A recent study found that, if guaranteed that there would be no consequences, one-third of college males admit that they would force a woman to have sex with them.
Published in the journal Violence and Gender, the study, conducted by Sarah R. Edwards of the University of North Dakota, asked questions meant to gauge attitudes towards women and sexual assault. When asked outright if they would rape a woman, 13.6 percent of those who participated said that they would, while replacing the word “rape” with its definition revealed that 32 percent would do so.
Further examination showed that men who said that they would rape a woman if there were no consequences displayed open hostility towards women, believing them to be deceitful or manipulative.
Those who said they would rape if the question was rephrased to exclude the word “rape” itself were found to “objectify women and expect men to exhibit sexual dominance,” beliefs that the study filed under “sexual callousness.” The men were described as “hyper-masculine,” believing that aggressive sexual behavior was normal of men.
“Those people that do say that they might use force to have sex with someone, but they wouldn’t call it rape, they seem to exhibit high levels of callous sexual attitudes and almost the opposite of hostility,” says Edwards in a Newsweek interview.
The study admits that this is preliminary research as the sample group was limited demographically, consisting of only 73 white, heterosexual men. To reach definite conclusions, a larger sample is needed.
Despite this, psychologist David Lisak believes that the study accurately indicates that sexual callousness must be addressed in campus rape prevention programs.
“When you assess male college students, you will find some very, very troubling attitudes and beliefs,” says Lisak. “Regardless of whether or not these contribute directly to sexual coercion….challenging them and addressing them and educating students about them is absolutely critical.”
Rachel DiBella, Assistant Director of Boston College’s Women’s Center, says BC educators are doing just that.
“We want to address individual incidents alongside addressing these problematic cultural attitudes that exist all around us,” says DiBella. “We know that not only do certain callous attitudes that we see in the media, that we see on social media across the country reinforce that kind of camouflaged sexual violence, but it also is really disenfranchising for survivors to hear these kinds of attitudes.”
Andrea Giancarlo, CSOM'15 and Lead Trainer in the Bystander Intervention Program, says these attitudes don't consider the effect sexual assault has on victims.
“I doubt if the study had asked the same question for murder the results would have been so high, mostly because the effect on the other person is not something anyone would want to live with,” said Giancarlo.“People often overlook that sexual assault debilitates the survivor emotionally and psychologically, often physically, for the rest of his/her life.”
DiBella specifically points out Bystander Intervention, saying that it is “something that, by the end of this year, we will have engaged every first-year student in.” She advocates for students to “debunk the social misconception” that objectifying and callous remarks towards women and assault are acceptable by speaking out against them.
The program, run by the Women’s Center, encourages speaking out to prevent sexual assault and stresses “the importance of prosocial bystander behaviors.” Presentations are run by students and discuss what sexual assault is as well as how it can be combatted by peers.
“As with all education, it's important to start with the building blocks of definitions. The same is true with rape education and because often people aren't getting this information in other ways, it's especially important to establish definitions,” states Giancarlo.
“In the Bystander presentation, we address the important definitions of rape, sexual assault, stalking, intimate partner violence and consent early on in the presentation in hope of dispelling any misconceptions on what any of those are.”
“Now, I’m very clear that I don’t believe that somebody who might engage in some of that language or some of these callous attitudes necessarily is somebody who is committing assault on campus,” DiBella explains. “I think that larger cultural piece makes us all responsible for shifting the culture.”