Gender and Victimization

The Psychology of Women and Gender: Half the Human Experience + - Nicole M. Else-Quest, Janet Shibley Hyde 2018

Gender and Victimization

In this chapter we will review the psychological research on gender-based violence and victimization. Gender-based violence refers to forms of violence in which women are the predominant victims and men are the predominant perpetrators; in addition, transgender individuals are also overrepresented among victims. Such forms of violence include rape, intimate partner violence, sexual harassment, child sexual abuse, human trafficking, female genital mutilation, and child marriage. For several reasons, gender-based violence is tragically underreported. For example, victims sometimes believe that it was their fault or that they won’t be believed if they report it. And, frequently, victims of gender-based violence are blamed for the violence while their perpetrators go unpunished. In sum, victims may perceive that the costs of reporting violence outweigh the potential benefits. Gender-based violence has clearly demonstrated psychological and physical health consequences for victims (United Nations, 2015).

Gender-based violence: Forms of violence in which women are the predominant victims and men are the predominant perpetrators; transgender individuals are also overrepresented among victims.


Definition and Prevalence

In 2011, the U.S. Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) revised its definition of rape as follows: “Penetration, no matter how slight, of the vagina or anus with any body part or object, or oral penetration by a sex organ of another person, without the consent of the victim.” This definition includes instances in which the victim is incapable of giving consent because of temporary or permanent mental or physical incapacity; for example, they cannot give consent due to the influence of drugs or alcohol or because of age. By contrast, the FBI’s old definition of rape was “the carnal knowledge of female forcibly and against her will.” In the revised definition, notice that victims and perpetrators may be of any gender and that physical force is not required. Thus, the revised definition focuses on the fact that some form of penetration occurs and that consent is not given.

Rape: Penetration, no matter how slight, of the vagina or anus with any body part or object, or oral penetration by a sex organ of another person, without the consent of the victim.

Based on the FBI’s (2014) revised definition, 116,645 rapes were reported in the United States in 2014; that means there were 36.6 reported rapes for every 100,000 inhabitants. It is important to note that rape is one of the most underreported crimes. It is estimated that, between 2006 and 2010 in the United States, about 65% of rapes and sexual assaults went unreported (Langton et al., 2012). Sexual assault includes rape and other forms of unwanted sexual contact, such as sexual groping or crotch grabbing. Rapes committed by an acquaintance are far less likely to be reported to the police compared with those committed by a stranger.

Moreover, most rapes are committed by acquaintances, often by an intimate partner or date. More than half of female rape victims report that they were raped by an intimate partner, while 13.8% report that they were raped by a stranger (Black et al., 2011). And in a study of adolescent girls’ experiences of sexual victimization, 40% of incidents occurred with a boyfriend or date (Livingston et al., 2007).

Rape is a form of gender-based violence. According to a well-sampled national survey conducted by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, a woman has an 18.3% chance of being the victim of a rape in her lifetime, compared with a 1.4% chance for a man (Black et al., 2011). Nearly one in five women have been raped at some point in their lives, compared with one in 71 men. Perpetrators of rape are disproportionately male: 99% of all persons arrested for rape are men (Rozée & Koss, 2001).

While most rapes are committed by men against women, it is important to remember that rape victims and perpetrators may be of any gender. Data show that sexual violence, such as rape, is alarmingly prevalent among sexual minority and trans populations. For example, 46.4% of lesbians, 74.9% of bisexual women, 40.2% of gay men, and 47.4% of bisexual men have experienced sexual violence (Walters et al., 2013). High rates of violence have also been reported in transgender populations (Stotzer, 2009). Still, there is not enough research on sexual violence against members of gender and sexual minority groups (Turchik et al., 2016). In this chapter, we primarily discuss rape of cisgender women by cisgender men and include data about transgender people when available.

Impact of Rape

Many studies have examined the psychological responses of women following rape (see the review by Martin et al., 2011). This research shows that rape is a time of crisis for a woman and that the effects on her adjustment may persist for a year or more.

Compared with women who have not been raped, women who have been raped are more likely to experience anxiety, depression, suicide ideation and attempts, and posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD; Martin et al., 2011). PTSD is a disorder that develops in some people after experiencing a terrifying event. While PTSD affects about 1% to 3% of the population, about half of rape victims develop PTSD. People with PTSD may have persistent and intrusive flashbacks or memories of the traumatic event, avoid anything that reminds them of the event, experience reactivity symptoms (e.g., being easily startled, having trouble sleeping), and have negative changes in their thoughts and mood (Bisson et al., 2015).

Posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD): A disorder that develops in some people after experiencing a terrifying event. Symptoms include reexperiencing symptoms (e.g., flashbacks, bad dreams), reactivity symptoms (e.g., easily startled, trouble sleeping), and cognition and mood symptoms (e.g., distorted feelings of guilt, loss of enjoyment in activities).

Most women who have been raped have a negative psychological response immediately. Yet many will show significant recovery within a year (Martin et al., 2011). A number of factors may worsen a woman’s psychological response to rape, such as whether she had previously experienced sexual violence, how severe the violence was, and how others reacted when she disclosed the rape. For example, a woman who has been repeatedly victimized, has been victimized severely, or has not been supported or believed when she disclosed the rape is likely to have a more negative psychological response. It is important to remember that no particular psychological response to a trauma such as rape is “right” or “wrong.” We humans are sensitive but also remarkably resilient.

Some women blame themselves for having been raped. A woman may spend hours agonizing over what she did to bring on the rape or what she might have done to prevent it: “If I hadn’t worn that short skirt . . .”; “If I hadn’t had so much to drink . . .”; “If I hadn’t been stupid enough to trust that guy . . .” This is an example of a tendency on the part of both the victim and others to blame the victim. Of course, only the rapist is responsible for rape. Blaming oneself for having been raped is associated with worse psychological outcomes for women (Koss & Figueredo, 2004).

When discussing self-blame, the sociocultural context in which rape occurs is relevant. One study compared Black and White women who had been raped (Neville et al., 2004). The study found that the two groups of women were similar in many ways, such as their self-esteem and coping after the rape, but their responses differed in some systematic ways. Black women’s responses echoed the Jezebel stereotype that Black women are hypersexual and promiscuous and therefore cannot be raped. Many of the Black women internalized this negative stereotype and attributed their rape to it, and this attribution was associated with lower self-esteem.

The physical effects of rape are just as serious as the psychological effects (Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, 2014; Martin et al., 2011). Some rape victims may experience physical injuries, such as cuts and bruises, head injuries, or broken bones. Victims who were forced to perform oral sex may suffer irritation or damage to the throat. Those who were anally penetrated may experience rectal bleeding and pain. Rape victims may also contract a sexually transmitted disease, such as HIV/AIDS or herpes. Some rape victims become pregnant; about 5% of rapes result in pregnancy (Holmes et al., 1996). There are also long-term health effects. In general, having a history of being sexually assaulted is linked to worse overall health and a variety of specific problems including chronic pelvic pain, menstrual disturbances, headache and other pain syndromes, intestinal disorders, and sexual disorders (Martin et al., 2011).

The effects of rape are pervasive and extend even to those who have not been raped. In particular, most women do a number of things out of fear of being raped, such as avoiding walking alone at night, holding their keys out like a weapon, or checking the backseat of a car to make sure no one is hiding there. If you are a woman, you can probably extend this list from your own experience. The point is that most women experience the fear of rape, if not rape itself. This fear controls women by restricting their activities. Moreover, these behaviors will do nothing to prevent the most likely kind of rape—acquaintance rape.


Who is the typical rapist? The simple answer to this question is that there is no typical rapist. Rape is so widespread, and rapists vary so much in occupation, education, marital status, race/ethnicity, previous criminal record, and motivation for rape, that it becomes very difficult to make generalizations or claims about who the typical rapist might be.

Nonetheless, researchers have identified four factors that seem to make men more likely to rape women or predispose men to rape women (Abbey & McAuslan, 2004; Knight & Sims-Knight, 2011; Malamuth, 1998). These factors were identified from research with a national representative sample of male college students (Abbey et al., 2001).

One factor is growing up in a hostile or violent home environment. Boys who grow up in a home environment that is hostile or violent are more likely to engage in sexual aggression against women. A hostile or violent home environment may include violence between the parents (i.e., intimate partner violence) as well as childhood abuse. Children are sensitive to many aspects of the home environment, and witnessing or experiencing violence in the home—a place that is supposed to be safe and nurturing—can have profound effects on their development.

Another factor is delinquency. This can be related to the previous factor, as being involved in delinquency is itself made more likely by coming from a hostile home. Still, delinquency increases the likelihood of engaging in rape. Boys may rationalize their delinquent behaviors (e.g., stealing, fighting, drinking alcohol) as being part of a tough or aggressive image, and they may associate with peers who encourage this image.

Sexual promiscuity is also a factor that predisposes men to rape. Some boys and men place a high value on sexual conquests as a way to feel masculine or have high status among male peers. In turn, they may feel it is perfectly reasonable to coerce or force women into having sex. This isn’t about enjoying sex and physical intimacy with women so much as it is about viewing sex and women as a means to an end. One study of college men found that over one-third reported that they would use arguments or pressure women into sex; indeed, these men were more likely than other men to perpetrate sexual aggression (Gidycz et al., 2011).

Having a hostile masculine personality is another factor. A hostile masculine personality involves a deep hostility toward women and a negatively defined, exaggerated masculinity that rejects anything that is feminine. Thus, a man with a hostile masculine personality is focused on power and control and avoids or rejects nurturance and vulnerability. This personality, combined with a willingness to have impersonal sexual relations without emotional intimacy, is linked to engaging in sexual aggression (Hall et al., 2005; Malamuth et al., 1995). We return to the psychological risks of this type of masculinity in Chapter 16.

By contrast, one factor seems to reduce a man’s likelihood of committing rape: empathy (Hunter et al., 2007). That is, a man who has several of the risk factors listed above, but who also is sensitive to the needs and feelings of others and isn’t focused solely on himself, is less likely to rape than a man who has the risk factors and lacks empathy and is self-centered.

Causes of Rape

A number of theoretical views of rape have been proposed, most of which focus on men’s rape of women (Turchik et al., 2016). Many of the theories of rape fall into the following categories (Baron & Straus, 1989; Ullman & Najdowski, 2011):

1. Victim-precipitated. This perspective claims that a rape is always caused by a victim “asking for it.” Victims, not perpetrators, are ultimately responsible for rape, according to this view. This view represents the tendency to blame victims.

2. Psychopathology of rapists. This view claims that rape is a deviant act committed by men who are mentally ill or disturbed. Thus, the rapist is not responsible for rape; instead, his psychopathology is to blame.

3. Feminist. The feminist theoretical view holds that rapists are the product of gender role socialization in our culture. Feminists emphasize that rape isn’t about sex so much as it is an expression of male power and dominance over women. Thus, rape is both a cause and an effect of gender inequality, in that they perpetuate one another.

4. Social disorganization. The sociological view holds that crime rates, including rape rates, increase when the social organization of a community or society is disrupted. Under conditions of social disorganization—such as poverty or even war—communities cannot enforce norms against crime.

The first view, that rape is caused by victims, is illogical. Rape is, by definition, nonconsensual, so no one can “ask” to be raped.

Regarding the second view—that rapists’ psychopathology is to blame—there is some evidence that young men who are sexual aggressors are likely to have been sexually abused in childhood (Knight & Sims-Knight, 2011). While some rapists have a history of victimization themselves, it does not follow that this history clears rapists of responsibility for their violent behavior. Moreover, rape is too widespread a problem to be the result of only men who are mentally ill or disturbed (Koss et al., 1994).

The feminist theory and social disorganization theory were examined in classic research by sociologists Larry Baron and Murray Straus (1989). Both theories frame rape as a product of the sociocultural context. Baron and Straus collected extensive data on each of the 50 U.S. states, seeing them as representing variations in cultural context (think, for example, of the different cultures of Louisiana, New York, and North Dakota). They collected data on the extent of gender inequality in each state (for example, the gap between men’s and women’s wages). They also collected measures of social disorganization, such as the number of people moving into or out of the states and the divorce rate. Their data gave strong support to three conclusions: (1) Social disorganization contributes to rape (those states with the greatest social disorganization tended to have the highest rape rates), (2) gender inequality is related to rape (the states with the greatest gender inequality had the highest rape rates), and (3) pornography provides cultural, ideological support for rape (the states with the highest circulation of pornographic magazines had the highest rape rates). This sociological research shows that many complex factors in the culture may contribute to cultural values that encourage rape.

With regard to the conclusion regarding pornography, psychological research evidence has demonstrated that pornography may promote sexual violence. For example, a recent meta-analysis found that, around the world, pornography consumption is linked to engaging in sexually aggressive behaviors (Wright et al., 2016). Today’s pornography is characterized by a high degree of brutal gender-based violence, including both verbal and physical aggression and objectification of women, often representing rape of women and girls as sexy or even pleasurable to victims (Bridges et al., 2010; Dines, 2015). It is likely that, especially for younger viewers, pornography may function as a kind of informal sex education. That is, from a cognitive social learning theoretical perspective, viewers may observe and learn from pornography that gender-based violence in sexual relations is expected and arousing. Experimental research evidence demonstrates that viewing even nonviolent pornography increases attitudes supportive of sexual violence, particularly for men who are low in the personality trait of agreeableness (Hald & Malamuth, 2015). In other words, men who are more antagonistic and unsympathetic to the needs of others are especially likely to become more supportive of sexual violence against women after viewing pornography.

An extreme example of social disorganization is war, in which rape of women is common (Zurbriggen, 2010). In 2008 we saw graphic examples of this in the war in Sudan’s Darfur (Robertson, 2008). Humanitarian observers reported that rape was an integral part of the violence that the government of Sudan inflicted on targeted ethnic groups. Likewise, the terrorist organization ISIL (Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant) has engaged in systematic enslavement and rape of Yazidi (a religious minority group in Iraq) women and girls (Callimachi, 2015). Across history, rape has been a weapon commonly used in war.

Some cultural values support or even encourage rape. For example, in the United States, research has documented widespread acceptance of rape myths, which are false beliefs about rape, rape victims, and rapists (e.g., Barnett et al., 2016; Edwards et al., 2011). Three broad types of rape myths have been identified and can be applied to other forms of gender-based violence, such as sexual harassment and intimate partner violence (Koss et al., 1994). These myths, shown in Table 14.1, include victim precipitation (i.e., women ask for or deserve rape), victim fabrication (i.e., women lie about the rape), and victim masochism (i.e., women enjoy being raped). Note that the first theoretical cause of rape described above—that rape is caused by the victim—is reflected in the rape myths described. Rape myths function to discredit victims’ accounts of rape and excuse rapists’ behavior. Films (even nonpornographic ones), television, video games, and music may also include content or depictions of gender and sexuality that help to convey and promote rape myths or permissive attitudes about rape, such as when women are objectified (e.g., Beck et al., 2012; Bogle, 2008; Edwards et al., 2011; Fox & Potocki, 2016).

Rape myths: False beliefs about rape, rape victims, and rapists, which support rape culture (e.g., victim precipitation, victim fabrication, victim masochism).


Ultimately, rape myths help to perpetuate a culture in which rape is considered to be normal and is accepted. Rape culture refers to a set of cultural attitudes and beliefs about gender and sexuality—for example, that it is natural and normal for men to be sexually aggressive and that rape is inevitable. According to the feminist perspective, rape will continue to be a widespread problem as long as we believe rape myths, objectify women, and encourage men to be sexually aggressive.

Rape culture: A set of cultural attitudes and beliefs about gender and sexuality, e.g., that it is natural and normal for men to be sexually aggressive and that rape is inevitable.

Rape myths also shape our sexual scripts (Ryan, 2011), which may be another factor in rape. Sexual scripts tell us what sexual behaviors are appropriate and in what order. Adolescents quickly learn gendered expectations about dating and sex through culturally transmitted sexual scripts. For example, there are sexual scripts for hooking up and for seducing someone; there are also scripts for rape. Many scripts for heterosexual sexual behavior support rape in conveying the message that men are supposed to be sexually aggressive and uncontrollable in their sexual desire and that women are supposed to be sexually passive and say no but actually mean yes.

The peer group can have a powerful influence encouraging men to rape. In August 2012 in Steubenville, Ohio, a 16-year-old girl who was intoxicated and unconscious was taken to parties where she was repeatedly raped by two boys (Macur & Schweber, 2012). During this time, other boys watched, recorded, and joked about the rape, supporting and encouraging it while the girl was incapable of resisting or consenting. The case gained national attention, in part, because the boys posted about the rape on social media.

In some cases, miscommunication between men and women may be a factor. Because many people in the United States are reluctant to discuss sex directly and frankly, they try to infer sexual interest from subtle nonverbal cues, a process that is highly prone to errors. As discussed in Chapter 5, men are less skilled than women at decoding nonverbal cues. In particular, men tend to inaccurately interpret women’s friendliness or politeness as sexual interest (Abbey et al., 2001; Lindgren et al., 2008). To prevent miscommunication about sexual interest, some people advocate for affirmative consent, in which partners explicitly and voluntarily agree to have sexual relations with one another rather than assume or infer it based on nonverbal cues.


How can we prevent rape from occurring? Strategies for preventing rape fall into three categories: (1) changing the culture that contributes to rape, (2) avoiding situations in which there is a higher risk of rape, and (3) if a rape is attempted, knowing some self-defense techniques. Let’s consider the first category.

Feminists argue that the responsibility for preventing rape should not rest on women’s shoulders but on men’s. Ultimately, the best way to prevent rape is for men not to attempt it. To do this, our society would need to make a radical change in the way it socializes boys (Hall & Barongan, 1997). That would mean not pressuring little boys to be aggressive and tough, teaching boys to be more emotionally intelligent and empathetic, and not demanding that adolescent boys demonstrate hypersexuality. It would also mean challenging rape myths. This will likely take a while, but certainly it is possible and in society’s best interest.

In the meantime, how can we avoid situations that have a higher risk of rape? A quick Google search of “How to avoid rape” will yield many pages, often from universities and public safety departments, giving advice to women on how to avoid hazardous situations. Some of this advice may help, and some of it may contribute to victim-blaming. Some colleges and universities post information on avoiding risky situations, discouraging victim-blaming, and encouraging affirmative consent (Lund & Thomas, 2015). For example, one university’s police and public safety department provides the following guidance:

Cartoon 14.1 Blaming the victim in cases of rape has been a serious problem. This cartoon satirizes that point of view, showing how ridiculous it would be to take this stance in regard to another victim of crime, such as a man whose wallet was stolen.


Source: Marian Henley, copyright 1992.

1. Communicate your limits clearly. If someone starts to offend you or cross a line that you have set for yourself, tell them firmly and early. Polite approaches may be misunderstood or ignored. If the person does not respect your wishes, remove yourself from the situation immediately. Miscommunication can be explained later. Do not give someone the chance to violate your wishes or boundaries. This can often contribute to the guilt felt following unwanted sexual advances, but it does not make it your fault.

2. Be assertive. Often passivity can be interpreted as permission—it is not. Be direct and firm with someone who is sexually pressuring you. Tell an acquaintance or your partner what you want—or don’t want—and stick with your decision. Regardless, there must always be active consent on both sides. Consent to one thing does not imply another.

3. Trust your instincts. If you feel you are being pressured into unwanted sex, you probably are. If you feel uncomfortable or threatened around an acquaintance or your partner, get out of the situation immediately. If you misread someone’s signals, you can always explain later.

4. Respond physically. Even clear communication is not always effective. Some people simply don’t listen or don’t care. If either person is intoxicated or high, it may also complicate the situation. However, it is not an excuse for someone to commit sexual assault. If someone is assaulting you and not responding to your objections, you have the right to respond physically or to physically defend yourself if you feel you can do so. If possible, push the person away, scream “No!” and say that you consider what the person is doing to be rape. It is understandable that most people instinctively do not respond forcefully to people they know. It is not your fault if you find that you are unable to do so. (University of North Carolina at Charlotte, 2017)

These strategies may help in some cases, but certainly not in all of them. For example, research has demonstrated that verbal and physical resistance is sometimes effective in preventing rape in the face of an attempt (Hollander, 2016; Rozée & Koss, 2001). Of course, we aren’t always able to resist.

Many have noted that these strategies don’t get at the real problem, which is men raping or attempting to rape women. There is a fine line between empowering women to recognize and avoid risky situations and blaming them for being raped. How can we teach strategies that might make us safer without blaming victims at the same time?

On an institutional level, many colleges and universities have started programs designed to prevent rape. Researchers have evaluated a variety of rape prevention programs, often in educational settings, such as with incoming first-year college students. Programs generally use one of the following strategies (Gidycz et al., 2011):

1. Awareness-based programs aim to create community change by raising people’s awareness of the prevalence of rape and sexual assault.

2. Empathy-based programs focus on increasing the audience’s empathy by improving their understanding of experiences and outcomes for rape victims.

3. Social norms—based programs encourage individuals to question the gendered norms that support gender-based violence such as rape.

4. Skills-based programs aim to empower and teach people, especially women, skills that might reduce their risk of being victimized (e.g., avoid excessive drinking).

5. Bystander intervention programs encourage people to intervene actively if they see violence occurring.

For example, some college campuses have implemented bystander intervention programs, such as Green Dot, which also work to improve awareness and skills (Coker et al., 2015). These programs are designed to prevent rape by increasing bystander intervention with four kinds of tactics, known as the Four Ds: direct, distract, delegate, and delay. Direct tactics involve directly intervening by stepping into a situation to stop violence or speaking up when sexist statements such as rape myths are repeated. Distraction tactics involve distracting the potential rapist and removing the potential victim from harm. Delegation tactics involve multiple people working together to de-escalate a potentially violent situation. For example, one person might speak with the aggressor and another might provide support to the victim. Finally, delay tactics, which are more reactive and are used after violence has occurred, focus on providing support and accessing resources for victims. The data indicate that these programs are promising. Men attending college campuses with Green Dot bystander intervention programs perpetrate less violence than men at other campuses, and violent victimization rates are also lower (Coker et al., 2015).

The most effective programs have participants actively practice skills (Gidycz et al., 2011). Programs in which an expert lectures to a passive class are less effective. Peer-led programs that have multiple sessions, with repeated exposure and opportunities to practice skills, and that focus on a single gender in a small group (e.g., an athletic team) seem to be most effective.

Self-defense training has been a controversial part of violence prevention. Self-defense training goes beyond “fighting back” and emphasizes the empowerment of women in multiple ways (Hollander, 2016). For example, such programs may include increasing awareness, assertiveness, and de-escalation skills, in addition to physical defense skills that build on women’s strengths. Well-designed self-defense programs also foster critical consciousness of gender roles and gender inequality.

In sum, men—not women—are responsible for men’s rape of women.

Nonetheless, there are some strategies that might help women avoid situations with a higher risk of rape. Studies have consistently shown that active resistance such as screaming, fleeing, or physically struggling when a man is attempting rape reduce a woman’s likelihood of being raped (Ullman & Najdowski, 2011). Active resistance is not always effective and may not be possible. At that point, we must consider ways to help victims recover and prevent rapists from reoffending.


Once a rape has occurred, how can we help the victim and treat the rapist so that he does not repeat his offense?

Treating Victims.

Women respond to being raped in diverse ways, and there is no one “right” or “normal” way to respond to this kind of trauma. Some victims are severely traumatized and develop PTSD, some recover psychologically on their own, and some fall somewhere in between.

For victims who have difficulty recovering from rape, they may seek psychotherapy. Psychologists have developed therapies that are effective in treating the symptoms of PTSD in victims of sexual violence (Foa et al., 1999; Koss, Bailey, et al., 2003). Today, therapies typically use cognitive-behavioral methods that target problematic thoughts and behaviors (see Chapter 15). For example, in cognitive processing therapy, cognitive distortions (such as “I deserved to be raped”) are believed to maintain PTSD symptoms. Thus, for a rape victim with PTSD, a clinician using cognitive processing therapy might focus on the client’s cognitive distortions about the rape, the sequence of events that preceded and followed the rape, and the broader impact of the rape on their beliefs about themselves, other people, and the world. This cognitive-behavioral approach has been effective in reducing both PTSD and depression symptoms in rape victims (Iverson et al., 2015).

Treating Rapists.

After committing rape, perpetrators are in need of treatment, not just punishment. The main goal with treatment is to reduce the risk that a rapist will reoffend. How do we treat rapists so that they do not victimize more people? The standard treatment for incarcerated sex offenders is called risk-need-responsivity, or RNR (Hanson et al., 2009). Risk refers to treating people who are likely to reoffend, and need refers to the strength of the person’s need to commit the crime. Responsivity refers to applying a treatment that is best matched to the characteristics of the offender. Just as with treating rape victims, cognitive-behavioral therapy is the commonly accepted treatment for rapists (Prentky et al., 2011). For example, therapists might help the perpetrator identify precursors to committing rape so that they can then work to intervene to change the problematic thoughts, emotions, and behaviors. To evaluate the effectiveness of such a treatment, researchers assess recidivism, or whether the person is convicted of committing the crime again. A review of studies using cognitive-behavioral treatments for male sex offenders (this includes not only rapists but also men who have committed other acts of sexual violence) found no difference in recidivism rates between treated and untreated sex offenders (Dennis et al., 2012).

Photo 14.1 Many experts feel that women should learn self-defense skills as a way of combating rape, but others feel that this strategy doesn’t address men’s role in rape.


Hyoung Chang/Denver Post/Getty Images.

There are limitations of these treatments and the research evaluating them, however. For example, most treatments for rapists are given only to arrested and incarcerated offenders. This is problematic for several reasons. First, the treatment doesn’t reach the many perpetrators whose rapes went unreported and unprosecuted. Second, treatment may be court-ordered or imposed on prisoners, perhaps as a requirement for parole. Such an imposition may motivate perpetrators to participate, but only superficially. These are not perpetrators who come forward and say, “I really want to change my ways.” Treatment is not likely to be effective for those who are unmotivated to really change. Third, recidivism is not a very precise measure of reoffending because it only counts the rapes that are reported to the police, and rape is an underreported and underprosecuted crime (Seidman & Pokorak, 2011). Thus, recidivism rates likely count only a fraction of these crimes.

Some courts mandate anti-androgen drugs as treatment of sex offenders. The rationale behind this treatment is that reducing testosterone levels will reduce sex drive. Despite the fact that courts may impose this treatment, the evidence on its efficacy is very poor. That is, we don’t know how effective this treatment is, in large part because the research is of poor quality (Khan et al., 2015).

The literature on the treatment of rapists leaves some big questions unanswered. For example, how do we effectively stop rapists from reoffending? And what is the fate of the rapist whose victim or victims never report the rape? He remains unarrested and unjailed, and certainly untreated. What happens to him? Does he continue to rape?

An Alternative: Restorative Justice.

Traditional methods of handling rape in the criminal justice system have three serious flaws: They often treat the crime as minor and do nothing to halt men who are embarking on a career of sexual offending, those rapists who are punished are not held accountable in a way that will reduce their threat of offending again in the future, and the processes traumatize victims and their families. Mary Koss and her colleagues (Koss & Achilles, 2006; Koss et al., 2014) have pioneered an alternative approach to the treatment of both rapists and victims, known as restorative justice. The basic premise of restorative justice is that harm has been done and that someone is responsible for repairing it. As such, restorative justice emphasizes (a) repairing harm done to victims, (b) empowering victims, (c) holding perpetrators (called “responsible persons”) accountable through making reparations to victims, and (d) rehabilitating responsible persons rather than simply punishing them. Thus, restorative justice attempts to balance the needs of everyone involved. Koss’s program involves conferencing, in which a highly structured and supervised meeting occurs between the victim, her family, and the responsible person, but no attorneys. The responsible person describes what he has done and then listens as the victim describes the impact on her. Family and friends—who experience a range of responses as members of the victim’s interpersonal context—may contribute as well. Together, they make a plan for reparations, which may include elements such as the responsible person paying for medical and counseling expenses and time off work, making a formal apology, and answering the victim’s question: “Why did you choose to do this?” The perpetrator is then held accountable for the next 12 months in matters such as making the reparations.

Restorative justice: An alternative approach to the treatment of both rapists and victims, with the basic premise that harm has been done and that someone is responsible for repairing it.

Restorative justice programs are controversial. On the one hand, there are concerns that they may trivialize rape and revictimize women. Clearly, such a program should be undertaken only if the victim agrees to it. On the other hand, it may offer the much-needed opportunity for rape victims to feel a sense of control and validation. In opening up a more holistic discussion of the rape and its context, it may reduce victim-blaming and ultimately secure some form of justice (McGlynn et al., 2012). In giving the victim voice, it may also promote perspective-taking and empathy by the responsible person.

What do the data say? Evaluations of restorative justice conferences show that they are preferred over traditional justice (e.g., trials) by 63% of victims and by 90% of responsible persons (Koss, 2014). In addition, 90% of all participants (e.g., victims, responsible persons, family, friends) reported that they felt listened to, supported, and treated fairly and with respect and that they believed that the restorative justice conference was successful (Koss, 2014).

Intimate Partner Violence

It might seem that, given the high risk of rape, women should just stay home to be safe. Yet, in many cases, women are not safer in their own home.

Definition and Prevalence

Women are more likely to be attacked, raped, injured, or killed by current or former male partners than by any other type of assailant (Garcia-Moreno et al., 2006). Intimate partner violence (IPV) may include any of the following components directed toward an intimate partner: (a) sexual violence, such as sexual coercion and sexual assault; (b) physical violence, such as slapping, pushing, burning, or choking; (c) stalking or harassment; (d) verbal aggression, such as name calling, insulting, or humiliating; (e) coercive control, which refers to behaviors meant to monitor and control or threaten an intimate partner; and (f) control of reproductive or sexual health, such as refusing to wear a condom during sex.

Intimate partner violence (IPV): Aggressive behaviors directed toward an intimate partner, including sexual violence, physical violence, stalking or harassment, verbal aggression, coercive control, and control of reproductive or sexual health.

Coercive control: Behaviors intended to monitor and control or threaten an intimate partner.

The following statistics give some indication of the extent of IPV as a form of gender-based violence:

· Around the world, an average of 30% of women over age 15 have experienced IPV (Devries et al., 2013).

· Globally, women are six times more likely than men to be murdered by an intimate partner (Stöckl et al., 2013).

· In the United States, about one in four women and one in seven men have experienced severe physical violence by an intimate partner (Black et al., 2011).

· More than one-third of American women have experienced rape, physical violence, and/or stalking by an intimate partner, though prevalence varies across ethnic groups, as shown in Table 14.2.

Our focus here is on IPV perpetrated by men against women. It is true that in some cases, a woman may be violent toward a man. However, when the violence is physical, the greater physical strength of the male body means that, on average, far greater damage is done in male-perpetrated IPV. Patterns of mutual violence are also common, but in these cases women show significantly worse psychological outcomes than men do (Williams & Frieze, 2005). Violence also occurs in lesbian relationships (Kaschak, 2001; Turchik et al., 2016). In addition, IPV is prevalent among transgender persons: In a community sample of transgender adults, one-third reported that they had experienced IPV (White Hughto et al., 2017). Queer and trans victims may be especially hesitant to report IPV because, as members of stigmatized minority groups, they are skeptical that their needs will be addressed.

In the context of heterosexual marriage, wife-beating has a long history. It often has been considered a legitimate form of behavior within marriage and a logical extension of men’s and women’s marital roles. In Russia during the reign of Ivan the Terrible, the state church supported IPV by issuing a “Household Ordinance” that detailed how a man might most effectively beat his wife (Mandel, 1975, p. 12).


Source: Data from Black et al. (2011).

Nonetheless, it has long been unacceptable to talk about IPV from the victim’s perspective. The first contemporary book exposing the topic was Scream Quietly or the Neighbors Will Hear, by Erin Pizzey (1974), who opened a shelter for female IPV victims in England. And the 1994 case of the murder of Nicole Simpson, allegedly by her ex-husband, O. J. Simpson, highlighted to the public that IPV perpetrators can kill. Following that murder, domestic violence shelters were flooded with women, as many realized how dangerous their situation truly was.

Consequences of IPV for Victims

IPV can have severe physical health consequences for victims. In relationships characterized by repeated violent episodes, there is often a combination of physical assault, verbal abuse, rape, and coercive control. Physical injuries can range from bruises, cuts, black eyes, concussions, broken bones, and miscarriages to permanent injuries such as damage to joints, partial loss of hearing or vision, and even death. In a study with women from a shelter for IPV victims, nearly three-quarters had sustained brain injury and many had measurable cognitive impairments (for example, memory problems) as a result (Valera & Berenbaum, 2003). IPV can be lethal. Conservative estimates are that, across North America and South America, intimate partners commit approximately 40% of female homicides, but less than 1% of male homicides (Stöckl et al., 2013).

The psychological impact can be devastating as well (Coker et al., 2011; Walker, 2001). Reactions of shock, denial, withdrawal, confusion, psychological numbing, and fear are common. Depression and suicide attempts are also common. Chronic fatigue and tension, startle reactions, disturbed sleeping and eating patterns, and nightmares are also often found among battered women. If abuse continues over a long period of time, long-term responses include emotional numbing, extreme passivity, and helplessness.

Although the term battered woman syndrome was originally coined for these responses, psychologists now favor seeing them, like responses to rape, as instances of PTSD (Babcock et al., 2008; Coker et al., 2011; Walker, 1991).

Why do some women who are victims of IPV stay with the batterer? Each case is unique, but a number of reasons have been identified (Hendy et al., 2003; Walker, 2001): (a) hope that he will reform, (b) having no other place to go, (c) fear that there will be reprisals from the batterer and that he may even kill her (as we saw in the O. J. Simpson case), (d) concern about the children (they need a father, and so on), (e) lack of support from family and friends, and (f) financial dependence (the woman cannot support herself). None of these reasons justifies IPV, of course.

Consequences of IPV for Children

When IPV occurs in a household with children present, it is important to consider the impact on them as well. Men who are violent toward their intimate partners are more likely to be hostile and aggressive toward their children and display less positive parenting behaviors generally (Stover et al., 2013). It is traumatic for a child to witness their mother being beaten. Children and adolescents who are exposed to IPV show signs of trauma such as PTSD, increased aggressive behavior, depression, anxiety, and poorer school performance (Kitzmann et al., 2003; Levendosky, Huth-Bocks, & Semel, 2002; Levendosky, Huth-Bocks, Semel, & Shapiro, 2002).

The intergenerational transmission of IPV is also a serious concern (Ehrensaft et al., 2003; Fite et al., 2008; Fulu et al., 2017). That is, children who grow up with IPV in their home may grow up to perpetrate or be victimized by IPV. Research indicates that childhood exposure to parents’ IPV triples the chances that one commits IPV in adulthood and also triples the chances that one is the victim of IPV in adulthood (Ehrensaft et al., 2003). The consequences of IPV are pervasive.

IPV Perpetrators

What kind of man beats his wife or girlfriend? As with rape, we can give no profile of the “typical” batterer. Such men are found in all social classes and in a wide variety of occupations.

Still, characteristics of the batterer are much better predictors of IPV than are characteristics of the victim (Aldarondo & Castro-Fernandez, 2011). In other words, it’s something about perpetrators, not victims, that causes IPV.

For example, compared with nonviolent husbands, violent husbands are more likely to have an insecure or disorganized attachment style and to be more preoccupied with and jealous about their wives (Aldarondo & Castro-Fernandez, 2011). These men are likely to feel anxious or unsure that their partner will love them and stay with them; controlling their partners might be a strategy to make them stay. Male IPV perpetrators also have more traditional attitudes about gender roles and attitudes condoning marital violence (Stith et al., 2004). In addition, male IPV perpetrators are more likely to have experienced childhood trauma, including neglect or sexual, emotional, or physical abuse (Fulu et al., 2017).

Photo 14.2 Witnessing IPV can have a profound effect on a child’s development.



And yet, batterers are a diverse group. To make sense of this diversity, researchers have identified three types of batterers (Holtzworth-Munroe, 2000; Holtzworth-Munroe et al., 2003). Family-only batterers tend to be the least violent and show little violence toward people outside their family. Aside from beating their partners, they show little psychopathology. The dysphoric-borderline batterer engages in moderate or severe violence toward his partner but not toward others. These perpetrators demonstrate the most psychopathology, exhibiting depression and anxiety and borderline personality characteristics such as extreme emotion fluctuations and intense, unstable interpersonal relationships. Generally violent-antisocial batterers are the most violent, both toward their partner and toward others, and they are likely to exhibit antisocial personality disorder.

One important implication of knowing about these three types of batterers is that the treatment that works for one of these types may not be effective for the others. We need multiple forms of treatment that are appropriate to these different types of batterers. We will return to the topic of treatment in a later section.

Causes of IPV

A number of theoretical perspectives have been proposed to explain IPV. In many ways, these perspectives parallel the theoretical perspectives on rape described earlier in this chapter. These parallels are logical, given that many IPV perpetrators rape their partners.

One perspective is that IPV occurs because of the psychopathology of the female partner. In this view, the woman is seen as a disturbed individual who brings on the attack and self-destructively stays with the man who batters her. This view blames the victim and is not supported by evidence.

Another perspective is that the man who batters his female partner is simply a rare, psychologically disturbed individual. This view does not seem plausible in light of the high incidence of IPV documented by research.

A third perspective comes from sociological theory (e.g., Straus, 1980). It emphasizes how cultural norms and attitudes condone or justify family violence generally, and IPV in particular. Sociologists call attention to the process of gender role socialization, in which girls are socialized to be passive and boys are socialized to be aggressive.

The feminist perspective holds that IPV is both a cause and an effect of gender inequality (Anderson, 1997; Dutton & Goodman, 2005; Walker, 1980, 2001). Gender inequality causes IPV because it justifies a man’s (the powerful authority’s) efforts to “discipline” his female partner, much as a parent may discipline a child. And gender inequality is an effect of IPV insofar as IPV is a mechanism of men’s control of women. In this way, IPV perpetuates gender inequality. Feminists also point out how, across history and even today, IPV (like rape) is condoned or supported by rape myths (see Table 14.1).

Prevention and Treatment

The causes and consequences of IPV are complex, and no single measure is likely to address them all. If we could reduce violence in American society in general, that would help to a certain degree. For victims of IPV, though, their problems are special and require special solutions.

One solution involves providing shelter and refuge to victims. Domestic violence shelters address victims’ immediate need of having a safe place to go, and they can also provide emotional support and possibly job counseling and legal advice. In the past four decades, domestic violence shelters have proliferated in the United States, though they still cannot meet the needs of every victim. Domestic violence shelters and the paraprofessional and peer counseling they provide are very successful treatments for victims of IPV (Sullivan, 2011). Crisis hotlines are also important so that the woman can get immediate help and access the resources she needs (e.g., finding a shelter or medical care).

Photo 14.3 Domestic violence shelters are essential to supporting victims of IPV.


Kathryn Scott Osler/Denver Post/Getty Images.

Clearly, treatment for the batterer, the victim, and the children is needed. Given that children who grow up with IPV are more likely to be perpetrators and victims of IPV as adults, psychotherapy for the child is crucial (Ehrensaft et al., 2003). Therapy that helps the child develop healthier emotional regulation and relationship skills may help to interrupt the intergenerational transmission of violence.

Many victims of IPV develop symptoms of PTSD and depression. For those victims, cognitive trauma therapy is available (Beck et al., 2016). Cognitive trauma therapy involves many components, including PTSD education, mild desensitizing exposures to reminders of abuse, learning to undo negative self-talk, cognitive therapy for guilt, and education on self-advocacy, assertiveness, and how to identify perpetrators. Cognitive trauma therapy has demonstrated significant and large improvements in PTSD and depression (Beck et al., 2016).

Legal and police reform are important in treating and preventing IPV (Walker, 2001). In many communities and states, activists secured a mandatory arrest or shock arrest policy in which the man must be arrested and spend a minimum of one night in jail if the police are called to respond to a case of IPV. The idea is to convey clearly to the man that what he is doing is wrong and illegal. A complementary policy is the no-drop policy (Goodman & Epstein, 2011). Formerly, IPV perpetrators might threaten the victim into dropping the charges, giving the perpetrators a great deal of power. Today, many states have policies that say the case must be prosecuted, regardless of the victim’s wishes. It might sound like a good thing to prosecute these cases, but if the victim doesn’t want to do that, these efforts may actually take power away from them when they are desperately in need of empowerment. Others have noted that these policies sound like they should work, but there are concerns about how effective they actually are (Goodman & Epstein, 2011). How can we empower victims and stop perpetrators?

Of course, at least some of the blame for IPV rests with traditional gender roles and gender role socialization. IPV is a way of expressing male dominance and exerting control over women, thereby fulfilling the traditional male role. Moreover, traditional gender roles encourage women to be submissive and stay with such a husband. In sum, reforms in gender roles, socialization, and education will also be necessary to remedy the situation fully.

Sexual Harassment

Gender-based violence includes sexual harassment, which can take a number of forms and occur in a variety of contexts. Here we will focus on sexual harassment in the workplace and education.

Photo 14.4 Sexual harassment at work may be blatant, such as making it clear that sexual activity is a prerequisite to being hired, or it may be more subtle, as is the case in this photograph. The woman cannot avoid physical contact. Yet if the man is her boss, she may think it’s too risky to complain.



Sexual Harassment in the Workplace

Because incidents of sexual harassment differ in the degree of offensiveness and coercion, they can be difficult to define, both in a legal or scholarly sense and in a personal sense. The following is the official definition given by the U.S. government’s Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC):

Harassment on the basis of sex is a violation of Section 703 of Title VII (of the United States Civil Rights Act). Unwelcome sexual advances, requests for sexual favors, and other verbal or physical conduct of a sexual nature constitute sexual harassment when

Focus 14.1 The Violence Against Women Act and Vulnerable Populations

Beyond supporting individual victims, what can be done on the societal level? In 1994, President Bill Clinton signed into law the Violence Against Women Act (VAWA), which was drafted by Senator Joe Biden and received bipartisan support. This law is meant to support victims and prosecute perpetrators of IPV and rape, regardless of their gender. (Although the title of the law suggests that it covers only violence against women, the language of the law is actually gender-neutral.) For example, VAWA supports the investigation and prosecution of IPV and rape, provides legal assistance to IPV and rape victims, and funds violence prevention programs as well as domestic violence shelters and rape crisis centers across the United States. It also created the Office on Violence Against Women in the U.S. Department of Justice. Previously, IPV was treated as a family problem and police were reluctant to get involved, but VAWA requires that they help victims. Since VAWA was signed into law, rates of IPV have declined (Catalano, 2015). VAWA was reauthorized in 2000 (again signed by President Clinton) and 2005 (signed by President George W. Bush). Yet, VAWA expired in 2011 because of disagreements about who should be protected by the law.

In 2011, a long battle ensued over efforts to extend VAWA protections to American Indian, immigrant, queer, and trans victims as well as victims of human trafficking. These groups of people are especially vulnerable, in some cases because they are at higher risk of being victimized by gender-based forms of violence. For example, IPV victimization rates are higher against American Indian women (see Table 14.2; Black et al., 2011; National Congress of American Indians, 2013). Many scholars and those within American Indian communities note that IPV was comparatively uncommon prior to European colonization. They argue that colonization and the introduction of alcohol contributed to the rise in IPV among American Indians (Matamonasa-Bennett, 2015).

As noted earlier, high rates of violence have also been reported against queer and transgender populations (Cantor et al., 2015; Stotzer, 2009). For example, a survey of 150,000 students at universities across the United States found that 39.1% of transgender, queer, and other gender nonconforming seniors had experienced nonconsensual sexual contact during college (Cantor et al., 2015). Relative to their cisgender siblings, transgender adults experience higher rates of harassment and discrimination (Factor & Rothblum, 2007). Yet because gender and sexual minority groups remain so stigmatized, reporting violence or seeking help is a risky choice. For example, victims may fear revictimization by way of victim-blaming and harsh interrogation about their sexuality or anatomy.

Immigrant women are in a uniquely disadvantaged situation, in part because it is risky for them to go to the police when they are victimized. Reporting IPV or rape may put an immigrant’s legal status in jeopardy. For example, if an undocumented immigrant reports that she’s been raped, the police may report her to U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) instead of prosecuting the perpetrator for raping her. In February 2017, an IPV victim who was also an undocumented immigrant was arrested at a Denver courthouse while seeking a restraining order against her abuser. Cases like this—which received national news coverage—have sparked fear and motivated other women in similar situations to drop their charges of IPV (Glenn, 2017). Thus, some immigrant victims face the difficult choice of reporting and seeking help, and thus risking deportation, or keeping silent to remain in the United States, thus risking revictimization. In addition, an IPV perpetrator might threaten to withhold his support for his undocumented immigrant partner or report her to ICE if she reports his violence to the police. Language barriers and financial dependence are additional barriers to help-seeking among immigrant IPV victims. One study of immigrant Latinas compared histories of sexual assault, physical assault, stalking, and help-seeking between undocumented Latina immigrants and Latina immigrants with permanent legal status (Zadnik et al., 2015). The results showed that, while the two groups of women did not differ in terms of their histories of victimization, undocumented Latinas were significantly less likely to seek formal help when they were victimized. Thus, undocumented immigrant women are especially vulnerable to IPV because they cannot simply seek help and must often choose between revictimization and deportation.

Human trafficking victims are also especially vulnerable to gender-based violence, which we will discuss in more detail later in this chapter. Quite simply, victims of human trafficking are disproportionately women and they are most frequently forced into prostitution or sexual slavery (UNODC, 2014). They often live in the shadows, without the freedom to advocate for themselves when they are victimized.

In sum, the research indicates that American Indian, immigrant, queer, and trans people are especially vulnerable to gender-based violence, as are human trafficking victims. Members of these groups are more likely to be victimized and lack the power to seek help. In 2013, VAWA was reauthorized and signed into law by President Barack Obama, with expanded protections for these vulnerable groups. For example, VAWA now funds grants to tribal governments to support anti-IPV efforts and provide services to American Indian victims. The law is up for reauthorization in 2018.

1. submission to such conduct is made either explicitly or implicitly a term or condition of an individual’s employment,

2. submission to or rejection of such conduct by an individual is used as the basis for employment decisions affecting such individual, or

3. such conduct has the purpose or effect of unreasonably interfering with an individual’s work performance or creating an intimidating, hostile or offensive working environment.

The EEOC definition contains two parts. The first is often termed quid pro quo harassment and is captured in points 1 and 2. Quid pro quo is a Latin phrase meaning “this for that,” or “I’ll scratch your back if you scratch mine.” Quid pro quo harassment refers to exchanges such as the following: “Have sex with me and you can keep your job,” or “Have sex with me and I’ll see to it that you get a big raise.” One recent and very public example involved Hollywood film executive Harvey Weinstein, who was ousted as the co-chairman of the Weinstein Company after the New York Times and the New Yorker reported that he had, over several decades, sexually harassed and assaulted women in the film industry and paid settlements to keep his accusers quiet (Farrow, 2017; Kantor & Twohey, 2017). After the reports were published, more than 80 women came forward with their experiences of his predatory behavior. Many described a common scenario: They were called to meet with Weinstein about a film project, and he’d make sexual advances toward them; if they rejected his advances, he’d threaten to ruin their careers. In some cases, women reported that he followed through on that threat. This pattern of quid pro quo harassment, in which sexual favors are a requirement for employment, is illegal.

The second part of the definition refers to a hostile environment and is captured in point 3. For this part of the definition, there does not have to be a requirement of sex in exchange for hiring, promotion, or pay. Rather, the issue is whether the behavior or environment in the workplace is so hostile to the victim that it interferes with their work performance. A classic example is the landmark Supreme Court case Robinson v. Jacksonville Shipyards (1991). In that case, Lois Robinson was employed at the shipyards in Jacksonville, Florida, and felt that her work was impaired by working in a hostile environment, which included prominently displayed pornographic pictures (e.g., a pinup showing a meat spatula pressed against a woman’s pubic area), crude and explicit graffiti on the walls, and a dart board covered with a picture of a woman’s breast with the nipple as a bull’s eye. The Supreme Court found in favor of Ms. Robinson and declared this kind of hostile environment to be illegal.

Sexual harassment in the workplace is very common, probably more than most people realize. Like other gender-based forms of violence, it often goes unreported. Thus, prevalence estimates vary considerably. One meta-analysis found that 58% of women reported having experienced a behavior at work that fits the definition of sexual harassment (Ilies et al., 2003).

Sexual harassment in the workplace is a serious concern. It can mean the difference between getting a raise or promotion and getting fired. For the woman who supports her family financially, being fired for sexual noncompliance can be devastating. Because she needs her job so much, she is vulnerable and the potential for coercing her is enormous. Women who have been victimized in this way often describe the experience as being degrading and humiliating; it can make one feel trapped and powerless. Sexual harassment has been linked to anxiety, depression, sleep disturbances, nausea, headaches, and PTSD (Chan et al., 2008; Welsh, 1999). A meta-analysis examining the effects of harmful workplace experiences—including sexual harassment and discrimination—on women found significant negative effects on women’s well-being, ranging from lower work satisfaction to poorer physical and mental health (Sojo et al., 2016).

Sexual Harassment in Education

In Chapter 7, we briefly discussed peer sexual harassment among adolescents. In an educational setting, sexual harassment is defined by the U.S. Department of Education Office for Civil Rights as “unwelcome conduct of a sexual nature, which can include unwelcome sexual advances, requests for sexual favors, or other verbal, nonverbal, or physical conduct of a sexual nature,” including sexual touching, comments, jokes, or gestures; calling students sexually charged names; spreading sexual rumors; rating students on sexual activity or performance; and circulating, showing, or creating e-mails or websites of a sexual nature. In this section, we focus on instructors—teachers and professors—perpetrating sexual harassment against students.

We probably don’t need to tell you, but instructors have power over students. At a minimum, the professor or teaching assistant holds the power of having the student’s grades in their hands. This means that any sexual relations between an instructor and student are inherently unequal and problematic. Certainly, in the case of a student who is a minor, sexual harassment may cross over into the category of child sexual abuse or statutory rape. Still, even if the student is an adult, the power differential is problematic. For example, if a college student consents to a sexual relationship with their professor or teaching assistant, the student is in a position of lower power that complicates their ability to consent freely. And if they wish to end the relationship, that process is also complicated by the instructor’s power over them.

How common is sexual harassment in education? The data indicate that, among undergraduates, about 62% of female students and more than 75% of transgender and queer students have been harassed in some way or another, ranging from sexual remarks and offensive jokes to persistent come-ons and requests for sex (Cantor et al., 2015). In about 95% of these cases, respondents identified fellow students as the perpetrators. In other words, undergraduate students identified instructors as the perpetrators in a small proportion of cases. Yet among graduate student respondents, faculty members are more often the perpetrators.

In cases that occur in graduate school, the instructor controls critical evaluations and recommendations that affect the course of the woman’s career. A recent survey found that 38% of female graduate students and 23% of male graduate students reported that they had been sexually harassed by faculty or staff (Rosenthal et al., 2016). Women report dropping courses, changing majors, or dropping out of higher education as a result of sexual harassment. Sexual harassment is also linked to depression and symptoms of PTSD (Buchanan et al., 2009).

Perpetrators of Sexual Harassment

Psychologist John Pryor has developed a person X situation model of sexual harassment (Hitlan et al., 2009; Pryor et al., 1995). According to this model, characteristics of one’s personality characteristics (namely, sexist attitudes) make some men more likely to sexually harass than others. Put those men in a situation conducive to harassment and they harass. Pryor measures men’s likelihood to sexually harass (LSH) by asking them to imagine a series of situations in which they have the opportunity to exploit an attractive woman sexually and experience no negative consequences. For each situation, the men are asked to rate their likelihood of behaving in a sexually exploitive way.

Organizational norms play a large role in creating situations conducive to harassment (Pryor et al., 1995; Welsh, 1999). Some restaurants, for example, require the waitresses to wear short, tight skirts—and Hooters is not the only guilty one. These restaurants have created a sexualized atmosphere in which customers and coworkers are given permission to sexually harass the waitresses. Place a man who is high in LSH in that situation and he is likely to harass.

Feminist Analysis

The feminist analysis makes several points about sexual harassment. As with other forms of gender-based violence, victims are often blamed. For example, it might be argued that the victim behaved provocatively or explicitly initiated sexual activity in hopes of getting a promotion, getting a good grade, and so on. By contrast, the feminist perspective would argue that such activity is usually initiated by the man in the powerful position.

Another point made by the feminist analysis emphasizes issues of power and control. Sexual harassment happens precisely because men are so often in positions of greater power relative to women, whether at work or in education. Research indicates that women are most at risk for sexual harassment in male-dominated workplaces (Hitlan et al., 2009). Of course, harassment in male-dominated jobs has the added effect of maintaining occupational segregation (see Chapter 9). In addition, victims of sexual harassment lack power and control over the harassment and the freedom to fight back or leave. It is extremely difficult to quit one’s job and find a new job without facing significant financial consequences. In this way, victims experience a lack of control over their own lives.

Photo 14.5 Organizational norms, such as requiring servers to dress provocatively, create a sexualized atmosphere that is conducive to sexual harassment.


Ethan Miller/Getty Images Entertainment/Getty Images.

The feminist analysis also involves taking an intersectional approach to sexual harassment. Sexual harassment may be racist, leaving women of color especially vulnerable. For example, one study with Black women found that when harassment perpetrators were White, they tended to have more organizational power over the victim (e.g., as a work supervisor). Moreover, White perpetrators were more likely to perpetrate racist sexual harassment against the women, such as commenting on a woman’s “large Black behind” (Woods et al., 2009). The researchers found that, relative to sexual harassment perpetrated by Black men, sexual harassment perpetrated by White men was perceived more negatively and, in turn, led to higher PTSD symptoms.

Human Trafficking

Often referred to as “modern-day slavery,” human trafficking is the acquisition of people by improper means such as force, fraud, or deception, with the aim of exploiting them, most often for sexual exploitation and forced labor or slavery (UNODC, 2014). The United Nations and law enforcement agencies such as the FBI have identified it as a significant and widespread human rights violation. Estimates vary, but between 21 and 26 million people are currently being trafficked (International Labor Organization, 2012; U.S. Department of State, 2013). Around the world, estimates of the incidence of human trafficking are difficult to obtain, in part because it is underreported. In addition, many countries do not collect data on human trafficking, and some don’t even criminalize it. In the United States, the FBI began collecting data on human trafficking in 2013, but only a handful of state and local agencies have supported this effort.

Human trafficking: The acquisition of people by improper means such as force, fraud, or deception, with the aim of exploiting them, most often for sexual services and forced labor or slavery.

Like the other forms of violence discussed in this chapter, human trafficking is gendered: 70% of human trafficking victims are women or girls, and about three-quarters of those prosecuted for child trafficking are men (UNODC, 2014). In light of discriminatory laws about gender and sexuality around the world, trans and queer people are especially vulnerable to human trafficking and are overrepresented among victims. Migrants, refugees, people with disabilities, and members of religious minority groups are also at increased risk of trafficking (U.S. Department of State, 2016).

About 79% of human trafficking involves sexual exploitation. For example, women and children (especially girls) may be forced into prostitution. However, because trafficking is so underreported, it may be that other forms of trafficking are more common than it seems. Forced labor and marriage, organ removal, and the exploitation of children as soldiers are other forms of human trafficking (UNODC, 2014).

Although human trafficking occurs in every country around the world, it typically involves movement from poor or less developed countries to wealthy or more developed ones (UNODC, 2014). Traffickers are often from the same country as victims. A review of research on sex trafficking of girls and women found that victims often (though not always) are poor, have low levels of education, and have a history of physical or sexual violence within their families (Meshkovska et al., 2015). Many are simply seeking a way out of poverty.

Although data are sparse, it is undeniable that victims of human trafficking are at risk for physical and mental health problems (Crawford, 2017). Researchers have documented a variety of mental health problems, including PTSD, depression, and anxiety, as well as alcohol and substance use. Physical problems include headaches, fatigue, abdominal and pelvic pain, loss of appetite, and sexually transmitted infections. Being the victim of additional forms of violence and obtaining unsafe abortions have also been reported (Meshkovska et al., 2015).

For therapists working with victims of human trafficking, feminist therapy provides some guidelines (Hopper, 2017). It is important first to build rapport and get the victim’s informed consent before proceeding with any therapy. Next, the therapist conducts a safety assessment to determine immediate concerns about the victim’s safety and a needs assessment to determine if there are basic needs (e.g., shelter, medical problems) that need to be met before addressing emotional and psychological needs. The therapist will also work with the victim to understand their narrative about being trafficked, assess their psychological symptoms, and focus on the victim’s strengths to provide hope.

Photo 14.6 Human trafficking is a significant and widespread crime affecting between 21 and 26 million people.


Nur Photo/Getty Images

Child Sexual Abuse

Child sexual abuse (CSA) includes the use, coercion, or forcing of a child to engage in sexual acts or imitate sexual acts. Like other forms of gender-based violence, CSA has become more widely discussed in recent years. Whereas a few decades ago it was considered unmentionable and rare, today adult victims freely and openly share their childhood experiences of victimization on blogs and television shows.

Child sexual abuse (CSA): Behavior that includes the use, coercion, or forcing of a child to engage in sexual acts or imitate sexual acts.

Prevalence of Child Sexual Abuse

For many years, CSA was considered a rare and unusual occurrence. Early research seemed to confirm this idea, as very few CSA cases were reported and prosecuted in the United States. Yet those numbers were misleading because, like other forms of gender-based violence, the vast majority of CSA cases go unreported and unprosecuted. Recent well-sampled surveys of the general population indicate that approximately 30% of girls are victims of CSA, with 8% of girls experiencing intercourse as part of the abuse (Bissada & Briere, 2001; Kendler et al., 2000). CSA often occurs alongside other forms of child maltreatment, such as neglect or physical abuse (Pérez-Fuentes et al., 2013).

CSA is a form of gender-based violence that disproportionately affects girls. A large, nationally representative sample of adults in the United States found that 10% of adults had experienced sexual abuse in childhood, three-quarters of whom were women (Pérez-Fuentes et al., 2013). Worldwide, roughly 20% of women and 5% to 10% of men report that they experienced sexual abuse as a child (Freyd et al., 2005). Thus, about three times more girls than boys experience CSA. And approximately 91% of CSA perpetrators are men (Cortoni et al., 2010).

Further complicating the efforts to accurately assess the prevalence of CSA, there is some controversy over whether CSA may be forgotten and later remembered. That is, abuse may be so traumatic that memories of it are repressed in order to protect the child’s well-being and development. Human memory is not perfect, so just as it is the case that we may forget important events, it is also the case that we may remember events inaccurately. The evidence indicates that memories of childhood sexual abuse can be forgotten for a period of time and then remembered again. For example, in one study, 100 women who were known to have been sexually abused as children—they had been brought to a hospital for the abuse and it had been medically verified—were subsequently interviewed; 38% could not remember their prior abuse (Williams, 1992, 1994). In another study with a similar design, only 10% of victims could not remember the prior abuse (Goodman et al., 2003). However, that sample was based on prosecuted cases, and it seems likely that the prosecution process increases memory of the event (Freyd, 2003). In a massive study of adults who were survivors of a variety of traumatic events, delayed recall (forgetting the event for a time and then remembering it) was reported by 20% of victims of child sexual abuse and by 16% of those who had experienced injuries in combat or witnessed others being injured (Elliott, 1997). Therefore, the evidence seems to indicate that in a significant proportion of cases, memories of CSA may be forgotten for a period of time and then remembered again.

While school-age children are most at risk of CSA, younger children are less likely to report that they’ve been victimized (Murray et al., 2014). Younger children are especially vulnerable in part because they may lack the cognitive and social abilities to understand what has happened and speak up for themselves. They may think the abuse is “normal,” blame themselves for it, feel guilty about it, or worry that the perpetrator (who may be a family member or friend) will be punished.

Impact on the Victim

Research evidence clearly demonstrates that CSA can have serious consequences for victims, both in the short run (while they are still children) and in the long run (when they are adults).

Studies of adults who were sexually abused as children have found evidence of serious psychological consequences (Bulik et al., 2001; Testa et al., 2005). For example, one especially well-designed study focused on female adult twins (Kendler et al., 2000). The researchers were especially interested in the twin pairs who were discordant for abuse—that is, one member of the twin pair had been sexually abused but the other had not. The results showed that CSA was linked to higher rates of depression, generalized anxiety disorder, bulimia, alcohol dependence, and drug dependence. Another study, which sampled over 34,000 adults across the United States, found that those who had experienced CSA had higher rates of mood disorders (e.g., depression), PTSD, ADHD, and suicide attempts (Pérez-Fuentes et al., 2013).

CSA appears to have effects on physical health as well (Briggs et al., 2011). For example, adults who were victims of CSA are one and a half times more likely than those who weren’t abused to have had health problems in the past year (Sachs-Ericsson et al., 2005). On average, victims of CSA show greater psychological distress and more health problems (Freyd et al., 2005).

Photo 14.7 Feminist activism, such as the Take Back the Night campaign, seeks to raise awareness of gender-based violence and empower victims.


By AllenS - Own work, Public Domain.

The consequences of CSA vary from individual to individual. Some victims show severe distress and others seem to show little or no distress. The evidence indicates that the extent of distress is associated with a number of factors including, especially, the severity of the abuse (Kallstrom-Fuqua et al., 2004). Patterns of sexual abuse can range from 5 minutes of fondling by a distant cousin to repeated forced intercourse by a father or stepfather over a period of several years. The effects of CSA are the most severe when intercourse has been involved, when the abuse has occurred repeatedly over years, and when it was committed by someone very close, such as a father or stepfather (Kendler et al., 2000; Pérez-Fuentes et al., 2013). Nonetheless, every person’s experience is unique and complex, and CSA of any degree or severity has the potential to cause great harm.

Feminist Analysis

Feminists make several points about child sexual abuse. First, as with all forms of gender-based violence, they warn against victim-blaming—that is, suggesting that a victim initiated sex with her abuser by her seductive behavior and that he therefore cannot be held responsible. The evidence indicates that it is usually the perpetrator who is the initiator. And even if the child were the initiator, the perpetrator, because of his age and position of responsibility, must certainly refuse her. Second, feminists point out that, as a form of gender-based violence, this is another instance in which men exercise power and control over girls and women. Third, feminists want to alert the public to the frequency of CSA and the psychological damage it can do to girls and women.

Looking Forward

We need to acknowledge the victimization of girls and women. But we also need to move beyond that recognition to empowerment. As psychologists, our job is to improve the quality of life for everyone, but especially those who have been victimized or marginalized. How can we both acknowledge deep victimization and empower those who have been victimized to freely live their lives?

Contrast these two terms: rape victim and rape survivor. Some advocates argue that the woman who has been raped yet manages to return to a productive life is a survivor, not a victim. Even tragic situations in which women are made powerless can be a means for women to begin to discover and regain their strength and power, both at the individual level and at the level of the larger society. Throughout this chapter, we have described victims. Does using the term victim imply that those who’ve been victimized are weak or somehow deficient? We don’t think so, but we do think it’s important to be sensitive to this possibility. We also think it’s important to be sensitive to the possibility that some feel pressured by the label survivor to “just get over it.”

You may have heard the old saying “What doesn’t kill you makes you stronger.” Some psychologists have considered this possibility for severe traumas such as the ones discussed in this chapter. They study posttraumatic growth (Tedeschi et al., 2015; see Chapter 11). For example, research has found that some women report positive life changes following rape, particularly if they have strong social support and feel a sense of control over their recovery (Frazier et al., 2004). A meta-analysis of gender differences in posttraumatic growth found that women displayed somewhat more growth than men (d = −0.27), averaging over all types of traumas (Vishnevsky et al., 2010). Some women survive and even thrive following these traumas, and we should recognize their resiliency and learn from them in order to help others who’ve been victimized. It takes great courage to persist after trauma, so many have embraced the label of survivor to acknowledge this courage and resiliency.

Experience the Research: A Scale to Assess Views on the Causes of Rape

In this exercise, you are going to construct a scale to assess people’s beliefs in the different theoretical views of the causes of rape (see discussion of causes earlier in this chapter). Generate four statements for each theoretical view; the statements should be ones that can be rated on a scale from strongly disagree (1) to strongly agree (5). For example, for the victim-precipitated theory, one statement might be “Most rapes occur because the woman really wanted it.” For the feminist theory, one statement might be “Men use rape to control women.” Once you’ve listed the 16 statements, have another person in this class check them to see whether each really reflects one of the four theoretical views. Then administer your 16-item scale to five women and five men. Compute an average score for each theoretical view for each person; that is, each of your participants will have a score on victim-precipitated beliefs, psychopathology of rapist beliefs, feminist beliefs, and social disorganization beliefs.

Do you see patterns in your data? For example, do most people seem to hold most strongly to psychopathology of rapist beliefs? Are there differences between men’s and women’s responses? If so, what is the pattern of those differences?

Chapter Summary

This chapter considered five forms of gender-based violence: rape, intimate partner violence, sexual harassment, human trafficking, and child sexual abuse. These forms of violence have several characteristics in common. For example, these crimes are disproportionately perpetrated by cisgender men against women and girls. Gender and sexual minority group members are also overrepresented among the victims. All have in common the reticence of the victims to report the occurrences and a corresponding difficulty in helping the unknown victims and stopping the unknown perpetrators.

In all five, the victim traditionally has been blamed. Rape myths, which are false beliefs about rape, rape victims, and rapists, support rape culture. Feminists emphasize the basic ways in which rape, IPV, sexual harassment, human trafficking, and child sexual abuse represent male expressions of power and dominance over women.

All five of these forms of gender-based violence have significant psychological and physical health consequences for victims, including PTSD, depression, injuries from assault, and sexually transmitted infections. Feminist therapy can help victims recover from these experiences of victimization, which are traumatic in some cases. Feminist therapists encourage victims to avoid blaming themselves and instead emphasize hope and resilience.

Suggestions for Further Reading

Paludi, Michele A., Martin, Jennifer L., Gruber, James E., & Fineran, Susan. (Eds.). (2015). Sexual harassment in education and work settings: Current research and best practices. Santa Barbara, CA: Praeger. An interdisciplinary team of authors provide an overview of research and policy on sexual harassment in education and work settings.

White, Jacquelyn, Koss, Mary P., & Kazdin, Alan E. (Eds.). (2011). Violence against women and children (2 vols.). Washington, DC: American Psychological Association. This is the most up-to-date, authoritative series on violence against women.