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Try out PMC Labs and tell us what you think. Learn More. Because women encounter this form of sexual coercion in the context of relationships and situations that they p will follow normative expectations e. Research over the last decade has demonstrated the high prevalence of sexual violence in dating. Because of the high prevalence of sexual coercion perpetrated by acquaintances, preventing coercion by dating partners is receiving increased attention.
Although acts of sexual coercion remain the responsibility of the perpetrator, effective individual resistance can be key to preventing victimization. However, little attention has been paid to the way that women develop responses to sexual coercion. More generally, researchers have not attempted to unify disparate findings from many different types of influences into a coherent theoretical structure.
This model incorporates findings related to normative developmental learning, cognitive mediation, and coping processes in general, in addition to findings specifically related to sexual victimization by acquaintances and dating partners. The term dating refers to the continuum of courtship and relationship development from first social encounter to premarital intimate relationship.
It is important to note that the preponderance of research to date—and thus the work that we are drawing upon in this conceptual formulation—is largely based on samples of White, middle-class, young women. The cognitive appraisal processes that are posited here as serving important mediating roles would not be expected to differ as a function of factors such as race or socioeconomic status. However, the content or qualitative nature of cognitive factors such as knowledge, beliefs, and expectations and of social variables such as peer norms and patterns of socializing may well be shaped by these differences.
An approach that incorporates both background and situational variables and also provides a coherent, organizing framework that further distinguishes the multilevel influences of intrapersonal, interpersonal, and sociocultural factors is an ecological or nested ecological framework Belsky, ; Bronfenbrenner, The principle of ecology is predicated on a view of reciprocal deterministic relations between persons and their environments and of interdependence among multiple systems in which smaller units are embedded within and influenced by larger ones.
Part of the utility in operationalizing an ecological framework is that it distinguishes multiple levels and forms of influence. This specification, in turn, provides theoretical guides for hypothesizing the relative effects of a potentially large set of predictor variables as well as indicating multiple levels and opportunities for prevention interventions see Figure 1.
Our greatest focus is on the microsystem variables and the processes of cognitive mediation and subsequent coping responses. The specific variables that we present are not an exhaustive list, but rather those with the greatest supportive evidence to date and ones expected to come into play with respect to cognitive appraisal processes. We recognize that there may be other relationships among the various levels of variables that are not specified. Rather, we present a conceptual model that will serve as an organizing framework for meaningfully clustering sets of variables.
Likewise, we recognize that the particular responses women perform when coerced can feed back on and influence other levels of variables. Our figures do not reflect all of these potential relationships because of our reliance on published findings. To date, longitudinal studies required for specification about possible feedback loops have not yet appeared.
We have, however, indicated in a general way that this sort of feedback is possible and expected. That is, through our interactions with our environment, we receive information and develop theories about what is normative and what to expect, as well as develop personal attitudes, skills, and propensities. However, there is evidence that at least three background factors may have an indirect effect by being mediated through microsystem variables.
The first of these is assertiveness. A parallel line of thought is applicable to prior victimization. Mandoki and Burkhart , however, did find that early victimization was related to an increased of sexual partners later in life. This factor in turn was found to be a ificant predictor of degree of adult sexual victimization. Prior victimization may have indirect effects, too, on the response to sexual coercion.
However, recent work on responses to threatening life events suggests that such events typically evoke strong short-term coping mobilization and long-term minimization responses Taylor, In terms of victimization, this means that a woman, even when quite young, would respond to a threatening situation using all of her available coping resources.
However, over time she would minimize the importance of the event. There are a variety of reasons posited for this pattern, including normative inclinations to resist negative information about self and to reestablish a sense of security to dampen the effects of past negative events.
Such a pattern of minimization efforts by victims could impair their chances to translate their prior victimization experiences into effective abuse prevention and resistance that constructively builds upon this experience. Even though prior victimization is embedded in past history, i.
What is unclear at present are the specific ways in which prior victimization may influence future coping. Murnen et al. However, a high degree of hyperfemininity was related to self-blame for being attacked. If a woman feels responsible for being coerced at the time it occurs, it follows that she would not mount as effective a resistance response than if she believed she was truly being violated.
Byers, Giles, and Price found in a role-play situation that women were less verbally definite about their refusals when they were romantically interested in their dates. Thus, if this aspect of her socialization is especially salient, a woman may not be as resistant as someone who does not value maintaining a relationship as highly.
Within the ecological framework, at least three ontogenetic variables may have some indirect influence on how a woman responds to sexual coercion. They consist of key person and environmental factors that set the stage for this cognitive mediation. Peers and romantic partners or potential partners are particularly strong sources of social influence in learning appropriate social roles associated with dating. Thus, consideration of peer influences, relationship characteristics, and interpersonal goals and expectations is an important component of the larger model.
Although peer influences have not been ly considered in attempting to understand how women respond to sexual coercion, there is reason to expect that, as in so many other areas of social behavior, peers exert a major impact. Recent conceptualizations indicate that, rather than a one-time or an all-or-nothing phenomenon, different causes and patterns of coercion may be evident for different types of relationships.
Thus, the type of relationship in which a woman is involved can affect her perception of sexually coercive cues and her responses to them. A woman might be at least somewhat wary of a man she has just met, but her level of trust increases the more deeply involved she becomes with him. White found that length of time in a relationship, especially beyond five dates, is an important predictor of sexual coercion. Thus, although sexual coercion might have a high likelihood of occurring in longer-term relationships, a woman would tend to be less prepared to respond to a sexual coercion the longer she was involved.
In fact, Shotland and Goodstein have shown that having had sex with someone a of times le individuals to believe that sex is obligated in the future. Furthermore, she is most likely to voluntarily have future contact with an assailant if she had been in an intimate relationship with him Murnen et al. Shotland contended that there may be as many as five varieties of dating or courtship rape. Each type arises at a different stage of a romantic relationship, these stages measured in terms of both the length of the relationship and sexual activity between the couple i.
A final form of exosystem variables that we address here is the interpersonal goals and expectations that the woman holds upon entering social situations and relationships. Both as social products and social forces, cognitive constructs such as these can be thought of both as exosystem and microsystem variables. At the microsystem level is the more delimited and situationally biased e. Exosystem variables are an important part of setting the stage for subsequent microsystem variables.
In the next section, we discuss how the two types of background variables—ontogenetic and exosystem—are transformed at the immediate cognitive level into a particular type of behavioral response. These are considered to have the strongest impact on her behavioral and emotional responses. Amick and Calhoun found that unsuccessful resisters were more likely to be assaulted in an isolated site than successful resisters. Major studies have demonstrated a link between alcohol consumption and the occurrence of sexual coercion by acquaintances in college populations Koss et al.
Abbey and Ross found that alcohol consumption by a woman was much more likely to be associated with completed rape than with attempted rape. Furthermore, Hawks and Welch found that women who had been drinking at the time of a rape reported less resistance on their part and less clarity of nonconsent than women who were not consuming alcohol when raped.
Consistent with these findings, Norris, Nurius, Dimeff, and White found that approximately one-third of sorority women surveyed reported that alcohol consumption would be a ificant barrier to making an effective response to sexual coercion. By themselves, these studies leave open the question of whether a woman is simply less able to resist coercion when drinking because of physical impairment or whether more complex cognitive processes also come into play.
Research by Norris and her colleagues has demonstrated two ways in which alcohol can affect cognitions associated with sexual coercion. Thus, it is clear that alcohol is an important factor to be considered in understanding the cognitive appraisal of a sexually coercive situation. A third set of variables that affects the cognitive formation of a resistance response concerns the characteristics of the sexual coercion itself.
For instance, Atkeson et al. The role of interpretation is particularly important to acquaintance sexual coercion because this form of coercion often does not involve the use of an unmistakable cue such as a deadly weapon. For instance, if, after a couple has engaged in some amount of mutually consensual sexual behavior, the man slowly escalates his verbal or physical demands for further sexual interaction, then whether the man is engaging in sexual coercion can be ambiguous.
At the other extreme, if a man almost immediately attacks a woman physically, the cognitive processing of her defensive response would probably be quite rapid and strong. A major difference affecting the ability to resist coercion by strangers versus acquaintances lies in the cognitive appraisal processes that a woman must undertake before she engages in a behavioral response. A considerable amount of work in this area has focused on adaptation and coping in the aftermath of negative events.
However, recent analyses of appraisal processes as situations turn from neutral or positive to threatening provide important advances in our understanding of the cognitive challenges and tasks that a woman must undertake and ways by which her situational appraisals influence emotional and behavioral responding. The first set, referred to as primary appraisals, has to do with searching for meaning in the event. When the threat takes form suddenly and severely, primary appraisals are relatively straightforward.
These appraisals can be complicated, however, by several aspects of the situation and social interaction, some of which were discussed ly. Those cognitive structures that are currently active will have their greatest influence on information processing in the moment. Thus, one cognitive challenge for women arises at this early stage of detecting threat—a safety-related search and appraisal task that is likely to be discrepant with the social scenario of fun and friendship and with her affiliation-oriented goals, expectancies, mood, and situational interpretations.
The second type of cognitive appraisal, referred to as secondary appraisals, centers more around determinations of coping resources, options, and outcomes. The amount and type of coping or mastery potential a woman believes herself to have in the moment will in part determine the specific response she actually draws on from the total repertoire possible. If the event is judged to pose a personal threat, a of subsequent interpretations are needed: a what is the nature of this threat?
Figure 2 displays the function of these primary and secondary appraisal processes in cognitively mediating the effects of background and contextual variables. Again, these appraisals are more straightforward when the situation is more clear-cut. In sexual coercion during dating, there are different types of threat or loss that the woman may have to simultaneously weigh, constituting a kind of multivariate cost-benefit analysis involving potentially conflicting goals and concerns: personal safety related to sexual victimization e.
Thus, women encounter another form of cognitive challenge in needing to undertake secondary appraisals under conditions of the potentially disruptive effects of confusion, competing concerns, and high emotionality. The importance of emotional responses is their role in mobilizing the person to cope and in biasing the directions of this coping effort. Emotion has a powerful influence in information processing—what gets searched for, noticed, recalled, and decided tends to be mood-congruent—at times interfering with cognitive activity and coping e. Recent analysis also indicates that emotions are cognitively represented in memory and that different emotions tend to be associated with information about different modes of responding.
Specific cognitions, such as evaluations about circumstances, have been found to be strongly related to specific emotions. On the other hand, a woman whose predominant cognitive and emotional set involves guilt e. I must have given him the wrong impression; otherwise, he would not be acting this way. Although it is by no means impossible to access cognitive structures associated with perpetrator ability and skills associated with physical resistance under the latter conditions, their incongruence with the prevailing feelings of guilt will be an impediment to such interpretations and behavioral responses.
One factor that complicates the appraisals that women make about a situation is a set of cognitive biases manifested by unrealistic optimism, exaggerated perceptions of mastery, and overly positive self-evaluations. In short, the double-edged sword here is biasing effect on women of underestimating their own likelihood of encountering sexual coercion in spite of having knowledge of the risks for women in general Norris et al. Because of its widespread and generally health-promoting effects, this positivity bias is a particularly difficult phenomenon to address.
Findings about the cognitive appraisal variables reviewed here suggest the need to build upon prior educational efforts to include attention to such factors as: difficulties in making the step from intellectual recognition of the social problem of sexual coercion in dating to recognition of the personal relevance of this problem and risk; impediments to early detection of threat e.
The ways that these variables affect her behavior are mediated through the cognitive processes discussed ly. These cognitive processes are the mechanisms by which women appraise dating events for their risk to her. It is apparent that cognitive appraisals serve the important mediational role of linking prior goals and beliefs with situational cognitive interpretations and subsequent behavioral and emotional responses cf. These contextual variables and cognitive appraisal processes, because of their situational immediacy, are believed to have the strongest impact on a resistance response.
We have presented evidence to support the various components of the model.White PA sex dating
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A Cognitive Ecological Model of Women’s Response to Male Sexual Coercion in Dating