Background Between 8%–30% of college men engage in sexual perpetration. Yet, there are no effective intervention programs designed to change the behaviour of individual men at risk for sexual perpetration. In addition, recent research has shown that 95% of college men who engage in rape, the most severe form of sexual perpetration, do not label their behaviour as rape. This lack of acknowledgment or distortion in perception may represent a cognitive mechanism of sexual perpetration. The goal of this study was to examine whether college men can accurately label sexual perpetration in peers and correlates of these labels.
Methods 500 college men participated in this web-based study. Participants were randomly assigned to complete 1 of 4 experimental vignettes which portrayed a sexual assault. Vignettes varied by the gender and sexual orientation of the person being sexually victimised. Participants were asked to choose a label to describe the behaviour in the vignette. Participants also completed questionnaires to assess their own history of sexual perpetration, history of dating violence, knowledge of sexual perpetration in peers, impulsivity, and beliefs about responsibility for violence. Preliminary
Results 90.4% of participants were accurate in labelling the vignette as either rape or sexual assault. Less than 5% of participants labelled their own behaviour as rape; yet, approximately 25% of the sample reporting engaging in rape. Future analyses will examine the correlates of labelling.
Conclusions These results suggest a large number of college men who engage in rape do understand what rape is; yet do not label their own behaviour accurately. This suggests the inaccurate labelling of their own behaviour is the result of motivated cognition; in other words, they rationalise and minimise the consequences of their behaviour.