Factors influencing judgments of child sexual abuse
Murphy, Philip Edward,
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Although exact prevalence rates for child sexual abuse are yet to be established, it has become apparent that the vast majority of the perpetrators are male. As a possible explanation for this phenomenon, Finkelhor (1982) and Russell (1984a) have suggested that traditional culturally defined masculine role identity may play a large part in the commitment of this crime. The literature on rape provides indirect support for this contention with findings of a significant proportion of undergraduate males (35% to 60%) who reported a propensity to use force or rape if given certain hypothetical circumstances (e.g., Malamuth, 1981; Briere & Malamuth, 1983; Smeaton & Byrne, 1987). A constellation of attitudes that have been described as "macho" or "hypermasculine" have been associated with this propensity to rape. In the present study, college students between the ages of 18 to 2 5 years, who reported never having been a parent, responded to four vignettes of child sexual abuse in which the victim variables of age (9- or 16-year-old) and amount of physical resistance (none or some) to a male perpetrator were systematically varied. Five areas were judged: 1) definition of child sexual abuse, 2) amount of h^rm to the victim, 3) relative responsibility of the victim and perpetrator 4) perpetrator masculinity, and 5) victim femininity. Responses to these areas were analyzed for associations with attitudes of traditional masculinity via the Bern Sex Role Inventory, Sex Role Stereotyping Scale, Adversarial Sexual Beliefs Scale, Acceptance of Interpersonal Violence Scale, and Sexual Conservatism Scale. Results suggested that responses to vignettes of child sexual abuse appear to be affected primarily by characteristics of the vignette rather than by personality characteristics of the respondent. Unlike the perspective held by the legal and mental health professions wherein the child is seen as unable to give informed consent concerning sexual encounters with adults, the participants in the present study considered potential consent by the child when rating vignettes, regardless of the portrayed victim's age.