Defining Acquaintance Rape: College Students' Perceptions of Sexual Consent and Coercion
Perceptions of rape have evolved dramatically over the past decade. Prior to the second wave of the feminist movement, rape was perceived to be committed by a psychotic man against a woman. The feminist movement brought the term "acquaintance rape" into the popular lexicon and into the forefront of women's consciousness. As a result, throughout the 1970s and 1980s state governments enacted laws to prohibit "sexual assault," or expanded existing rape laws to include a variety of relationships or sexual acts. However, public perceptions of rape did not evolve as rapidly. Despite legislative efforts, there is no universally understood definition of rape. As a result there is great confusion over what constitutes rape. The purpose of this study is to examine how college students perceive acquaintance rape. Focusing on common elements of anti-rape movement legislation, the researcher developed a survey to assess perceptions of acquaintance rape through scenarios involving verbal non-consent and verbal coercion, in a variety of sexual acts. Survey scenarios depicted same-sex offenders and victims, female offenders/male victims, and male offenders/female victims engaging in various types of sexual acts under the influence of alcohol. Survey participants were to determine if the scenario was acquaintance rape or consensual sexual contact. The researcher hypothesized that variation in gender of offender and victim affect whether an individual labels an event "acquaintance rape" or "consensual sex". Moreover, participants were asked to assign blame (offender, victim, or alcohol). Analyses revealed that individuals do have differing perceptions of acquaintance rape. Study participants, both male and female, were more likely to label the male offender/female victim scenario as acquaintance rape and label all other scenarios as consensual sex. Male and female participants differed in their designation of the acquaintance rape label, with female participants significantly more likely to label the male offender/male victim and female offender/male victim scenarios as acquaintance rape. The designation of acquaintance rape did not necessarily correspond to the presence of coercion and lack of consent. Moreover, the designation of acquaintance rape did not necessarily respond to offender responsibility and the lack of responsibility on behalf of the victim.