Alleged Rape Perception and Function of Ambivalent Sexism
Faculty Mentor: Niwako Yamawaki, Psychology
The purpose of this study was to discover how a perceived power difference between rape victim
and perpetrator influence external observers’ rape perception, or more specifically, to investigate
the effects of a rapist’s power status on rape perceptions, such as minimization of the seriousness
of rape, blaming victim, and excusing the perpetrator. This study also explored the moderating
role of ambivalent sexism to explain the effects of power on rape perceptions.
It is vital to explore individual perceptions and attitudes toward rape, rape victims, and rapists,
including the role that power differences play because other studies found that other’s rape
perceptions are influenced by personal and situational characteristics of rape victims and
perpetrators (Ulman 1996). An important part of individual perceptions and attitudes towards
rape is ambivalent sexism, which is a fairly new area of study. Ambivalent sexism has been
found to be an ideology existing in many cultures, and its widespread effects are more harmful
than previously thought (Glick, Fliske, Mladinic, Saiz, Abrams, Masser, et all, 2000). Before this
project no study addressed the moderating effect of ambivalent sexism on rape incident when the
victim and the perpetrator have power differences.
We gave a total of 140 undergraduate students a questionnaire to complete containing two rape
scenarios, both of which were ambiguous. By using ambiguous scenarios, the participants must
essentially make conclusions from their own perceptions of what took place. This study used a
between-group design with two types of scenarios as the independent variables and minimization
of rape, blaming victim, excusing perpetrator, and recommended sentence as dependent
variables. Hostile power relations and benevolent sexism were selected as moderators to explain
the relationship between the independent variable and the dependent variables.
The next step was to statistically analyze the data, looking for correlations between perceived
power differences, rape minimization, victim blame, and excusing the perpetrator. In this way,
there were four significant findings. First, individuals who assume that women use sex to gain
power from men tend to minimize the incident. Second, the hostile power relation moderated
victim blame only in the powerful man scenario. Third, participants who scored high on hostile
power relations tended to believe that the alleged rapist held less responsibility. Fourth, female
participants tended to give longer sentence.
The writing and revising was a long and difficult process. Dr. Yamawaki completed the methods
and the result sections and under her supervision, a fellow student and I completed a literature
review and the introduction. The experiment resulted in what we expected, which was amazing
for me, because it gave me the opportunity to understand how a real research project runs and to
understand the importance of every research project.
We will be presenting a poster in the Division 35 program in the 2006 APA Convention in New
Orleans. There were over 115 proposals submitted to Division 35, so it is an honor to be included
in the limited programming hours available. Most of the money received from ORCA will be
used in this trip to New Orleans, which will take place in August 2006. We also wrote a journal
article about our project. The article has been accepted for publication in The Journal of Social
Psychology. It will come out in about six months. It has been a fulfilling experience to
participate in such an significant project.
Glick, P., Fiske, S. T., Mladinic, A., Saiz, J. L., Abrams, D., Masser, B., et all. (2000). Beyond
prejudice as simple antipathy: Hostile and benevolent sexism across cultures. Journal of
Personality and Social Psychology, 75(5),763-775)
Ulman, S. E. (1996). Social reactions, coping strategies, and self-blame attributions in
adjustment to sexual assault. Psychology of Women Quarlerly, 20, 505-526.