has been viewed along a continuum of severity, ranging from the least intrusive of unwanted sexual acts, such as unwanted kissing or unwanted sexual contact, up to the most intrusive and severe of acts, such as forcible rape Koss et al.
Thus, sexual aggression has largely been considered a gender-based crime that occurs in a socio-cultural context that enables and even promotes violence against women Koss et al. Male perpetrated sexual assault is the form of assault considered in the following project, although the intention is not to minimize the detrimental effects of female perpetrated sexual assault or male victimization.
Further, the focus of this project is on sexual assault perpetrated against adolescents and adults and not children. Notably, sexual assault differs from child sexual abuse primarily because of the age at which the act occurs, although there is some overlap of terms in the adolescent time period. Specifically, child sexual abuse typically refers to sexually aggressive acts occurring when the victim is younger than the age of 18 e.
Finkelhor, or 14 e. However, definitions of sexual assault almost always include acts occurring in adolescence or later, typically when the victims is over the age of 14 e. Some differences have been noted in the victimization experience and outcomes of child sexual abuse versus adolescent or adult sexual assault among women. For the purposes of the current 7 project, the remaining literature review will focus primarily on adolescent and adult sexual assault.
In fact, women fear rape more than robbery, murder, and assault Warr, Indeed, violence against women is a serious social problem that jeopardizes the health and safety of women worldwide for reviews, see Campbell, ; Koss et al.
Negative Implications of Sexual Assault Sexual assault is associated with a spectrum of negative psychological and physical outcomes for victims.
Sexually assaulted women also have higher rates of 9 substance use problems than non-assaulted women Kilpatrick et al. There is currently no definitive way answer this question due to a convergence of factors. Further, there is a relative scarcity of nationally representative samples. As will be noted in the abbreviated review of these literatures that follows, great variability in prevalence estimates exists across samples and the literature on men generally lags behind that of women.
Although this early study clearly indicated sexual assault was a pervasive problem, the first rigorous prevalence study among a representative sample of women was not conducted for another two and a half decades after this first work was published Russell, Such statistics highlighted the pervasiveness of sexual assault and brought national media attention to the issue.
Following the groundbreaking work of Russell , sexual assault research exploded in the s e. Importantly, by the late s, Koss et al. In this impressive survey of 3, women and 2, men from 32 universities across the country, Koss et al. Since the Russell and Koss et al. When the item Sexual Experience Scale Koss et al. However, the rates of sexual assault victimization also range widely between studies. In recent years, extensive debates over the proper definitions and methodologies for assessing sexual assault prevalence have been published in scholarly and popular press outlets e.
Such debates suggest that research methodology can account for a significant portion of the observed discrepancy in prevalence estimates. A thorough analysis of such controversy is beyond the scope of the current project. It is sufficient to say, with few exceptions, the empirical evidence among samples of women suggests sexual assault is a social problem of epidemic proportions. A review of studies of sexual assault from the s thru the s found four times as many articles providing rape victimization statistics for women than rape perpetration statistics for men 13 Spitzberg, Further, whereas there are more than 20 published studies with samples of U.
Finally, whereas there are several large scale, nationally representative samples documenting sexual assault victimization rates among women in community and university settings Brener et al. Importantly, a recent U.
Bureau of the Census, , suggesting research on sexual assault to date has neglected studying a very large percentage of men. Community samples are absolutely necessary at this time to ensure that we understand the full extent of sexual aggression. There are several possible reasons for the relative paucity of research among men compared to women.
One likely methodological reason is a concern that men will underestimate sexual assault perpetration, as sexual assault is not a socially appropriate behavior to admit in 2 Additional studies have been published with samples of community men that focus on child sexual abuse perpetration, though these are beyond the scope of the current project.
In one large-scale review, Spitzberg aggregated rape perpetration and victimization prevalence statistics across samples and over , participants and found that 4. Although it is possible that a small minority of men are committing the large majority of sexual assaults, it is equally plausible that some men do not acknowledge their own undesirable behavior.
A third possibility is that women over-report their sexual assault experiences, although the continued stigma associated with rape makes it likely women actually underestimate sexual assault, not overestimate it for discussions, see Koss, ; Koss et al.
In addition to the aforementioned methodological rational for a heavier research emphasis on women instead of men, there is also a possible cultural explanation for the research imbalance. Specifically, one cultural explanation for the research focus on victims instead of perpetrators is that we currently live in a patriarchical cultural climate that legitimizes sexual assault, places the onus on women to prevent sexual assault, and then blames the victim if she is not able to prevent her own misfortune cf.
Regardless of the reasons for the paucity of research with men, a review and analysis of this limited literature is presented next. Empirical research on sexual assault perpetration with samples of men got its start in the s.