1 article(s) will be saved. To save, please use your browser's save option. Be sure to save as a plain text file (.txt) or an HTML file.

Record: 15
Title: Adolescent attitudes about rape.
Subject(s): RAPE; TEENAGERS -- Attitudes
Source: Adolescence, Spring96, Vol. 31 Issue 121, p29, 5p, 1 chart
Author(s): Kershner, Ruth
Abstract: Examines adolescent attitudes about rape in order to develop curricular materials. Exhibition of conservative attitudes about gender roles, general rape myths and victim issues; Examination of common rape myths; Misconceptions about court processes and victims.
AN: 9603250051
ISSN: 0001-8449
Full Text Word Count: 1941
Database: Academic Search Premier


A very significant problem in society is adolescent rape victimization and the growing number of adolescent perpetrators. This paper examines adolescent attitudes about rape in order to develop curricular materials. It is found that adolescents exhibit conservative attitudes about gender roles, general rape myths, and victim issues.


Study after study have demonstrated the vulnerability of young women to rape. Not only are they at risk for stranger rape, but rape within the context of dating (Ageton, 1983; Krasner, Meyer, & Carroll, 1976; Muehlenhard, & Linton, 1987; Warshaw, 1988).

Unfortunately, young women are least likely to contact law enforcement agencies; even so, the numbers are troubling (Violence Against Women: The Increase of Rape, 1990). Between 1973 and 1987, 11% of female victims were deemed to be between the ages of 12 and 15, while 25% were 16 to 19 (Crime of Rape, 1985). Youth Indicators (1991) indicated that 1.9 rapes occurred per 1,000 girls of ages 16 to 19.

Research findings support governmental studies. Walmsley and White (1979) found that 24.3% of rape/attempted rape victims were between 13 and 15. Other studies with similar findings include Medea and Thompson's (1974), where 8% of victims were under age 15, 20% were between 15 and 17, and 23% were 17 to 18. Hall and Flannery (1984) conducted a telephone survey of 508 Milwaukee adolescents in which 12% of the females and 2% of the males reported a sexual assault. In another study of 122 adolescent victims, 45 were between ages 12 to 14; the remaining 77 were ages 15 to 17 (Mann, 1981).

A large number of rape offenders are adolescents. Males between the ages of 12 to 20 were involved in 17% of single-offender rapes for the years 1973-1982 (Crime of Rape, 1985). There was no respite to this trend in the ensuing years. Statistics for years 1979 to 1987 reveal that youths 20 years of age and younger were responsible for 18% of single-offender and 30% of multiple-offender rapes (Female Victims of Violent Crime, 1991). The FBI reports a 3% increase in adult sexual offenders, but the greatest rise in arrested offenders is for adolescent males (Ingrassia, Annin, Biddle, & Miller, 1993),

What do young people believe about rape? Much of our information comes from college-age students. Coercive sex is complicated by the fact that perpetrators and victims are often not cognizant of what constitutes assault (Copenhauer & Graverholz, 1991; Miller & Marshall, 1987; Peterson & Franzese, 1987). Evaluation of adolescent attitudes about rape reveal some illuminating findings. Forced intercourse was considered acceptable by a significant number of both adolescent males and females in certain situations (Felty, Ainslie, & Geib, 1991; Giarusso, Johnson, Goodchilds, & Zellman, 1979; Ogletree, Kupecz, & La-Cursia, 1993). The relationship between victim blaming and adherence to rape myths is also of note in the adolescent population (Blumberg & Lester, 1991). Additionally, an element of male dominance, the perception of females as sex objects, and the negation of acquaintance rape as sexual assault has also been ascertained in our youth (Hall, Howard, & Boezio, 1986).


The present study was initiated to serve as a basis for curriculum development germane to rape prevention. Construction of the survey instrument began with a literature review from which 65 items were extrapolated. Three parents evaluated the items for offensive and/or questionable terminology specific to adolescents. Four adolescents assessed the items for readability.

The original test pool was sent to a review panel. The judges included high school health teachers, school counselors, a physician who works with rape victims, and rape crisis-center coordinators. The judges were asked to evaluate the items for content, clarity, readability, and appropriateness for the adolescent population. The revised scale contained 25 items.

The survey instrument was administered to six health education classes at a high school in northern West Virginia in which 154 students (ages 14-19) were enrolled. Parental permission was obtained for 146 students to participate. On the day of administration, 13 students were absent, and 11 students were not included because of missing data, resulting in 122 participants with completed instruments.


Of the 25 items, one was eliminated because it was found to have a negative item-to-total correlation: "Our society usually does not tolerate violence against women." Split-half correlation was found to be .77 with a coefficient alpha of .80, indicating good internal consistency. Responses to the survey instrument items ranged from one to five with a higher score indicating less conservative attitudes about rape. Mean score collectively was 82.77 (S10.63). A certain amount of ambiguity can be assumed for items with scores of less than 4.0. These students obviously were not uncomfortable with the notion of girls asking boys out on dates, but other gender questions (#1, #4, #5, #18, and #20) elicited some confusion concerning male and female roles and perceptions.

A number of common rape myths were examined. The students did not view the rapist as necessarily a person with a criminal history, perhaps because of increased media attention to the problem of date/ acquaintance rape. Interestingly, most students disagreed with the notion that women can fight off a rapist, yet did adhere to myths about stranger rape (#8), pregnancy (#9), male rape (#24). and sexual needs of rapists (#3). Unfortunately, most confusion is related to female responsibility for rape such as manner of dress (#12), rape fantasy (#6), and provocation (#23).

Victims of rape are often subject to intense scrutiny by society. This holds true for the adolescent population in this study. These students adhered to common misconceptions about court processes and victims, specifically sexual history (#15), victim responsibility (#11), and prosecution realities (#9 and #17). The status of the victim is also in question (#7 and #10). Rape victims have been found to suffer from myriad physical and emotional traumas (Burgess & Holmstrom, 1979). Students may not be aware of the rape reaction process as indicated by responses to items 13 and 21.


A number of implications for development of a rape prevention curriculum can be determined from this preliminary study. Obviously, it is not enough to educate only young women in prevention strategies. Doing so would perpetuate the notion of female responsibility for avoiding rape victimization (Felty et al., 1991; Freeing Our Lives, 1978). Additionally, since a growing number of rape perpetrators are male, the curriculum must include adolescent boys.

By addressing the sociocultural aspects of rape, students may learn to identify what constitutes exploitive nonconsensual sex, reject commonly held myths about rape and victims, and begin to adopt egalitarian belief systems that may decrease the incidence of rape.

Legend for Chart:

A - Item
B - Strongly Disagree/Disagree %
C - Undecided %
D - Strongly Agree/Agree %
E - -- X
F - S

            A                       B      C      D   E       F

1. Generally, women should
   not be out alone at night.       22     30    48   2.70  1.40

2. Rapists usually have a
   history of criminal
   behavior.                        65     31     4   4.00   .94

3. Rapists have a greater
   need for sex than
   other people.                    54     24    22   3.52  1.22

4. Women are often portrayed
   as sex objects in the
   media.[a]                        22     30    48   2.72   .97

5. The main role of a wife
   is to take care of
   her husband.                     39     20    42   2.98  1.19

6. Most women fantasize
   about being raped
   by a man.                        15     33    52   2.52  1.09

7. It is easier for a roamed
   woman, than a single woman,
   to get over being raped.         22     29    50   2.72  1.01

8. Stranger rape is a more
   serious crime than
   date rape.                       54     29    17   3.67  1.25

9. A rape victim should
   actively resist throughout
   an attack.                       15     30    55   2.49   .92

10. Raping a virgin is more
    serious than raping someone
    who is not a virgin.            57     33    10   3.72   .97

11. In most cases, the rape
    victim shares some of the
    responsibility for the
    attack.                         65     25    10   3.88  1.03

12. Some girls encourage
    rape just by the way
    they dress.                     27     27    46   2.87  1.16

13. The best way to get over
    being raped is to avoid
    thinking about it.              13     42    45   2.63   .82

14. A woman will fight off
    a man if she really wants
    to avoid being raped.           86      8     6   4.30   .93

15. A victim's sexual history
    should not be made public
    during a rape trial.[a]         18     50    33   2.82   .82

16. It is easier to believe a
    physically injured rape
    victim than one who has
    no injuries.                    79     14     7   4.11   .93

17. The victim should be required
    to prove his/her innocence
    during a rape trial.            32     34    35   3.03  1.04

18. The best relationships
    are those in which the
    man is in control.              59     29    12   3.62   .94

19. Many girls falsely report
    rape if they are facing an
    unwanted pregnancy.             42     27    31   3.23  1.20

20. Strong men do not cry.          63     16    21   3.57  1.21

21. Victims of rape react
    in a similar manner.            49     43     9   3.58   .93

22. Girls should not ask
    boys out on dates.              77     19     4   4.29   .94

23. Some women provoke men
    into raping them.               26     22    53   2.63   .82

24. Most men who are
    raped are gay.                  62     21    17   3.77  1.20

a reverse scored

Some percentages exceed 100 because of rounding.

Response indicative of less conservative attitudes about rape: Disagree for all except for #4 and #15.


Ageton, S. (1983). Sexual assault among adolescents. Lexington, MA: Lexington Books.

Blumberg, M. L., & Lester, D. (1991). High school and college students' attitudes toward rape. Adolescence, 26(103), 727-729.

Burgess, A. W., & Holmstrom, L. (1979). Rape: Crisis and recovery. Bowie, MD: Brady.

Copenhauer, S., & Graverholz, E. (1991). Sexual victimization among sorority women: Exploring the link between sexual violence and institutional practices. Sex Roles, 24, 31-41.

Crime of Rape. (1985). Washington, DC: U.S. Department of Justice (NJC Publication 966777).

Felty, K., Ainslie, J. J. & Geib (1991). Sexual coercion attitudes among high school students. Youth and Society, 23(2), 229-250.

Hall, E. R., Howard, J. A., & Boezio, S. L. (1986). Tolerance of rape: A sexist or antisocial attitude? Psychology of Women Quarterly, 10, 101-118.

Ingrassia, M., Annin, P., Biddie, N. A., & Miller, S. (1993, July 19). Life means nothing. Newsweek, 16-17.

Krasner, W., Meyer, L. C., & Carroll, N. E. (1976). Victims of rape. (Stock No. 17-024-00683-1). Rockville, MD: National Institute of Mental Health.

Mann, E. M. (1981). Self-reported stressors of adolescent rape victims. Journal of Adolescent Health Care, 2, 29-33.

Medea, A., & Thompson, K. (1974). Against rape. New York: Farrar, Straus & Giroux.

Miller, B., & Marshall, J. C. (1987). Coercive sex on the university campus. Journal of College Student Personnel, 28(1), 38-47.

Muehlenhard, C. L, & Linton, M. (1987). Date rape and sexual aggression in dating situations: incidence and risk factors: Journal of Consulting Psychology, 34, 186-196.

Ogletree, R. J., Kupecz, K. A., & LaCursia, N. L. (1993, March). The impact of sexual coercion unit on adolescents' knowledge and attitudes. Washington, DC: Paper presented at the annual conference of the Alliance for Health, Physical Education, Recreation, and Dance.

Peterson, S. A., & Franzese, B. (1987). Correlates of college men's sexual abuse of women. Journal of College Student Personnel, 26(3), 223-228.

Violence against women: The increase of rape in America. (1990). Majority staff of the Senate Committee on the Judiciary. Washington, DC: U.S. Government Printing Office.

Walmsley, R., & White, K. (1979). Sexual offenses, consent and sentencing. In 1984 J. Hopkins (Ed), Rape and sexual assault. New York: Harper and Row.

Warshaw, R. (1988). I never called it rape. New York: Harper and Row.

Youth Indicators. (1991). Washington, DC: U.S. Government Printing Office.


By Ruth Kershner

Ruth Kershner, RN, Ed.D., CHES, West Virginia University, Morgantown, West Virginia

Reprint requests to Ruth Kershner, 352 Grandview Avenue, Morgantown, WV 26505.

Copyright of Adolescence is the property of Libra Publishers Inc. and its content may not be copied or emailed to multiple sites or posted to a listserv without the copyright holder's express written permission. However, users may print, download, or email articles for individual use.
Source: Adolescence, Spring96, Vol. 31 Issue 121, p29, 5p, 1 chart.
Item Number: 9603250051