Date of Award

2016

Degree Type

Dissertation

Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)

Department

Psychology

First Advisor

Andrea Paiva

Abstract

Victims of a sexual assault often do not report the assault for fear of being blamed for the sexual assault, particularly if they had been drinking. The current study aims to examine a method of decreasing blame of a victim of sexual assault, even when alcohol was involved, using a technique called self-affirmation: an activity that promotes the values, beliefs, and self integrity.

It was hypothesized that 1) Participants would likely place more blame upon the victim when she had been drinking compared to when she has not, 2) self-affirmed participants would place less blame upon the victim of sexual assault compared to non-self-affirmed participants, 3) the combination of self-affirmation and alcohol use together would affect different levels of victim blame, and 4) compared to the control condition, self-affirmed participants would more often download an electronic information pamphlet on sexual assault and alcohol offered via web link at the conclusion of the study. These hypotheses were tested using a 2 (self-affirmation x control) x 2 (alcohol x no alcohol) factorial design.

Two hundred eleven individuals were recruited from social media outlets to participate in an online study. After random assignment, those in the experimental condition self-affirmed by rating 11 traits in order of personal importance and explaining their top choice. Control participants ranked a list of foods and briefly described how to prepare their top choice. Participants then read a sexual assault and a political scandal scenario, each paired with respective questionnaires. Participants were randomly assigned to alcohol absent or alcohol present conditions within the sexual assault scenario. Participants were also offered the chance download a free sexual assault and alcohol pamphlet by entering in their participant number (given at the beginning of the study). Participants were then debriefed.

Results indicated that participants blamed the victim of the assault more when she had been drinking and self-affirmed participants blamed the victim less compared to non-self-affirmed participants. Furthermore, results indicated that self-affirmed participants were more likely to download an informational packet on alcohol and sexual assault compared to non-affirmed participants.

Subsequent analyses revealed two important findings. First, when alcohol was present, self-affirmed participants answered similarly to non-self-affirmed participants in that they believed sex with force should not have occurred. However, when alcohol was absent, non-self-affirmed participants rated their belief that sex should have occurred even if force was used significantly higher compared to self-affirmed participants. Second, females tended to blame the perpetrator similarly in both the self-affirmed and non-self-affirmed conditions. However, self-affirmed males blamed the perpetrator to a greater extent compared to non-self-affirmed males. Implications are far reaching and include self-affirmation’s usefulness for male-targeted sexual assault and reduction programs.

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