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The attribution of responsibility in acquaintance rape involving ecstasy.

This study examined the attributions of responsibility for the parties involved in a date rape using a 2 x 2 between-subjects design. Forty-nine undergraduate female psychology students read one of four hypothetical date rape scenarios depicting identical circumstances except for the level of intoxication by either or both of the parties. Responsibility level was ascertained by participant response to eight questions ranked on a 7-point Likert-type scale. It was expected that intoxication of the victim would enhance her perceived level of responsibility for the rape while intoxication of the perpetrator would diminish his perceived level of responsibility, that intoxication of the victim would encourage participants to believe that she led the perpetrator to believe that she desired to have sex with him while decreasing support for her to report the crime, and that intoxication of the perpetrator would reduce the amount of control attributed to the perpetrator and also minimize the recommended punishment for the crime. Results are discussed in terms of the "Just World hypothesis," including implications for emotional recovery of rape victims.

The crime of rape can have a devastating effect upon its victims, both physically and psychologically. Social judgments regarding the victims' level of responsibility for the event can further complicate their emotional recovery (Brems and Wagner, 1994). Societal stereotypes have created a double standard, where traditionally the victim has been blamed for the event (Brems and Wagner, 1994). This issue is particularly salient for college-aged men and women. Date rape occurs with startling frequency on college campuses, and seems to be perpetuated by rape-tolerant attitudes held by the college males (McDonald & Kline, 2004). At least 85% of the attempted and successful rapes of college women were committed by non-strangers with only a small minority of 5% of the victims reporting the crime to the police (Fogle, 2000). Victims' apparent unwillingness to report these crimes may be due in part to fear of judgment by others, embarrassment, or intoxication at the time of the assault (Fogle, 2000). Therefore, intoxication of one or more parties involved in a date rape could affect the inevitable judgment of accountability. This study will examine the attribution of responsibility for both the perpetrator and the victim utilizing different levels of intoxication via the drug Ecstasy in four acquaintance rape scenarios.

A similar study was conducted measuring the role of alcohol in the attribution of responsibility in acquaintance rape. When both the victim and the offender were equally intoxicated, the victim was rated as more responsible for the incident (Fogle, 2000). Fogle (2000) also suggests that an intoxicated victim is perceived as more careless and sexually promiscuous than a sober one and that intoxication may be viewed as an invitation for sex. This supports the conventional belief that women can avoid rape by avoiding behaviors that make them more susceptible to the crime. Regardless of inebriation, perpetrators were always seen as holding the greater responsibility for the event; intoxication simply amplified the victim's responsibility (Fogle, 2000).

Previous research on attribution of responsibility has examined variables other than intoxication. Workman and Freeburg (1999) discovered that victim dress and personal relevance mediated perceptions of accountability. Immodest dress was positively correlated with victim responsibility while modest dress created a perception of vulnerability: modest dress is possibly involved in the selection of the victim, and immodest dress is used to blame the victim (Workman & Freeburg, 1999). Workman and Freeburg (1999) discovered that when a perceiver estimates personal similarity to the victim, that perceiver would decrease attributions of responsibility as a defense mechanism. Mitchell, Hirschman, and Hall (1999) inspected the role of sexual orientation in date rape where it was found that a homosexual victim was attributed more blame for the event and was perceived as experiencing more pleasure from it than his heterosexual counterpart. This is possibly connected to the common belief that homosexuals are more promiscuous than are heterosexuals. Another study found that traditional views about the roles of women tended to predict the subsequent attribution of responsibility of a victim of rape (Brems and Wagner, 1994).

Gender differences in attribution have been supported by numerous researchers. The type of language describing the crime of rape and gender of the participants affected the assignment of responsibility to the victim and propositions of punishments for the perpetrator in a study conducted by McDonald and Kline (2004). College men assigned more lenient punishments than did women, and gender of the participant accounted for a greater proportion of the variance in assigned punishment (McDonald & Kline, 2004). Workman and Freeburg (1999) also reported such a discrepancy, with males attributing more responsibility to the female victim than females, and declared this finding consistent with the Defensive Attribution Theory. A dissimilar gender effect was found in the study conducted by Mitchell et al. (1999): male participants rated the male victim as more responsible for the acquaintance rape than a female victim. Although the finding may appear counterintuitive, it may reflect a lack of awareness regarding male rape by men, a male's psychological discomfort in addressing male rape, or females' greater ability to achieve empathy towards the victim as a result of females' higher likelihood of rape victimization (Mitchell et al., 1999).

As previously noted, this study will examine how intoxication via the drug Ecstasy by one or more parties involved in acquaintance rape will influence their perceived level of accountability. Ecstasy is a drug that is most popular among people aged 18 to 25. The National Survey on Drug Use and Health found in 2002 that 15.1% of this age group had used the drug at least once (Spiess, 2005). According to Spiess, Ecstasy, once known exclusively as a "club drug," is now being used in private homes, college dorms, and high schools (2005). Ecstasy is known to give users a sense of euphoria and an increased sensitivity to touch. This sense of euphoria is created by an increase in the release of neurotransmitters, such as serotonin, dopamine, and norepinephrine, from their storage sites, which increase brain activity (Spiess, 2005). Dopamine affects the reward and pleasure centers of the brain, and serotonin and norepinephrine elevate mood. The physical effects of the drug last 4-6 hours and can create some adverse effects in the user, such as nausea, paranoia, faintness, blurred vision, and confusion (Spiess, 2005). The street names for this drug, 'hug drug,' 'love drug,' 'speed for lovers,' and 'sweeties,' illustrate its association with sexual activity among users (Spiess, 2005). This association, coupled with the known side effects associated with consumption, could create a dangerous situation conducive to acquaintance rape.

When exploring differences in the attribution of responsibility of individuals involved in acquaintance rape, past research has utilized the variable of intoxication via alcohol. Alcohol does appear to play a role in the formation of judgments regarding fault. In studies when a rape victim was intoxicated via alcohol, participants attributed more blame to her, whereas when a rape perpetrator was intoxicated via alcohol, participants attributed less blame to him (Rife, 2004). According to Rife, a majority of the college females who become victims of date rape are intoxicated at the time of their assault (2004). The present study was designed to explore the possibility of differing attributions of responsibility to a victim and perpetrator of date rape based on intoxication via an illegal drug. Alcohol is a legal and socially accepted drug in American culture, whereas Ecstasy is an underground, illegal drug. The two drugs do share some similarities: both can cause a decrease in inhibitions, a creation of a relaxed state, an elevation in mood, and both are associated with an increased likelihood of sexual activity among users. Based upon past research suggesting that the victim is held more responsible when intoxicated and the current perception of Ecstasy as a sex-enhancing "love drug," it is hypothesized that intoxication of the victim will enhance her level of responsibility for the acquaintance rape, but intoxication of the perpetrator will diminish his level of responsibility. It is also hypothesized that intoxication of the victim will persuade participants that the victim desired sex with the perpetrator, which will decrease any support for her to report the crime. Intoxication of the perpetrator will reduce the amount of control attributed to him by participants and will also minimize any recommendations of punishment for the crime.

METHOD

Participants

A convenience sample of 49 undergraduate psychology females at a small military college in the Southeast completed the study. The data from seven participants were not included because they did not complete the study. Participants were recruited from introductory and social psychology classes. This study was conducted in a classroom setting during a test period where the participants would obtain the survey upon completion of their test. These participants were given class credit in their psychology course for completing the study.

Design and Materials

A 2 (Intoxication level of Perpetrator) x 2 (Intoxication level of Victim) between-subjects design was used to explore the attributions of responsibility for parties involved in a date rape when the drug Ecstasy was involved. After signing an informed consent form, each participant was randomly assigned to one of four scenarios to read. A randomized block design was used to assign equal numbers of participants to each of the four conditions. The scenarios used in this study involved a hypothetical account of a date rape between "Chris", the perpetrator, and "Melissa", the victim. The scenarios were identical except for the two manipulated variables, the intoxication level of Chris and the intoxication level of Melissa. In Scenario 1, both parties were sober. In Scenario 2, Melissa was intoxicated by the drug Ecstasy but Chris was sober. In Scenario 3, Chris was intoxicated by the drug Ecstasy but Melissa was sober. In Scenario 4, both parties were intoxicated by the drug Ecstasy.

After reading the short scenario, participants answered eight questions on a 7-point Likert-type scale (1 being the least and 7 being the most for each variable). These questions were:

1. To what degree was Chris intoxicated?

2. To what degree was Melissa intoxicated?

3. To what degree was Chris responsible for what occurred?

4. To what degree was Melissa responsible for what occurred?

5. To what degree did Melissa lead Chris to believe she wanted

to have sex?

6. How much control did Chris have of his actions?

7. Should Melissa report what happened to the police?

8. How much punishment should Chris receive for his actions?

Participants were told that they had an opportunity to earn class credit for participating in a study that involved some sexual content. Anonymity was upheld because the researchers asked for no identifiable information from the participant. Upon completion of the survey, participants placed their questionnaires into a folder at the front of the room. The researchers were not present during the execution of the study. They remained outside of the classroom to minimize bias and to further ensure anonymity of participant responses. Participants were notified of a debriefing session to be held on campus near the conclusion of the semester.

RESULTS

The data were analyzed using a 2 (Intoxication Level of Perpetrator) x 2 (Intoxication Level of Victim) between-subjects analysis of variance (ANOVA). The first two questions of the survey served as a manipulation check. These two items ascertained the levels of intoxication for the perpetrator and the victim, which was varied across Scenario. As expected, when the perpetrator had consumed Ecstasy in the scenario, participants perceived him as more intoxicated than when he had not taken the Ecstasy, F (1, 45) = 12.11, p < .01: comparatively, when the victim had taken Ecstasy, participants also perceived her as more intoxicated than when she had not, F (1, 45) = 39.78, p < .01.

There was a main effect of Scenario on the level of responsibility attributed to Melissa, F (1, 45) = 4.11, p < .05; such that she was considered significantly more responsible in Scenario 4 (M = 4.43) and Scenario 2 (M = 3.71), in which she had taken Ecstasy, than in Scenario 1 (M= 3.00), and Scenario 3 (M = 2.00), in which she was sober. There was no such main effect on the level of responsibility attributed to Chris. There was a significant effect of Scenario on the question, "to what degree did Melissa lead Chris to believe she wanted to have sex?", F (1, 45) = 5.26, p < .05; such that participants believed that Melissa led Chris to believe she wanted to have sex more when she had taken Ecstasy than when she had not.

There were no significant main effects for the questions, "to what degree was Chris responsible for what occurred?", "how much control did Chris have of his actions?", "should Melissa report what happened to the police?", or "how much punishment should Chris receive for his actions?"

[FIGURE 1 OMITTED]

There were several interesting correlations between variables (collapsed across Scenario). There were significant positive correlations between Question 5 (the degree to which Melissa led Chris to believe she desired sex) and both Question 1 (how intoxicated was Chris) and Question 2 (how intoxicated was Melissa). There also was a significant positive correlation between Question 5 (the degree to which Melissa led Chris to believe she desired sex) and Question 4 (Melissa's level of responsibility). There was a significant negative correlation between Question 5 (the degree to which Melissa led Chris to believe she desired sex) and Question 8 (how much punishment Chris should receive). There was a significant positive correlation between Question 7 (should Melissa report what happened) and Question 8 (how much punishment Chris should receive).

DISCUSSION

It was expected that intoxication via the drug Ecstasy would enhance the attribution of responsibility for a victim of rape while diminishing the perpetrator's responsibility. Results from this study only partly support this claim, but provide an interesting development for research in this field.

Each scenario elicited a different level of responsibility for the victim. Scenario 4 (both intoxicated) resulted in the highest level of responsibility for the victim, and Scenario 3 (perpetrator intoxicated) resulted in the lowest level. This attribution of blame delivered primarily by females appears counterintuitive. However, this could have resulted from the lack of experimentation with the drug Ecstasy by the participants. Perhaps participants held negative attitudes towards those who use the drug, and these beliefs influenced judgments made concerning the victim. Additionally, the vast majority of date rape victims are female: this fact may have primed participants to respond negatively, or to defensively regard the victim as careless or sexually promiscuous. According to the "Just World hypothesis," wherein people assume that individuals get what they deserve and deserve what they get, blaming a victim for a crime is a form of defensive attribution that reduces an individual's fear that the crime could also happen to them. Also, as intoxication is often involved in occasions of date rape, participants may have felt that the victim could have avoided the date rape by avoiding the drug. This does not fully explain, however, that the lowest attribution of responsibility to the victim occurred in Scenario 3 (perpetrator intoxicated). If intoxication was the only mediating factor determining victim's responsibility, then it would be logical to expect equivalent means from Scenario 1 (both sober) and Scenario 3 (perpetrator intoxicated). The discrepancy between these means indicates that attribution of responsibility to the victim results from more than simply her association with a drug.

Participants indicated that they believed the victim led the perpetrator to believe she desired sex more in scenarios in which she was intoxicated than in scenarios in which she was sober. Scenario 4 (both intoxicated) received the highest ratings for this question. It seems that participants felt the victim not only led the perpetrator to believe she desired to have sex with him by becoming intoxicated, but that she led him to believe this even more by becoming intoxicated when he was also intoxicated. Scenario 3 (perpetrator intoxicated) received the lowest ratings on this question: a sober victim attacked by an intoxicated perpetrator was judged to have led the perpetrator to believe she wanted to have sex less than in any other scenario. The level of responsibility attributed to the victim, therefore, appears to be in part related to the intoxication of her attacker.

Contrary to expectations, there were no significant effects found for Question 3 ("to what degree was Chris responsible for what occurred?"), Question 6 ("how much control did Chris have over his actions?"), Question 7 ("should Melissa report what happened to the police?"), or Question 8 ("how much punishment should Chris receive for his actions?"). It was expected that, as in previous studies utilizing intoxication via alcohol, the perpetrator would be attributed less responsibility when he was intoxicated than when he was sober. The lack of effect of intoxication on level of perpetrator's responsibility might be due to the fact that Ecstasy is an illegal drug. It is possible that the perpetrator's use of an illegal drug may have primed participants to view the perpetrator as a likely criminal, countering the tendency to "excuse" his behavior based on his intoxicated state seen in previous findings. Similarly, the lack of effect of perpetrator's intoxication level on his perceived level of control over his behavior, on recommendations to report the crime, and on recommendations for punishment are also likely a result of the perpetrator's intentional possession and use of an illegal drug.

There were significant correlations between ratings on the two questions concerning intoxication ("how intoxicated was Chris?' and "how intoxicated was Melissa?") and ratings of the degree to which the victim led the perpetrator to believe she desired sex (Question 5). As indicated by previously discussed effects of intoxication, the victim was judged to have led the perpetrator to believe she desired sex more when either party was intoxicated. This finding is of great interest due to the fact that one or both parties are intoxicated in the majority of reported date rapes. Those participants who indicated that the victim led the perpetrator to believe she desired sex (Question 5) were more likely to indicate both that the victim was more responsible for the rape (Question 4) and that the perpetrator should receive less punishment (Question 8). Since intoxication by one or both parties seems to be enough to cause participants to judge that the victim led the perpetrator to believe that she desired sex, it is safe to assume that such intoxication is sufficient to increase the level of responsibility attributed to the victim and to lessen the recommended punishment for the perpetrator.

The results of this study have significant implications. Unfortunately, date rape is a common issue on many college campuses and deserves some attention. The gender stereotypes that exist produce differential responses to the parties involved in a date rape, whereby the victim is regarded as at least partly responsible due to societal judgments regarding dress of victim and intoxication level. The victims of rape have a substantial emotional recovery to endure, which is made more difficult by these societal judgments. Society must be made aware of this unconscious attribution in order to improve the healing process of rape victims and to reduce actual occurrences made more possible by rape-tolerant attitudes.

Although it is somewhat comforting that in this study, the perpetrator's responsibility was not diminished based on his intoxication level, this is not always true for similar studies involving intoxication via alcohol. Understandably, participants may simply be reacting more harshly to the criminal connotations of a date rape involving an illegal drug. Consumption of Ecstasy is not the norm; however, alcohol consumption and abuse is. Therefore, the most common means of intoxication elicits the most perverse reactions to the crime of date rape. Date rape is in itself a crime and deserves recognition as being such.

It is possible that the results of this study were influenced by the participants' lack of familiarity with the drug Ecstasy. Ecstasy is a newer drug, and is a "designer" drug, meaning that it is not a naturally-occurring substance. Although most college-level students have heard of the drug, it is not likely that many of the participants at the small, conservative university who participated in this study have had personal experience with it. It is therefore possible that participants either over- or under-estimated the power of the drug to cloud judgment or to affect one's actions. Future studies should explore the effects of intoxication via another illegal drug such as marijuana on the attribution of responsibility for date rape. Marijuana is a more popular drug than Ecstasy, and the effects of its intoxication are better understood by the public. Such a study could tease apart the effects of the illegal nature of a utilized substance and the participants' understanding of the effects of the substance.

REFERENCES

Brems, C., & Wagner, P. (1994). Blame of the victim and perpetrator in rape versus theft. Journal of Social Psychology, 134(3), 363-373.

Fogle, J. (2000). Acquaintance rape and the attribution of responsibility: The role of alcohol and individual differences. Undergraduate Research Journal of Indiana University South Bend, 3.

McDonald, T. W., & Kline, L. M. (2004). Perceptions of appropriate punishment for committing date rape: Male college students recommend lenient punishments. College Student Journal, 38(1). 44-57.

Mitchell, D., Hirschman, R., Nagayama-Hall, G. C. (1999). Attributions of victim responsibility, pleasure, and trauma in male rape. The Journal of Sex Research, 36(4), 369-374.

Rife, S. (2005, March). Intoxication: An "excuse" for date rape. Poster presented at the meeting of the Southeastern Psychological Association, Nashville, TN.

Workman, J. E., & Freeburg, E. W. (1999). An examination of date rape, victim dress, and perceiver variables within the context of attribution theory. Sex Roles, 41(3/4), 261-278.

Jennifer Castello, Christina Coomer, Jamie Stillwell, &

Kelly Leach Cate

North Georgia College & State University

Author info: Correspondence should be sent to: Kelly Cate, Dept. of Psychology, North Georgia College & State University, Dahlonega, GA

North American Journal of Psychology, 2006, Vol. 8, No. 3, 411-420.
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Author:Castello, Jennifer; Coomer, Christina; Stillwell, Jamie; Cate, Kelly Leach
Publication:North American Journal of Psychology
Geographic Code:1USA
Date:Dec 1, 2006
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