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ABSTRACT: Qualitative and quantitative analyses were conducted on 170 participants' written definitions of date rape. The qualititative analysis identified several key themes that characterized womens' and men' perceptions of date rape including the issues of consent, use of force, the sex acts that constitute date rape, and the context in which they occur. Thematic analysis also indicated whether participants' perceived date rape to be gender neutral or gender specific, an important issue given the feminist discourse on this matter that accompanied replacement of the gendered term "rape" in the Canadian Criminal Code with the new, non-gendered offence of sexual assault. While a majority of respondents used terms that indicated a gender-neutral perspective, the sexes differed in that a much greater percentage of women than men advanced a gender-specific understanding of rape. The findings are used to assess the extent to which the feminist perspectives that shaped changes in Canadian rape law in the 1980s are now embedded in public perceptions of date rape and to consider possible implications for prevention educators.

Keywords: Dating Date rape Gender Rape law


The feminist anti-rape movement has had a dramatic impact on public awareness of rape and other forms of sexual violence and feminist perspectives have shaped much of the discourse surrounding these issues (Begin, 1989; Boyle, 1984; Donat & D'Emilio, 1992; Hinch, 1988; McNickle-Rose, 1977; Osborne, 1984; Pride, 1981; Roberts & Mohr, 1994; Sorenson & White, 1992). In the 1970s and early 1980s, Canadian feminists were leaders in lobbying the federal government to address the sexism inherent in the prevailing rape legislation, a campaign that led eventually to the new sexual assault law (Bill C-127) and to subsequent legislative amendments, such as Bill C-49, which set guidelines regarding the definition of consent and the admissibility of a woman's sexual history during a trial (Roberts & Mohr, 1994). The new sexual assault law thus eliminated the term "rape" from the criminal code in favour of emphasizing the assaultive, non-consensual, and non-gendered nature of the offence. Yet the term "date rape" is still used to denote and educate about one aspect of this area of social concern. We therefore ask here whether the perspectives that shaped the new legislation are now embodied in public thinking about the topic. The study examines women's and men's written definitions of date rape with a view to determining the extent to which their understandings of date rape/sexual assault are influenced by gender and age and by traditional versus non-gendered understandings of rape.


The process of drafting the new sexual assault legislation involved considerable debate (Begin, 1989; Kasinsky, 1978; National Association of Women and the Law, 1979, 1981; Osborne, 1984). One key issue was whether the word rape should remain in the legislation or be replaced by the term sexual assault. In the early 1980s, rape (R.S.C. 1970, c. C-34, section 143) was defined as an act of sexual intercourse (i.e., vaginal penetration) committed by a man against a woman without her consent or with her consent if it was extorted by means of threats or fear of physical assault, by impersonating a woman' s husband, or by false representation of the act (e.g., proposal of marriage) when the act did not occur between husband and wife (Department of Justice, 1990). In addition, the offence of rape was situated in Part IV of the Criminal Code under the heading "Sexual Offences, Public Morals and Disorderly Conduct."

Many feminists and others believed that the legal emphasis on rape reinforced a rape myth--that rape is a type of moral or personality offence (i.e., a "sex crime"). In addition, the social construction of rape law mirrored unequal gender relations, such as patriarchal power and privilege in marriage (Roberts & Mohr, 1994). Some proponents of legislative change thus argued that use of the term sexual assault, because it encompassed rape and other acts of sexual violence and provided legal recourse to female and male victims, was the best way to establish that rape and other forms of sexual violence are, in fact, types of assault (i.e., a "power crime") (Clarke & Lewis, 1977; Hinch, 1988; Osborne, 1994). This view was not universal and some feminists who wanted new legislation lobbied to keep the term rape because it reflected the gendered nature of sexual violence (see Los, 1994; Roberts & Mohr, 1994). In the end, rape law reform resulted in the so-called "degendering" of the offences subsumed under the term sexual assault. In addition, the new sexual assault laws were relocated in Part VI of the code under the heading "Offences Against the Person and Reputation". Bill C-127 thus represented an attempt to eliminate sex discrimination in the law in keeping with the equality clause in the Charter of Rights and Freedoms (Roberts & Mohr, 1994).

Although current discourse about rape reiterates the key points made during the debate about Bill C-127, other related issues have emerged as well. The first of these issues is a dual and contradictory understanding of the role of gender in shaping perspectives on rape/sexual assault. On the one hand, rape is now defined as gender-neutral. It is any assaultive act of a sexual nature perpetrated or experienced by either a man or a woman. On the other hand, concern persists that the gender-neutral term detracts from the fact that rape is a gendered act of violence (Roberts & Mohr, 1994), a view expressed by Los (1994) who wrote that the "systematic de-sexualization of rape might actually obscure the relationship between male power, violence, and sex" (p. 33). From this perspective it seems inappropriate to remove "rape" from the law given that it is such a serious crime rooted in gender inequality. The expression of this dual understanding of rape is evident in courses on sexual assault awareness and prevention. A common practice in these courses is to teach students that anyone can be a victim of sexual violence (Sorenson & White, 1992). Yet, these courses also report statistics indicating that women are far more likely to experience victimization, most often by a man known to them (Sorenson & White, 1992). Moreover, feminist-based education programs specifically teach that sexual violence is gendered (Gauthier, 1992; Lenskyj, 1992). Thus, the current discourse would suggest that rape is gender-neutral in theory and, for the most part, gender-specific in practice.

A second key point concerning the discourse about rape/sexual assault is the claim that we lack a clear, concrete definition of sexual assault (Hinch, 1988; Osborne, 1994). Sexual assault is currently defined as any act of sexual contact that takes place by force and without consent, ranging from sexual touching to oral, anal, or genital contact (Gauthier, 1992; Lenskyj, 1992; Sorenson & White, 1992). There is little agreement on what constitutes consent and/or force. For example, definitions of consent can range from verbal to physical behaviours and such definitions can include or omit the ability of participants to provide consent (i.e., whether influenced by intoxication, unconsciousness). The much-publicized Antioch College case serves as one of the best exemplars of how challenging it is to develop an agreed upon understanding of consent. In this case, the school administration clearly articulated the expectations for consent, yet received criticism for expectations that were seen as unrealistic and inappropriate (see Hickman & Muehlenhard, 1999; Muehlenhard, 1995/ 1996; Muehlenhard, Powch, Phelps & Giusti, 1992, for a discussion). The point is clear that even when the guidelines for consent are made explicit, agreement is not universal (see also Humphreys, 2000). Interestingly, education programs continue to emphasize consensual contact as a critical component of their programs (Sorensen & White, 1992) despite the fact "that consent is complex and can take many forms" (Muehlenhard, 1999, p. 270), and that a common understanding of what constitutes consent is difficult to find.

A third key point is that a similar lack of agreement prevails on what constitutes force. The breadth of definitions for force in feminist-based educational programs ranges from the use of psychological or emotional pressure to the use of physical force or violence (Gauthier, 1992; Lenskyj, 1992; Sorenson & White, 1992). Again, despite the lack of agreement in definition, force remains an important point in educational programs.

Since the new sexual assault legislation has been in place for some time and debate and discussion about it was so widely publicized (Roberts & Mohr, 1994), one might expect to find some uniformity in the perspectives of women and men on the topic of date rape. Yet, there are a number of reasons to think that women may be more likely than men to hold gender-specific understandings of date rape. First, the feminist perspective on rape that helped to shape the new legislation has been discussed in the media, particularly in women's magazines and feminist magazines (Verberg, 1998), as well as in women's studies and gender relations courses, which, based on the first authors' personal correspondence with Women's Studies Program Coordinators at three Canadian Universities, tend to have extremely high female and low male enrolment. In addition, prevalence research indicates that women are far more likely to experience sexual assault than men (DeKeseredy, Schwartz, & Tait, 1993; Koss, Gidycz & Wisniewski, 1987). With respect to possible age differences in perspectives on date rape one might expect younger cohorts to have greater exposure to and familiarity with recent conceptualizations of date rape because educational institutions are now playing a greater role in providing date rape awareness and prevention programs.

Given the importance of identifying factors that influence how individuals perceive sexual assault in general and date rape in particular, the present study examines current characterizations of date rape through a qualitative and quantitative analysis of written definitions provide by a sample of single (i.e., unmarried) women and men of various ages. Four issues were assessed in relation to respondents' understanding: Was date rape perceived as gendered or gender neutral?; was it identified with specific types of sexual acts or behaviours?; how were the issues of consent and use of force understood in relation to date rape?; how did the context of the situation influence perceptions of date rape?

We also sought to determine whether age of respondent had an impact on these perceptions and to assess, albeit indirectly, whether the feminist perspectives that shaped the current Canadian sexual assault legislation have been absorbed into contemporary perceptions of date rape.



Participants included 102 women and 68 men ranging in age from 18 to 85 years all of whom lived in the same mid-sized Canadian city and indicated that they were single and available to date. Participants were recruited from a number of recreational and leisure groups/centres (e.g., gyms, retirement centres, social clubs) as well as through advertisements posted in public areas (e.g., libraries, grocery stores). The age distribution of the sample was: 18-21 years (25%); 22-29 years (24%); 30-39 years (23%); 40-59 years (19%); and 60 or older (9%). A sizeable majority of participants was thus under 40 years of age (72%) and 91% were under 60 years of age.


Participants were recruited for a larger study of positive and negative dating experiences across the life cycle that also included an assessment of participants' definitions of date rape. Individuals who agreed to participate were either given or sent a survey package containing a letter of introduction, the survey and a stamped return envelope. Participants completed the information independently and mailed their information to the researchers. All responses were anonymous and 100% of those who agreed to participate and received surveys returned them. The analyses presented here are based on written responses to the open-ended question that asked, "How would you define date rape?"


Analytic qualitative analysis followed Strauss's (1987) and Glaser and Strauss's (1967) constant comparative method. The first stage of the analysis involved open (or substantive) coding of the data. Open coding involved reading the definitions for specific words and/ or themes that emerged from the respondents' definitions. Two of the authors did the open coding independently, and then compared the themes that emerged from their reading of the respondents' definitions. Both coders identified five key themes that emerged from the data. The themes were: (1) gender, (2) consent, (3) force, (4) context, and (5) type of sex act.

The second stage of the analysis involved axial coding. In this stage, the coders did more intensive coding around each theme to discern whether further distinctions could be drawn. For instance, in the case of consent, the coders observed that most participants mentioned its relevance to the behaviour being classified as date rape, however, some participants explained which types of verbal and/or non-verbal behaviours they believed were indicative of consent or a lack of consent. The two coders, working independently, agreed on the categories within each theme (axial coding). To assess the reliability of the coding scheme, 18% of the data were scored by both coders with over 95% agreement. The few differences that were noted actually provided clarification of the coding system. Coding thus proved to be reliable. Note that the coders did not have information on participant gender during the stages of open and axial coding.

Selective coding, which assesses links among categories, was also used (Glaser & Strauss, 1987). The selective coding indicated that variations in the written definitions were influenced by gender. Finally, quantitative procedures were used to determine associations among the 5 themes and whether differences emerged as a function of gender or age.



Explanations and examples of the five themes that emerged from open coding of participants' written perspectives on date rape process are presented below along with the a categorization of the responses within each of the themes.

Theme 1: Type of sexual act or acts referred to in the definition

Respondents differed in terms of how they defined the sex act in their definition of "date rape". The three main groups that emerged for defining date rape based on the type of sexual act or acts involved were: (1) date rape involves sexual intercourse (i.e., "had sex", "intercourse", "rape", or "had sexual relations"); (2) date rape involves forced sexual contact (e.g., "Date rape is when two people who have decided to go out on a date, either in public or private, become sexually active. It doesn't necessarily have to be sexual intercourse; any petting or fondling against one's will is also date rape" (18-year-old woman); and (3) no reference was made to a sex act in the written text.

Theme 2: Understanding of consent

Most respondents mentioned consent in their definition. In addition, many respondents listed behaviours that were indicative of consent or lack of consent. Responses were divided into 2 groups, those that simply mentioned lack of consent as an aspect of rape (such as "against one's will", "without prior consent", "does not want to", or "unwanted"), and those that both mentioned the issue of consent and defined the behaviour that indicated the lack of consent. For example,
 Any intercourse that is not mutually agreed upon by two, coherent people,
 that is, clearly understood. If one partner is drank and cannot get "no"
 across, the other partner is guilty of rape. (44-year-old woman)

 Where a woman is forced against her will to do something. The man feels she
 must want it, and though she says no, or struggles, he has sex with her.
 (22-year-old man)

 When sex is forced upon a person by their date, despite the fact that the
 "rapist" has been told to stop. It could also be considered date rape if a
 person is rendered incapable of granting consent (example: extremely drank)
 and sexual intercourse is carried out while this person is incapacitated.
 (36-year-old woman)

Theme 3: Understanding of the use of force

Three groups of responses were noted. Most respondents mentioned the use of force in their definition of date rape, and usually the relevance of force was indicated by the terms "force" or "forced". As in the case of consent, some respondents specified what behaviour was indicative of force, using phrases such as "persisting and pushing", "physical assertion" or "proceeds without consent". Consider the following examples:
 When your date tries to convince, coerce, or force you to have sex with him
 when its really NOT what you want when you say "NO!" and he keeps on
 trying--keeps trying to convince you to "give in"--or keeps fondling hoping
 you'll get turned on. Problem: you may not be strong enough to MAKE your no
 mean NO! He may persist, cajole, and convince you to do what he wants.
 (44-year-old woman)

 Date rape occurs when one partner does not respect the wishes of the other
 not to engage in sexual intercourse and instead forces them either forcibly
 or by perseverance to submit to intercourse although it is against their
 wishes. (22-year-old woman)

A small proportion of definitions did not mention or define force.

Theme 4: Context: Dating versus any Acquaintance

The term "date rape" implies that the sexual assault took place between dating partners. Nonetheless, we noted that a number of respondents emphasized "acquaintance rape". Sexual assault educators use both the terms date and acquaintance rape, with the latter term emphasizing the fact that the victims of sexual assault typically know the assailant. Date rape has a specific dynamic--it occurs on a date. Three types of responses emerged: definitions referring to dating partners only, those referring to acquaintances, and those referring to neither dating partners nor acquaintances.

Theme 5: Relevance of gender in the understanding of date rape

Respondents differed in whether they provided a gender-neutral or gender-specific understanding of date rape. A response was coded gender-neutral if the respondent indicated that either a man or woman could be either the perpetrator or the victim of rape or sexual assault. For example:
 Date rape is when one person has sex with another person who has not given
 consent. (male participant)

 Date rape occurs when a person who is a friend or acquaintance forces
 sexual vaginal intercourse on another person where this victim has not been
 given consent and has said no. It can be a date rape for either male or
 female. For the males, the female forces him to perform vaginal intercourse
 on her without his consent. (female participant)

 Date rape occurs at ANY time when either a male or a female is doing or
 being forced to do something that they do not want to do and have expressed
 this by saying "NO" or something equivalent. (male participant)

Two respondents explained that rape could occur in heterosexual or homosexual contexts. For example: "Date rape is forcible sexual contact or sexual intercourse. It could be man-man, or man-woman, or woman-woman on a date" (male participant).

A definition was coded gender-specific if its author indicated that the gender of the perpetrator was male and the gender of the victim was female. If the respondent implied that date rape was gendered, the definition was coded as gender-implied. Consider the following examples:
 Date rape is when a female is forced to have sexual intercourse without her
 consent. Even if she is in bed with her date and changes her mind to say no
 and he still proceeds, that is date rape too. (female participant)

 Where a woman is forced against her will. The man feels she must want it,
 and though she says no, or struggles, he has sex with her. (male

 A male and female go out socially or are at home socially and the male
 physically forces his body on the female's body and has sex with her
 knowing fully that she does not want him to have sex with her. She is
 making physical movements away from him. (female participant)

The category gender-implied was included after we noted that several respondents provided definitions using personal pronouns that, when read from the first-person perspective, indicated a gendered understanding of date rape. In other words, when the definition is read, one can guess whether the respondent was a male or a female if one acknowledges the fact that females are more often the victims and males the perpetrators of rape. For instance, a male respondent said, "Date rape is when your date says no to your come-on but you continue because you want to have sex". Another respondent wrote, "Date rape is when you say NO and they don't understand NO and force unwanted sex with you. [It's] forced sex or anything you don't want to do against your own will." This respondent was a woman. And finally, "It's when you want to get laid, but the other person doesn't want to, but is forced into sex" (male respondent). Because a gendered understanding is evident, these definitions were recoded for the subsequent statistical analysis as gender-specific.


The issues identified in the qualitative analyses were analysed with respect to their occurrence as a function of gender and age. Specifically, the definition of rape was assessed in terms of the sex act identified, the understanding of consent and force, and the context in which the rape occurred (see Table 1).
Table 1 Participants Definitions of "Date Rape" in Relation to the
Themes of Sexual Act, Consent, Use of Force, and Context

 Number and % of responses in
 each category

 Overall Female
Coding n % n %

Which sex act definition refers to:
Forced Intercourse 85 50.0 59 57.8
Any Forced Sexual Contact 79 46.5 42 41.2
No Mention of Sex Act 6 3.5 1 1.0

Reference made to consent:
Referred to lack of consent 74 43.5 34 33.3
Defined consent behaviour 79 46.5 59 57.8
Did not mention consent 17 10.0 9 8.8

Reference made to use of force:
Referred to use of force 64 37.6 38 37.3
Defined forceful behaviour 56 32.9 38 37.3
Did not mention use of force 50 29.4 26 25.5

Reference made to context:
Refers only to dating partner 87 51.2 53 52.0
Refers to any acquaintance 26 15.3 16 15.7
No mention of context 57 33.5 33 32.3

 Number and % of
 responses in
 each category
Coding n % [chi square]

Which sex act definition refers to:
Forced Intercourse 26 38.2
Any Forced Sexual Contact 37 54.4
No Mention of Sex Act 5 7.4 9.37(a)

Reference made to consent:
Referred to lack of consent 40 58.8
Defined consent behaviour 20 29.4
Did not mention consent 8 11.8 13.54(a)

Reference made to use of force:
Referred to use of force 26 38.2
Defined forceful behaviour 18 26.5
Did not mention use of force 24 35.3 2.78(ns)

Reference made to context:
Refers only to dating partner 34 50.0
Refers to any acquaintance 10 14.7
No mention of context 24 35.3 0.16(ns)

(a) p < .01; (ns) = non-significant

The responses were also analysed to determine the percentage of respondents who provided gender-neutral, gender-specific, and gender-implied understandings of date rape. This analysis was done for the overall sample, and for males and females and age cohorts (see Table 2 and Table 3).
Table 2 Number and Percentage of Respondents Who Provided Gender-Neutral
Versus Gender-Specific Definitions of Date Rape

 Gender of Respondent
 Overall Female Male
Definition type n % n %

Gender-neutral 109 64.1 57 55.9 52 76.5
Gender-specific 23 13.5 17 16.7 6 8.8
Gender-implied 38 22.4 28 27.5 10 14.7
(Gender-specific (61) 35.9 (45) (44.2) (16) (23.5)
& gender-implied)

Total 170 100% 102 100% 68 100%

 [chi square]
Definition type

Gender-implied 7.517(a)
(Gender-specific 7.517(a)
& gender-implied)

(a) p < .05
Table 3 Number and Percentage of Females and Males
In Each Age Category Who Provided Gender
Neutral, Gender Specific, or Gender Implied
Definitions of Date Rape

 Gender of respondent
 Female Male
Age Definition Type n % n % [chi square]

18-21 Gender Neutral 12 63.2 22 84.6
(n=45) Gender Specific 3 15.8 1 3.8
 Gender Implied 4 21.1 3 11.5

22-29 Gender Neutral 9 47.4 16 69.9
(n=46) Gender Specific 5 26.3 4 17.4
 Gender Implied 5 26.3 3 13.0

30-39 Gender Neutral 15 53.6 10 83.3
(n=40) Gender Specific 5 17.9 -- --
 Gender Implied 8 28.6 2 16.7

40-59 Gender Neutral 17 60.7 4 66.7
(n=34) Gender Specific 3 10.7 -- --
 Gender Implied 8 28.6 2 33.3

60 + Gender Neutral 4 50.0 -- --
(n=8) Gender Specific 1 12.5 -- --
 Gender Implied 3 37.5 -- -- 7.502(ns)

 Total 102 68

Theme 1: Type of sexual act or acts referred to in the definition

Traditionally, the social and legal definition of rape refers to vaginal penetration. Consistent with this understanding, 50% of the sample defined date rape in this way. Interestingly, 46.5% of respondents indicated that the term referred to any unwanted sexual contact (this approach is consistent the more inclusive notion implied by the current legal definition of sexual assault). Only 3.5% of the sample did not mention the type of sexual act, perhaps because they assume it to refer to the traditional understanding of sexual intercourse. Using a Chi-square analysis, we found a significant gender difference, with far more women (57.8%) identifying sexual intercourse as the sex act than men (38.2%), [chi square] (2, n = 170) = 9.37, p [is less than] .001 (see Table 1). Age was not a significant predictor of type of sex act identified, [chi square] (8, n = 170) = 11.31, p [is greater than] .05.

Theme 2: Understanding of consent

The overwhelming majority of respondents (90%) identified consent as an issue, and about half of them (46.5%) described what consent entailed. More women (57.8%) than men (29.4%) explained the kind of behaviour that would indicate consent or lack of consent whereas men were more likely than women to identify lack of consent, [chi square] (2, n = 170) = 13.54, p [is less than] .001 (see Table 1). Age did not predict understanding of consent, [chi square] (8, n = 170) = 8.05, p [is greater than] .05.

Theme 3: Understanding of the use of force

Overall, 70.5% of participants referred to force as an aspect of date rape. However, only about one third of the sample (32.9%) explained what behaviour constituted force. Although more women (37.3%) than men (26.5%), provided definitions of what behaviour constituted the use of force, this difference was not statistically significant, [chi square] (2, n = 170) = 2.78, p [is greater than] .05 (see Table 1). Age did not predict understanding of force, [chi square] (8, n = 170) = 4.92, p [is greater than] .05.

Theme 4: Context: dating versus any Acquaintance

The majority (51.2%) of the respondents referred to the rape as occurring between dating partners. Approximately one third of the participants (33.5%) did not refer to the context (dating versus acquaintance situations), probably because to them the term date rape implied that the context was a date. Another 15.3% of respondents extended the definition to specify that these rapes could occur between acquaintances. There were no significant differences as a function of gender or age of respondents with respect to the context of the date rape, largest [chi square] (8, n = 170) = 4.66, p [is greater than] .05 (see Table 1).

Theme 5: Relevance of gender in the understanding of date rape

The majority of respondents (64.1%) provided gender-neutral definitions of date rape. When broken down by gender, men (76.5%) were significantly more likely than women (55.9%) to provide gender-neutral definitions of date rape, [chi square] (2, n = 170) = 7.52, p [is less than] .05 (see Table 2). Age was not a significant factor in explaining the participants' understanding of the role of gender, [chi square] (8, n = 170) = 7.50, p [is greater than] .05 (see Table 3).


The definition of rape for the participants in this study corresponds with many elements of the feminist discourse on sexual violence. The majority of participants incorporated the concepts of consent and force in their definitions. In fact, significant proportions of the sample further defined what behaviours constituted consent (and refusal) and the use of force, perhaps reflecting the feminist lobbying efforts around consent issues, which resulted in legislative amendments such as Bill C-49 (which set guidelines regarding the definition of consent and the admissibility of a woman's sexual history during a trial) (Roberts & Mohr, 1994).

Feminists have actively sought to shift the construction of rape from a crime of passion to a physical assault on the person (Clarke & Lewis, 1977; Hinch, 1988; Osborne, 1994). This shift is certainly reflected in the fact that nearly half the sample extended the term rape to include all sexual acts imposed by force. It is also noteworthy that the majority of respondents provided gender-neutral definitions of date rape. This finding reflects the so-called "de-gendering" of the sexual assault law, which sought to eliminate the sex discrimination in the old rape law through the use of the gender-neutral term sexual assault. It appears, then, that much of the feminist discourse on rape and sexual assault has had an impact on the current social construction of rape.

The findings suggest that while feminist-based lobbying has been successful in certain ways, far more effort is needed to convey that rape and sexual assault is a gendered act of violence. Some feminists argued that the term sexual assault would lead to a de-gendering of rape (Los, 1994; Roberts & Mohr, 1994). Among our sample, awareness that rape was a gendered phenomenon was more evident among women than men. Even among women, however, only about half of the sample provided a gendered understanding of date rape. Women and men also differed on other elements of the definition. Women were more likely to emphasize rape and to mention and/or define consent. Our findings corroborate other research indicating a gender difference in men's and women's accounts of violence against women (Dobash, Dobash, Cavanagh, & Lewis, 1998), and men's and women's adherence to date rape myth (Lonsway ge Fitzgerald, 1994).

Why women and men hold different understandings of date rape is unclear. It may be that the campaigns associated with the feminist anti-rape movement have engaged women more than men. Women's magazines have written feature articles on rape and sexual assault and documented the feminist critique of rape and sexual assault law and prosecutions (Hinch, 1988; Verberg, 1998). Women may also be more sensitive to the gendered nature of rape because they are most likely to be the victims (Koss, Gidycz, & Wisniewski, 1987; DeKeseredy, Schwartz, & Tait, 1993), and because most women fear rape (Statistics Canada, 1993) along with the social humiliation that accompanies the 'status' of being a rape victim (Gardner, 1990; Riger & Gordon, 1981) and the experience of being put "on trial" if they were involved in legal proceedings (Department of Justice, Canada, 1990).

On the other hand, all changes in the law pertaining to rape (sexual assault) have been widely publicized in the mainstream press. Moreover, sexual assault awareness and prevention courses target both women and men. In addition, these courses have been introduced recently in male domains such as the military (Sorenson et al., 1992). Perhaps then, we should not be surprised that both men and women perceive being a victim of rape as a possible event in their lives.

The tendency of the present sample to ascribe rape as gender-neutral may be a direct reflection of the media's emphasis on the gender neutrality of sexual coercion, even if this emphasis contradicts what we know about sexual coercion and gender relations. Observers of the media coverage of feminist anti-violence lobbies have remarked on the way that the media will mainstream certain feminist messages while obfuscating others (Croft, 1981; Stone, 1993). Others have argued that in the process of law reform, only the most conservative of the feminists' recommendations for change were adopted, such as adopting the term sexual assault (see Boyle, 1984; Hinch, 1988; Osborne, 1984).

We are left with the question raised by feminists a decade ago. What is to be gained and what is lost by the emphasis on a gender-neutral definition of sexual assault? Maybe we can take this question further and ask, "What does it mean for the prospects of real and enduring social change if men are less likely to appreciate that rape and sexual assault are typically gendered in this society?" For sexual assault awareness and prevention educators, the concern is how to convey the understanding that although either men or women can experience sexual coercion, the fact remains that rape and sexual assault remain gendered acts of violence.

ACKNOWLEDGEMENT: This research was funded through a grant from the Social Sciences and, Humanities Research Council of Canada.


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Norine Verberg
St. Francis Xavier University
Antigonish, Nova Scotia

Serge Desmarais
University of Guelph
Guelph, Ontario

Eileen Wood
Wilfrid Laurier University
Waterloo, Ontario

Charlene Senn
University of Windsor
Windsor, Ontario

Correspondence concerning this paper should be addressed to Dr. Norine Verberg, Department of Sociology, St. Francis Xavier University, Antigonish, Nova Scotia B2G 2E8. Email:
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Author:Verberg, Norine; Desmarais, Serge; Wood, Eileen; Senn, Charlene
Publication:The Canadian Journal of Human Sexuality
Date:Sep 22, 2000

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