Sexual Assault Victims Don't Have Trouble Perceiving Danger Cues

August 19, 1997

CHICAGO -- Researchers have long known that women who have been sexually victimized in the past are at increased risk for sexual assault in the future. But, contrary to expectations, a new study suggests re-victimization doesn't happen because the women involved have trouble perceiving dating danger cues.

"Women who have been sexually assaulted don't appear to have trouble knowing when they may be in danger," said Kim Breitenbecher, author of the study and assistant professor of psychology at Ohio State University's Newark campus.

She will present her results Aug. 19 in Chicago at the annual meeting of the American Psychological Association.

The study involved 224 female college students in Ohio, 66 percent of whom reported they had experienced some kind of sexual assault in the past. (This prevalence rate is similar to that found in other studies.) The women watched one of two videos. One video showed a couple on a date that culminated in date rape. The video included scenes that have been shown by research to be associated with sexual assault, such as alcohol use by both parties, an isolated incident site, and miscommunication about sexual intentions. (The actual rape was not shown.)

The other video showed a dating situation that did not culminate in rape and that did not include the risk factors included in the first video. Participants in the study were instructed to imagine that they were the woman depicted in the video and that they were having the experiences portrayed. They were asked to list anything that happened during the video that would make them feel uncomfortable if they were that woman.

The results showed that women who had been sexually assaulted listed as many danger cues in the rape video as did women who had no history of sexual victimization.

"Victim status didn't appear to be related to the number of danger cues they perceived in the video," Breitenbecher said.

She followed up with about 30 percent of the participants five months later in order to further assess any women who were sexually assaulted in the follow-up period. The purpose was to see if those who had been assaulted since the first study were different from other women in the danger cues they had perceived in the video. But the results did not change.

"The results of this investigation, taken together with previous research in the area, suggest that we still don't understand why sexual re-victimization occurs," Breitenbecher said. She said she wants to continue this research by seeing if women who have been repeatedly victimized differed from other women in their resistance strategies to unwanted advances. It may be that past victims use strategies that are less effective in fending off an assault, she said.

Contact: Kim Breitenbecher, (614) 366-9433;
Written by Jeff Grabmeier, (614) 292-8457;

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