Effect of Victim Interpersonal Style, Rape Label, and Subject Sex On Attributions of Responsibility for Sexual Assault
The attribution of responsibility to a victim of rape for her own victimization has been noted in non-laboratory settings. The present study incorporated methodological refinements designed to increase victim blame over the usual low levels found in laboratory studies. The effects of victim's interpersonal style, experimenter-provided label of the incident as rape, and subjects' sex on attribution of responsibility to the victim of rape were investigated, using traditional questionnaire (AQ) data as well as spontaneous thought-listing data as dependent measures. Victim's style was manipulated by having an actress use the same script delivered in three different styles, that is, in a passive, assertive, and aggressive style. The vignette, in one of the three presentation styles, was presented to subjects on videotape, as an interview. Pilot testing revealed satisfactory discrimination between presentations. Subjects' interpersonal style, and history and likelihood of sexually assaulting or being sexually assaulted were assessed but discarded as potential covariates in the analysis of attribution of responsibility. The traditional questionnaire yielded three scales: characterological and behavioural blame of the victim, and blame of the man. The thought-listing yielded six measures of negative reaction to the women, and one measure of positive reaction to her. Results provided support for the rape-victim-blame phenomenon: Subjects blamed the victim more than they blamed the rapist. The label manipulation was not effective, but subjects differed independent of the label regarding their perception of the incident. Subjects' own labeling of the incident as rape increased victim blame on some measures and decreased it on others. Interpersonal style was generally non-salient, suggesting that interpersonal style is a dimension that exists more strongly in the theories of psychology than in the minds of subjects. Results regarding sex differences echoed the ambiguity of this variable in the victim blame literature generally. Subjects who had been victimized in the past tended to be more positive toward the victim, although they did not blame her less. Contrary to expectations,past perpetration or expected future perpetration of sexual assault did not result in greater victim blame. Results of this study were considered in light of a new theory of victim blame (McCaul, Veltum, Boyechko, & Crawford, 1990) that suggests rape need not be treated as a special instance in theories of attribution of responsibility. Results from the AQ scales supported the theory, but results from the thought-listing measures contradicted it. Contradictory findings suggested that rape must be considered as a unique type of event to be explained, and supported a feminist analysis that male/female socialization regarding sexuality affects reactions to sexual assault.