Social norms for sexual violence perpetration in college

Published date09 October 2017
Date09 October 2017
AuthorChristine Louise Hackman,Tricia Witte,Marissa Greenband
Subject MatterHealth & social care,Criminology & forensic psychology,Aggression, conflict & peace,Sociology,Gender studies,Gender violence,Political sociology, policy & social change,Social conflicts,War/peace
Social norms for sexual violence
perpetration in college
Christine Louise Hackman, Tricia Witte and Marissa Greenband
Purpose Sexual violence (SV) is a pervasive public health issue on college campuses. While much research
has been conducted to determine factors contributing to SV, little work focuses on the role of perceived social
norms. The purpose of this paper is to examine college studentsperceived descriptive norms for SV
perpetration (i.e. prevalence estimates for SV).
Design/methodology/approach Using a cross-sectional survey, male and female college students from
a large public institution in the Southeastern USA were instructed to estimate the prevalence of SV for typical
studentsof their same gender on campus.
Findings When compared to actual prevalence rates of SV perpetrated by females and males, both
perpetrators and non-perpetrators overestimated the prevalence of SV among same-sex peers, but
perpetrators made even higher estimates compared to those made by non-perpetrators for some
sexually aggressive acts. Results demonstrate strong and consistent normative misperceptions surrounding
SV perpetration.
Research limitations/implications Findings lend support for testing social norms-based prevention
programs for SV on college campuses.
Originality/value This study is one of the first investigations into perceived social norms surrounding SV;
perceived social norms may be an influential factor contributing to SV.
Keywords United States, Sexual violence, Social norms, Sexual assault, College student, Perpetration
Paper type Research paper
Sexual violence (SV) is a major public health issue on college campuses, as it is associated with
lastingnegative physical,mental, and social outcomes. Victimization cannegatively impactphysical
(Linden, 2011), behavioral (Gidycz et al., 2008), mental (Walker et al., 2005), economic (Loya, 2015),
social ( Jewkes et al., 2002), and academic (Eisenberg et al., 2009) short- and long-term outcomes
in college students. At least one-fourth to one-fifth of college females report being the victim of SV
while attending college (Cleere and Lynn, 2013; Karjane et al., 2005), and between 18 and
31 percent of college males report past-year victimization (Palmer et al., 2010). When examining
perpetration rates, preliminary research has shownthat approximately 6 percent of women report
having engaged in sexually coercive behavior (Palmer et al., 2010) and approximately 25 to
34 percentof college men report having committedSV, with 8 percent reporting havingcommitted
rape or attempted rape (Koss and Dinero, 1988; Spitzberg, 1999; White and Smith, 2004). Other
studies using the Sexual Experiences Survey (SES; Koss et al., 2007) report lower rates of S V
perpetration. For example, a study by Testa et al. (2015) reported 6 percent of male participants
indicating atleast one form of SV perpetration while at college using the SES.
There are severaltactics that perpetratorsuse to carry out SV, includingsexual coercion, threats of
or use of physical force, and incapacitation through alcohol or drugs (Abbey et al.,2004;
Koss et al., 2007). Sexual coercion occurs when continual verbal pressure is applied by a
perpetrator in order to obtain sexual acts from a victim (Koss et al., 2007). About 30 percent
of both male and female collegestudents report experiencing sexual coercion (Chan et al.,2008;
Gross et al.,2006). Although less common,the threat and use of physicalforce is reported in about
5 percent of victims (Krebs et al., 2009). Incapacitation of victims by use of alcohol or drugs is
extremely common, especially in SV among college students (Mohler-Kuo et al.,2004).
Received 28 December 2016
Revised 10 March 2017
Accepted 17 April 2017
Christine Louise Hackman is an
Assistant Professor at
California Polytechnic State
University, San Luis Obispo,
California, USA.
Tricia Witte is an Associate
Professor at the University of
Alabama, Tuscaloosa,
Alabama, USA.
Marissa Greenband is a
Student at California
Polytechnic State University,
San Luis Obispo,
California, USA.
DOI 10.1108/JACPR-12-2016-0266 VOL. 9 NO. 4 2017, pp.305-313, © Emerald Publishing Limited, ISSN 1759-6599

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