Sexual violence is an issue that has carved its own little niche in college environments. Not only has it prompted protest rallies, been reported in police updates, and been addressed in women’s studies courses; it has motivated professional studies with the goal of understanding the attitudes and factors behind sexual violence.
Dr. Russell L. Kolts, associate professor of psychology at EWU, discussed his research on the issue last Wednesday at noon in Monroe 207, in a lecture entitled “Understanding Dynamics Surrounding Sexual Assault.”
Kolts explained the relevance of sexual coercion or assault as an issue at EWU by imparting to the audience some sobering statistics. According to a poll of the 112 EWU female students in his study, 68 (59.6 percent) had at some point in their lives been subjected to uninvited or unwanted sexual attention. Out of this same group, 27 participants (22 percent) testified that, sometime after their 18th birthday they had either been touched or were forced to touch someone sexually against their will-without their consent.
The study, “The Dynamics Surrounding the Occurrence and Cultural Acceptance of Sexual Assault and Sexual Coercion,” involved 112 female and 63 male participants. The study focused on the factors that influence the likelihood of sexual assault occurrence, such as gender-role orientation and relationship status or length. Kolts also focused on the factors that influenced the judgments made about sexual assault or coercion situations, such as the race of the perpetrator and victim.
To study the effect of gender role orientation, Kolts researched whether men and women with more traditional role identifications responded differently when listening to a tape of a coercive situation than would non-traditional participants.
Kolts had originally predicted that women with more traditional gender ideals would stay in a situation longer and that more traditional males would take longer to end an inappropriate situation, but his study found that gender-role views had no impact for either gender on when they stopped the tape.
“We have a fairly moderate population (at EWU) with regard to gender roles, which is a good place to be,” Kolts said.
However, Kolts did find that women were more likely to continue listening to the recording longer when they were told that the couple had been dating for a longer period of time, which, he added, might be due to an assumed level of trust, while the length of the relationship didn’t matter for the men.
Kolts was skeptical whether this result reflected potential real-life behavior. “Men were good at objectively identifying when the man in the vignette should stop his advances,” said Kolts. “It’s not that they can’t make these decisions, it’s that sometimes they don’t. There’s a difference between objectively being able to say ‘that’s when he should stop,’ and making a responsible decision yourself in the midst of a sexual situation.”
Moving on to the effects of racial stereotypes on the judgments of sexually coercive situations, Kolts investigated whether subtly cued racial stereotypes such as stereotypically black or white names in a rape vignette impacted rape support (the identification of a situation as rape), victim blame or rape myth endorsement (the support of beliefs that justify rape behavior).
Kolts’s research indicated that the use of stereotypically white or black perpetrator names “significantly” impacted how much the victim was blamed or how much rape myths were endorsed. The use of so-called white male names in this particular sample provoked a greater emphasis on victim blame and allowed a greater acceptance of rape myths than cases in which stereotypically black names were used for the aggressor.
Kolts expressed continuing concern about how stereotypes and victim blame affect women’s willingness to report rape. “Women who made rape allegations have been drug through the mill,” Kolts said. “How much more might more overt cues, such as media coverage of things like the Kobe Bryant trial affect people’s beliefs in rape myths, such as ‘most women who make rape claims are lying about it’?”
In addition to his concerns about the factors that contribute to sexual coercion or assault and the stereotypes surrounding other’s reactions, Kolts insisted that men need to take more responsibility for addressing the problem of sexual assault.
“This isn’t just the domain of women,” said Kolts. “Men have to get involved. It’s not going to stop until men stop it.”
Kolts hoped he has done his part by investigating contributing factors that put men at risk for engaging in sexual coercion and sharing this research with others.
“Rape is preventable,” Kolts said. “As a man, and as a researcher, I can contribute to the prevention of rape.”