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Impact of individual-level characteristics on perceptions of problematic sexual encounters

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Thesis type
(Thesis) Ph.D.
Date created
Rates of sexual assault remain high across university settings despite increased efforts to combat this phenomenon. This project fills a gap in the existing literature by examining how situation-specific variables (i.e. alcohol consumption by and degree of familiarity between individuals) and individual-level factors (i.e., attitudes regarding sexual instrumentality and permissiveness, rape myths, trait token resistance, history of sexual victimization and sexual perpetration) relate to ongoing third-party perceptions of a sexual scenario. The current study used a vignette methodology to portray the dynamic nature of a sexual interaction between a man and a woman that began innocently but escalated to problematic behavior by the man and finally to sexual assault. At eight points in the interaction, a sample of university students (n = 350) reported their perceptions of comfort, safety, consent, and reportability of scenario. They further indicated the extent to which the scenario represented instances of sexual harassment, sexual assault, and state-based female token resistance. As the vignette's sexual interaction became increasingly problematic, participants reported declining perceptions of comfort, safety, and state-based female token resistance, and they were more likely to characterize the interaction as lacking consent, being worthy of reporting, and involving sexual harassment and sexual assault. An analysis of situational variables within the vignette revealed no significant associations between vignette perceptions and alcohol consumption by or degree of familiarity between characters. For individual-level factors, lower rape myth acceptance was associated with identifying the interaction as lacking consent, being worthy of reporting, and as both sexual harassment and sexual assault. Trait token resistance was also related to perceptions of comfort, safety, and state-based female token resistance. These findings add to the growing literature on university sexual assault by demonstrating that third-party perceptions of sexually problematic vignettes manifest differentially among participants based on individual-level factors but not situational variables.
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Supervisor or Senior Supervisor
Thesis advisor: Hart, Stephen D.
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